Alex Cascio ’15: A Passion for Storytelling

UCF Alumnus Alex Cascio
Photo courtesy Vibrant Media Productions, LLC

By Azela Santana

Alex Cascio ’15 grew up hearing his mother, Jeri Cascio ’87, retelling tales of her commute between Daytona and to the University of Central Florida, where she earned her finance degree. A generation later, Alex found himself attending his mother’s beloved alma mater.

Cascio has always had a passion for film and capturing special moments that told a compelling story, but it wasn’t until he attended UCF that he realized he could parlay this hobby into a career path. While taking classes in marketing, advertising and accounting, he asked himself, why not combine business and storytelling? He switched his major from business administration to human communication/digital media, and forged his own path. This life-changing decision allowed him to go back to the creative space he loved so much, which eventually led to a successful career path in digital media.

During his time as a student, Alex worked full-time as a salesperson for a web design company and also developed his own start-up company, Vibrant Media Productions (VMP). Knowing that he could earn money to pay for expensive production-level equipment and gear that he needed for his start-up provided the motivation he needed to succeed at his commission-only sales position.

“Starting up VMP was quite challenging while being a full-time student,” Cascio recalls. “Taking the plunge and fully committing to my company forced me to grow the business. I can remember countless times having to step outside of the classroom to take conference calls with clients and pretending to be in ‘my office.’”

VMP has seen substantial growth in the few years since Cascio’s graduation, and Cascio, in partnership with his father, has worked with well-known clients like Microsoft, AT&T and Twitter. Cascio was even able to reconnect with UCF through a project with the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities.

“On this shoot, we had the opportunity to collaborate with UCF on producing short interview segments, highlight films, instructor presentation videos, and photos,” said Cascio. “These events focused on subjects such as active learning and accelerating transfer success for students.”

Cascio credits his professional and personal successes to his experience at UCF and support of his fiancée and UCF alumna, Chloe Piersall ’15. His advice for current students is “try to absorb the information from the classes you’re taking, because you would be surprised how helpful the information can be in your professional life.” He also emphasized the importance of networking both on and off campus, which, in his experience, led to different and exciting professional projects.

In 2018, Cascio launched the VMP Student Filmfest to help provide winning student films with a cash award that can go toward the student’s continued education and help pay for production equipment. Alex hopes that the VMP Student FilmFest will give students an opportunity to showcase their work, but also allow them to set themselves apart when interviewing for jobs or internships.

The VMP Student Filmfest deadline has been extended to Nov. 24.

“Our VMP Filmfest was created to help give students a platform to showcase their creativity,” stated Reuben Rogak ’14, chief editor of VMP. “Alex understood firsthand what it was like as a digital media student and the financial burden of equipment costs and he is excited to play a role in offering an opportunity to current Knights to help with their financial costs.”

With every project that Cascio works on, he always remembers advice he received from his father: “Never compromise quality. If you truly want your work to stand out from the competition, you have to put in the time and maximum effort.” Charge on, Alex Cascio!

Five Things Alumni Need To Know This Week – Sept. 24, 2018

UCF Watch Parties

1.After a great game against FAU Friday, the No. 13 Knights are gearing up to face Pitt this weekend! If you attended our Indoor Tailgate, check out the photo gallery from the event. Speaking of Indoor Tailgates, we’re hosting another one this Saturday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center during Family Weekend!

Can’t make it to the game? Our UCF Alumni Chapters and Clubs are hosting UCF Watch Parties across the nation – find one near you!

2.We’re proud to call Ron Hawks ’12 a Knight. As a crisis-management lead for Lockheed Martin, Hawks organized the defense contractor’s response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria last year – and his time at UCF prepared him to do it.

3.Exciting news for our alma mater! A new collaboration with Microsoft will have a BIG impact for UCF students and the Central Florida community. Learn more about how UCF will participate in the Microsoft Flagship Schools program.

4.President Dale Whittaker has announced a series of campus conversations to share aspirations for UCF and how to make them a reality. The first takes place this morning at the UCF College of Medicine in Lake Nona. If you can’t attend in person, you can tune in to the livestream via the UCF YouTube Channel.

