Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Jan. 25, 2016

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The UCF College of Nursing is one of just 60 nursing schools in 33 states to receive funding to participate in this year’s white coat ceremony, which promotes humanistic, patient-centered, compassionate care among future generations of registered nurses. (See No. 2 below.)

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Oviedo High School teachers Will Furiosi, ’13, MAT14, and Jessica Ortega, ’13, fell head-over-heels for each other — and education — at UCF. READ MORE
  2. On Jan. 10, nearly 200 students from the UCF College of Nursing ceremoniously began their clinical practice with an inaugural white coat ceremony and joined a nationwide initiative to promote compassionate care.
  3. UCF freshman Nick Drivas has been invited to perform with Grammy Award-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein as part of the “Michael Feinstein: A Sinatra Centennial” concert Jan. 29 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
  4. On a career break and thinking of returning to work? Unsure about what you want to do and where to start? Interested in changing career paths? Join UCF alumni and other returning professionals for an information-packed, half-day program that includes return-to-work strategies, and tactics on resumes, interviews and job searches.
  5. Running through Jan. 31, Theatre UCF, in collaboration with the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, presents “Spunk and the Harlem Literati,” an adaption of the play “Spunk” by Zora Neale Hurston. The production is part of the 27th annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

There’s No Place Like … a Classroom

A pair of Knights fall head-over-heels for education — and each other — at UCF

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Will Furiosi II, ’13, ’14 & Jessica Ortega, ’13 | Teachers, Oviedo High School

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Fascinated with infectious disease and pathogenic bacteria, Will Furiosi, ’13, ’14, had dreams of working at the Centers for Disease Control. But, during his senior year of pre-med classes at UCF, he decided that teaching science might be more fun.

So, after completing his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences (with a minor in business administration) in 2013, he continued his education at UCF, on a full scholarship, graduating with his master’s degree in teacher education in 2014. Now, instead of wearing head-to-toe protective garb in a lab every day, he only needs to slip on a pair of safety glasses when conducting experiments with his AP biology and chemistry students at Oviedo High School.

And, in case he has any accidents, his emergency contact, fellow Knight and bride-to-be Jessica Ortega, ’13, is just a few hallways away, teaching AP art history and honors humanities.

To call this couple of Knights ambitious is an understatement.

During their time at UCF, both were active members of The Burnett Honors College and the President’s Leadership Council.

In addition, Furiosi was a recipient of the 2013 Order of Pegasus (the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at UCF) and graduated top of his class in the College of Medicine, as well as Summa Cum Laude from the university. And, to get in some physical exercise (and fun!), he also played four years on the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team.

When asked about the proudest moment of his life so far, he says it was the near flawless execution of his engagement plan that was six months in the making, but, he adds that a close second is a toss-up between finishing with perfect 4.0s as valedictorian of his high school and finishing top of his class at UCF.

“While there is more prestige accompanying the UCF distinction, completing the feat in high school showed that I could set my mind to something years in advance and achieve it,” he says.

Educating Q&A

Why did you choose to attend UCF?
JO: My family made an unexpected pit stop on the way to a ski trip on President’s Day weekend senior year and I applied to UCF that night. I felt just like Dorothy (in “The Wizard of Oz”) coming home the moment I stepped onto the campus. I knew I couldn’t go anywhere else after that moment.

Do you have any hidden talents?
WF: I can play multiple musical instruments — bassoon (it’s been a while for this one), flute and saxophone — and, I have a knack for taking musical tunes and making my own lyrical renditions.

If life were a song, what would the title be?
WF: I’m going to take a different spin on this and choose a good song for life: “Warning” by Incubus. It’s about a warning that you shouldn’t let life pass you by. Instead, you should live life to the fullest because everything could be gone in an instant.
JO: “I’m On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, because that’s how I try to feel every day, especially in front of 100-plus high school students!

Most embarrassing moment?
WF: I’m sure I’ve had more embarrassing moments, but … I ripped my pants, right in the center of my butt, right in the middle of the school day earlier this school year.

What were you most surprised to learn after becoming a teacher?
WF: I was most surprised to hear how much unsubstantiated or biased research is used to influence educational policy and how much time and money is wasted in constantly trying to reinvent the educational wheel.
JO: That kids (or anyone for that matter) never listen to you the first five times you say something. It drives me nuts having to repeat what I already have written on the board a million times a day. I seriously waste at least a few minutes a class period repeating myself and that adds up!

What kind of life advice do you give to your students?
WF: I encourage students to continue to learn as much as possible, get involved in activities to determine their interests, and become financially literate (something we should do more of in public school).
JO: Figure out your passions and pursue them regardless. These students have too many people telling them what they “should” do with their lives. They need more quiet time to just sit there and thing about what THEY want to do, not what their parents, counselors, friends or teachers think is best for them. They’re too afraid of making the “wrong” choice, but I tell them that if they learned something for the experience, it can never be a “wrong” choice.

Teaching the Science of Communication

UCF associate professor is putting his major to good use, educating the next generation of speech-language pathologists

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Kenyatta Rivers, ’88, ’90, Ph.D. | Associate Professor/ASHA Fellow
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
UCF College of Health and Public Affairs

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Majoring in speech-language pathology as a UCF student, Kenyatta Rivers, ’88, ’90, Ph.D., has brought his education full circle, as he’s now an associate professor in the College of Health and Public Affairs.

The department may have changed names since he graduated — from communicative disorders to communication sciences and disorders — but its mission has remained the same: “to empower our students to achieve their greatest potential as clinicians, scientists, scholars, and professionals. By providing the foundations of our discipline and through the use of innovative technology, we enable our graduates to be leaders who positively impact individuals and their communities.”

As a professor, Rivers plays a vital role in educating the department’s students so that they can one day follow in his footsteps, helping children, adolescents and adults acquire effective speech, language and communication skills.

He thoroughly enjoys passing on his knowledge and experience to his students. He says his favorite course to teach is Language/Literacy Disorders and Differences in Children and Adolescents, because it allows him to provide master’s degree students with a working knowledge of language disorders in preschool and school-aged populations, which will enable them to serve as productive collaborators in delivering appropriate services in a variety of settings.

While Rivers spends much of his time teaching the next generation of speech-language pathologists, he also makes time for countless research projects, numerous philanthropic organizations, and UCF football games with fellow Knights.

Communicating Q&A

Q. What has surprised you most about being in your profession?
A. How much students and others look to you for guidance in all areas of their lives

Q. Besides your office essentials (e.g., laptop, etc.), what’s one thing you always bring with you to work?
A. Professional and popular magazine articles

Q. If you could teach a college course in any other department, what would it be?
A. Death and dying from a multicultural perspective

Q. Advice for someone who wants to do what you do?
A. Know your profession, develop a high level of competence in an areas(s) that you’re interested in, and then let the real you shine

Q. How do you decompress?
A. Attend and participate in a variety of community events, along with visit the elderly, attend rodeos, monster truck shows, and drag racing shows

Q. What’s the biggest misconception about you?
A. I don’t take lunch breaks.

Q. What’s one thing you’ve done that will go down in history?
A. My work on the development of pragmatic language skills in African-American children and adolescents.

Q. What/who always makes you laugh out loud?
A. My students

Q. Favorite food?
A. Chocolate cake

Q. If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
A. Possibly hospitality management, nursing, occupational therapy or biology, with an emphasis on marine life

Q. If you had to wear one item of clothing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. A bow tie

Q. If you could socialize with anyone for a day, who would you choose?
A. Meet Michael Jackson or Prince to better understand their creativeness

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Distinguished Student Award

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Vanessa Bowman Bershad, ’05 (left), the 2005 recipient of the Distinguished Student Award,
presented this year’s award to Yudeysis Cores.
Yudeysis Cores

The UCF Alumni Association honored Yudeysis Cores with the 2015 Distinguished Student Award at its annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Yudeysis has distinguished herself as an outstanding student and member of the UCF community through diligence, compassion and dedication. Her outstanding credentials reflect superior achievement in academics, co-curricular activities, community involvement and upholding the tenants of the UCF Creed.

Currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in mathematics education in the College of Education and Human Performance, Yudeysis is a Gates Millennium Scholar, and has served on the Education Student College Council and as a judge for the Choices Learning Science Fair. She also was recently selected to serve on the UCF President’s Leadership Council, for which she is excited to serve as a student ambassador and continue to grow as a young professional.

In spring 2013, she conducted an independent research project on how society has created a negative image of the teaching profession, and subsequently presented her work at the Knights Wrights Showcase, before being published in the 2014 Stylus Journal.