5.We knew our Knights were strong, but did you know they are strong enough to compete for Team USA? UCF student Allison Fleming joined Team USA for the World University Weightlifting Championships. Fleming emerged as the top American finisher in the 63kg weight class for the snatch event.

Five Tips From Hospitality Pros That Apply To Any Job

Photo of Hospitality Knight Panelists
(From right to left): Panelists Allen Johnson ’81, Michelle Jenkinson ’07, Marylouise Fitzgibbon ’94 and moderator Tom Hope ’09MBA take a selfie with Hospitality Knight audience

By Jenna Marina Lee

Event Photo Gallery

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 17, 2018) – The hospitality industry is known for prioritizing customer service above all, and that is certainly the case for Michelle Jenkinson ’07 and her team within the fan experience and operations department for the Orlando Magic.

So when a fan who had gotten engaged two days prior to attending a Magic game lost her ring underneath the bleachers, Jenkinson’s team sprang into action. An operations staff member knew of a crevice in the floor and located the ring, where he hooked it with his pinky finger and safely retrieved it.

“Those are the moments that we teach our employees about at the Amway Center,” Jenkinson said. “If you think back to your favorite moment of a sporting event, do you remember the score? It’s more likely you remember who you went with. Or the fact that the usher bent down and talked to your child and got them a foam finger and made them feel special. We want to create legendary experiences for our fans.”

Anecdotes like this and other motivational takeaways were shared at a career enhancement panel hosted by the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter on May 15.

Jenkinson along with two alumni who have gone on to become prominent professionals at Walt Disney World and City of Orlando shared their insights and experiences at a networking and social event held on Rosen’s campus.

Below, we share some of the panel’s top tips that apply to any job.

A snapshot of the panelists:
Marylouise Fitzgibbon ’94, Regional General Manager for Walt Disney World
Michelle Jenkinson ’07, Director of Fan Experience and Operations for the Orlando Magic
Allen Johnson ’81, Chief Venues Officer of Orlando Venues
•  Moderator: Tom Hope ’09MBA, UCF Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives

1: An effective leader leads with kindness.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon:
“We’re still making really smart business decisions and still working on smart strategies and forming tactical plans, but in every decision we make, people make all the difference. It’s not just something, it’s everything. Leadership is all about relationships. When I was in school, I think that concept sounded nice to have, but now that I’m further along in my career, it’s a differentiator. The reason we all got into this business is that we wanted to make a difference in the world. For me, that difference starts with one person, one employee, one guest, one peer. That’s something I’ve tried to hold onto all these years. There’s so much data that shows that leaders who have a style of kindness are more effective. Those are the people you want to work for. Those are the people I want to work for.”

Michelle Jenkinson: “Some leaders want to lead with fear or want to lead with being aggressive. It just doesn’t work. Lead by being part of a team. A lot of times, the leaders I’ve admired and something that I try to emulate now, is having the mindset that I’m no different than the greeter on the club level checking tickets. It’s all about the fan experience, the guest experience and making sure you are part of your team. You just have to get your hands dirty, whatever it takes to get the doors open and the lights turned on. You’re not above it.”

Allen Johnson: “I agree that kindness is one of the most important qualities of a leader. Qualities that I look for in a leader is No. 1: listening. No. 2: know your people. Know their names. And if you know their wife’s and their husband’s or companion’s name or their kids’ names, you’re golden. There’s four words I tell everyone you have to learn. The first two are ‘thank you.’ The last two will get you through life on everything: ‘I’m sorry.’

2: Prioritizing work-life balance (or integration) is necessary for career longevity.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon:
I have two sets of twins, it’s sort of my claim to fame. At one point I had four kids under the age of five. I used to get asked the question about work-life balance a lot. Choose your spouse, your companion really careful. The only reason I can do what I do is because I have an amazing husband who gets me. I joke that I don’t know the name of my kids’ dentist, I never have, but their very perfectly capable father does and takes them. I don’t say that with pride, but I also don’t say it with embarrassment either. I’ve stopped using the term work-life balance because it doesn’t exist. I like thinking about work-life integration. You aren’t two separate people, as much as you try. Be aware that the people who work for you are dealing with the same issues that maybe you are, so I work a lot with my team on integrating our personal and professional lives.