After graduation, she would like to teach abroad for a semester to develop her craft as a future teacher and learn about different educational systems across the world. Her dream is to attend Columbia or Vanderbilt University to complete a degree in education policy, and work for a state department of education. She also would like to teach mathematics in a Title I middle school, where she hopes to create positive change with her passion and dedication for teaching.

Yudeysis is motivated and enjoys being able to provide the best experience possible for students in her college who are preparing for what she calls “the most beautiful profession.”

One day, she hopes to create a nonprofit organization to help build schools in underprivileged countries. Her plans are ambitious, but, as she always says, “Just one step at at time, Yudy.”

Learn more about Yudeysis:

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — July 27, 2015

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Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Renowned physician, surgeon, educator, entrepreneur and proud UCF Knight Dr. Gideon Lewis, ’00, was named to the UCF Foundation Board of Directors. “I have always strived to lead by example,” he said. “Serving on this board provides me with a much larger platform to encourage more people to give back to UCF.”
  2. ICYMI: Alumni, students, faculty and staff, and the Central Florida community came together to help Tivoli Apartments residents who were devastated by a July 12 fire.
  3. After losing his partner to an early retirement due to medical issues, UCF Police Officer Matt Scott has a new K9 partner, a 16-month-old German Shepard named Justice.
  4. UCF Athletics announced a change in traffic flow following all of this season’s home football games. Get in the know!
  5. We’ve got six new UCF Alumni Facebook cover photos anyone can use! Spruce up your profile and share with friends!

Swinging for Scholarships

UCF alumna puts on her dancing shoes to help raise money for nursing students

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Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, practices with dance partner Tony Sterling for Femmes de Coeur’s “Let Us Entertain You” competition
to help raise money for UCF nursing scholarships. (Photo: Zack Thomas, UCF Foundation)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

When Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, decided to apply for the College of Nursing’s accelerated B.S.N. program, she needed some assistance to help ease the financial burden of pursuing another degree. After all, she was a little older, and had a 6-month-old baby and mortgage at the time. That’s when she discovered the Femmes de Coeur scholarship, for which she applied and was awarded, helping her to pay for tuition and books, and graduate without student-loan debt in 2009.

Femmes de Coeur (Women of Heart) is an Orlando-based, not-for-profit volunteer organization that regularly hosts fundraising events to support numerous local community projects, including nursing scholarships at UCF, Valencia College, Seminole State College and the Florida Hospital’s Adventist University of Health Sciences.

Becoming a nurse wasn’t DeGennaro’s original plan, however. She grew up thinking she wanted to become a counselor or forensic psychologist, which is why she earned her first UCF bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in criminal justice, in 2003. But, it was her work in Florida Hospital’s inpatient placement program that inspired her to go back to school to become a nurse.

Forever thankful for her opportunity to follow her passion, DeGennaro recently had the opportunity to participate in Femmes de Coeur’s annual dance competition, “Let Us Entertain You,” which raises money for exact scholarship that helped put her through nursing school.

She had no previous dance experience before the competition, but was in good hands with her 19-year dancing veteran and partner, Tony Sterling. The pair practiced twice a week since March, and took the stage June 14 in the ballroom at Church Street Station, dancing the West Coast Swing to Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” While they didn’t take the top prize, they did place third, which means about $10,000 in nursing scholarships for UCF.

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“It was my way of being able to give back to something that helped me.” DeGennaro says.

She also gives back daily, in a different way — helping to educate future nurses in the College of Nursing, where she was hired as a permanent nursing instructor in January.

Her journey from practical to practicum began while she was working as a nurse in the multisystem-transplant ICU at Florida Hospital South, where she became a certified preceptor and discovered a love for teaching. So, once again, DeGennaro re-enrolled at UCF — this time in the nurse educator master’s program, from which she graduated in 2013.

“I love being a nurse,” she says. “I love caring for people. [But,] as a nurse educator, I’m able to impart my knowledge and experience into my students. Every time they help or care for someone, I feel as though I’m a part of it. So, in essence, I’m able to touch more people’s lives than ever before!”

While she’s not planning to make a career out of dancing, DeGennaro is planning to continue her UCF education, beginning her Ph.D. in summer 2016, with plans to do research in critical care.

College of Education Alumnus Named as a Finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year

By my65Orlando.com

A Longwood teacher who is revolutionizing the classroom has caught the eye of the Florida Department of Education.

Brian Furgione, ’11, has taught at Milwee Middle School for just four years, but he has already been recognized as Seminole County’s Teacher of the Year.  Now, he’s one of five finalists in a statewide competition.

“I’m shocked, I’m excited, I’m shaking. I don’t really know what to say,” said Furgione. “It means what we’re doing here at Milwee is being recognized.   It’s for Milwee, more than anything else.”

If Furgione is selected as Florida’s Teacher of the Year, he receives $10,000 and a trip to New York for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Knights to Remember 2014

A few of our favorite stories from the past year

Rob Brunjes, '11, proposed to Michele McGlamory, '10, on a brick at the Knights Terrace.
Rob Brunjes, ’11, kneeled beside the brick he purchased on the Knights Terrace to propose to his longtime girlfriend Michele McGlamory, ’10, on Nov. 21.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

As we prepare to bid farewell to 2014, we can’t help but reflect on all of the great UCF stories that have been shared over the last 12 months. Celebrating a new year with a BCS bowl win, welcoming more than 16,000 new alumni over three semesters of graduation ceremonies, getting to know an inspirational teacher, helping a little boy get a “robo-arm” and witnessing a Knights marriage proposal are enough to run the emotional gamete on their own. But, we’ve got more!

Here are our top 10 favorite stories of 2014:

10. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
On Jan. 1, 2014, our Knights won their first-ever BCS bowl after defeating Baylor 52-42 in Glendale, Ariz. (Seems like a fitting story for our list of favorites, as our Knights play in their third-consecutive bowl, facing N.C. State in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26, after celebrating back-to-back AAC championships. Go Knights! Charge On!)

9. Graduation
The UCF Alumni Association welcomed more than 5,000 new alumni during fall 2014 commencement ceremonies held Dec. 12-13. With these graduations, UCF has awarded more than 271,000 degrees since classes began in 1968. In total, the alumni association welcomed more than 16,000 new alumni in 2014, including spring and summer graduations.

8. The Origins of Pegasus Magazine
In 2014, Pegasus Magazine celebrated its 20th year in production. The inaugural issue in July 1994 was printed and mailed to 59,861 alumni. Today, the award-winning publication is sent to more than 205,000 (addressable) alumni. Pegasus was created by Tom Messina, ’84, along with fellow Knights Mike Hinn, ’92, and Jim Hobart, ’91.

7. Little Legacy
Marlie Kai Dodson dreamed of being a UCF Cheerleader and attending the College of Nursing. However, pediatric brain cancer claimed her life on Dec. 31, 2011, leaving behind a little legacy that would make a big impact. Thankful for the nurses who cared so much for her daughter, Marlie’s mom, Sarah Dodson, ’01, along with her family of other UCF Knights, established the Marlie Kai Dodson Endowed UCF Oncology Nursing Scholarship, which was awarded this year for the first time.

6. 180 Degrees
Although Jill Schenk, ’90, was an “American Gladiators” contestant, her spirit wasn’t as strong as her body. After struggling with addiction and attempting suicide, she was finally able to learn how to love herself, and now inspires her students as a teacher at San Diego High School.

5. Homecoming Highlights
Homecoming 2014 proved to be another exciting week of alumni and student events, including the Black & Gold Gala, Spirit Splash, Black & Gold Takeover, Golf Tournament, Indoor Tailgate, CECS BBQ/Reunion, and a repeat victory against Temple!

4. Magazine Names UCF Leaders, Alumni to Orlando’s Most-Powerful List
Five UCF leaders and several alumni were named to Orlando magazine’s 2014 list of the region’s 50 most powerful people.

3. Orlando’s University
UCF’s new downtown Orlando campus is in the works, and will be a “game changer” for the university, according to its top supporter, UCF President John Hitt.

2. Kid-Approved
Six-year-old Alex Pring received a new prosthetic arm, thanks to e-NABLE, an international organization that connects families with inventors and 3-D printer enthusiasts creating solutions for children with special needs. That’s where his mom, Alyson, met Albert Manero, ’12, an e-NABLE volunteer who would change their lives forever.

1. Proposal Knight
Having a brick engraved with “Marry Me?” was how Rob Brunjes, ’11, decided to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Michele McGlamory, ’10. Now, the Knights Terrace outside the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center will always hold a special place in their hearts.

We hope you enjoyed our favorites as much as we did. Here’s to bigger and better stories in 2015!

With Knight Pride,
Your UCF Alumni Association Staff

180 Degrees

Alumna teacher inspires students with her transformative life story

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Jill Schenk, ’90 | Physical Education Teacher, San Diego High School

By Kelsey Moscater

As a UCF alumna, “American Gladiator” contestant, Donald Duck impersonator and lover of all things animals, you may think Jill Schenk, ’90, was born of sunshine and positivity. However, her life as a young adult was far from this fallacy. In fact, UCF was one of many locations that she attempted to take her life.

An amazing athlete, Jill rode into college on five athletic scholarships. Yet, the pressure of being “good enough” plagued her, and Jill hated herself. She began to abuse drugs and alcohol, which cost her the scholarships, and got her kicked out of two colleges.

“I hated myself and, because I did, I couldn’t accept love or kindness from others,” she explains. “It really is true what they say: You can’t love others until you love yourself. I hid in my addictions with alcohol, drugs, anorexia and bulimia. I also was a cutter. I wanted someone to save me and, if someone tried, I thought there was something wrong with them. I didn’t realize that I needed to work on loving myself.”

So, how did a woman who struggled through such dark times in her youth become one of San Diego’s most inspiring teachers?

It took the 12-Step Program and the encouragement of men and women all over the world who’ve worked through these obstacles themselves. She realized that the bad times developed into learning experiences, and she was on this earth for a greater purpose. Jill believes that her primary purpose is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety by learning how to live and enjoy life one day at a time.

Now, Jill shares her bright personality with her students at San Diego High School. At the conclusion of each class, she has her students repeat the following: “I’m awesome. I’m beautiful. I’m confident. I’m determined. I’m enthusiastic. I can do anything I put my mind to.”

After years of turmoil and personal conflict, Jill is now 20 years sober. These days, Jill balances her time helping others become clean and sober, being the best teacher she can be, volunteering for Big Animals for Little Kids and taking care of her own four-legged children.

Busy and bustling as she may be, Jill is an inspiration to everyone with whom she crosses paths.

Inspirational Q&A

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A veterinarian, but everyone loves animals. Not everyone likes kids or teenagers. I just wanted to help a kid not take the path I took. And, if he or she did, I wanted to let them know it’s never too late to change.

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. It landed me a teaching job in Malibu, at Our Lady of Malibu, where I taught many of the stars’ kids, like Nick Nolte, Cindy Williams, Pat Benatar and many more.

Q: How has your UCF experience connected you to people and/or opportunities?
A: I’ve met a few people here in San Diego where we go watch UCF play football, but I don’t stay long because I’m sober and bars aren’t really where I hang out anymore.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Thoughts lead to words. Words lead to actions. Actions lead to habits. Habits create your character. Your character creates your destiny. Change your thoughts from negative to positive and it will change your future. It all begins with my thoughts. I wish I would have known that in high school or college.

Q. What’s your favorite activity to do with your students?
A. I love dancing with my students or spraying them with the water hose on hot days. I enjoy playing soccer with a yoga ball. It’s absolutely hilarious.

Q. What was it like to compete on “American Gladiators?”
A. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Three-thousand people tried out, and I was one of 13 to be picked. The show was filmed in one arena, so they’d set up one event, then put Gladiators and contestants in, then switch Gladiators and contestants, then switch them again. Then, they would tear down that set and put up another one. It took an hour and a half between each event, when on television it looked like just a commercial. The show changed my life and brought me out to California.

Q: Happiest and/or proudest moment of your life?
A: My sobriety date: Feb. 5, 1994. My family threw me a surprise 20-year sobriety party. That was amazing, because there was a time in my life when I couldn’t even go 20 hours. I also have three U.S. patents, and I’m the co-producer of a movie. And, I was very happy to get the Inspirational Teacher Award.

Q. What advice would you give those who are facing struggles similar to those of your past?
A. As long as the body is still breathing and the heart is still beating, there is always hope for things to get better. One day at a time, you can be free of your addictions and live a happy, joyous and free life. You can change from negative and destructive to positive and creative.

More Info

Watch “Inspirational Teacher: Jill Schenk” on NBC 7 San Diego.