Michelle Jenkinson: I have three small children, 6 and under. Balancing that on top of 45 games a year — on a game day I’m there at 9 a.m. and typically don’t leave until 11-12 o’clock at night. So what does that look like? I have to have an awesome team at home as well as an awesome team at work. We know when we need to pick up the slack for one another. It’s important to have fun in the office and do things as a work family. I love every single one of them. The other key is to take the down time when you have it. If you get a day that it’s slow in the office, take it off. Realize that work is always going to be there.

Allen Johnson: I know everyone struggles with this, even more so in this industry. I consider the time I spend with my family special. Whatever we are doing, I try to make it special. Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking them to the library because that’s what they like doing. But everyone needs to find what their happy place is. My degree is in psychology and I’m big on mindfulness. I learned how to meditate when I was in high school and I do that a lot when I’m in a stressful situation. It’s up to you to find the things that work for you to help balance.

3: It’s all in the details.
Michelle Jenkinson: When it comes to events, a lot of people have this idea of what it’s about. They think weddings, the Grammys and you have an unlimited budget and life is good. Let me tell you, that’s .02 percent of the events industry. Every event has the same components though – attention to detail. We’ll go on walk-throughs on a game day, and I’m worried about a scuff on the terrazzo. That seems ridiculous, but if we don’t do that, those scuffs add up. That’s maintenance on your building. So it’s easier to take care of those little things. As for the job, you plan as much as you can, but also know that nothing in events goes to plan. Be able to adapt to that and be flexible. Keep that mindset because it will get you further in this industry.”

4: Don’t wait for the perfect job.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: “Stop trying to find the perfect job right out of college. Get something. Your degree will pay off big, but it’s probably not that very first job. It won’t be long to set yourself apart. Don’t get caught up with titles. Just get a job.”

Allen Johnson: “You have to start somewhere. I think Marylouise is absolutely correct. People are impatient when they first graduate because you want to be us up here on this panel. It’s a long road. What I look for when I’m hiring someone: If I have two candidates and one has the most perfect background, education, experience, everything, and the other candidate as the best attitude, I will hire the best attitude every time. It’s the only thing that you can control.”

5: No matter what year you graduate, it’s *always* a good time to be a Knight.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: “I chose UCF because in my small graduating class, a lot of my peers got into UF, FSU but they did not get into UCF. So when I got the acceptance letter from UCF, I chose it truly out of spite (laughs). I know that’s a bad reason, and I’m embarrassed to tell you that, but we’re all friends here. I graduated in 1994, and back then even, it was a big deal to get chosen to attend UCF. Now, being out in the world and being an employer, the reputation that this university has is so phenomenal and powerful. It’s a proud moment when I’m sitting in recruiting meetings and people are actively trying to find UCF students and I’m the one in the room who whispers, you know I went to school there (smiles).”

Michelle Jenkinson: “I was born and raised in Florida in Merritt Island. I had a lot of friends that went to UCF. I would come visit them. I loved Orlando, loved campus. I honestly didn’t apply anywhere else. Orlando had a good mix of bigger city but that excitement of college life. UCF was growing quite quickly. I’m extremely proud to be a UCF Knight. Even since I’ve graduated, I love to be a part of the success the university has had.”

Allen Johnson: “It’s weird, I started at a school called FTU and graduated from UCF. I don’t know how that happened (laughs). I’m third-generation Central Floridian. I was born in Kissimmee, raised in St. Cloud. I fell in love with UCF and a girl. UCF gave me an opportunity to experience college life on a scale that is much bigger now, as we all know, but back then it was still a major university. I’m proud to be a UCF Knight. I run Camping World Stadium and we have a bowl game every Jan. 1. This year is the first year I’ve missed it in 14 years. I chose to go to Atlanta. My boss allowed me to. That’s how important UCF is to me.”

First International Alumni Chapter Established

saudi-chapter
Cynthia Young, PhD (left), Yahya Alassaf ’16PhD (center) and Julie C. Stroh (right) announce UCF’s first international alumni chapter

 

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 20, 2016) — With 31 active chapters in cities across the country, UCF Alumni announced the addition of the UCF International Alumni Chapter of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning – the first international chapter in university history. The inauguration ceremony was held appropriately at the UCF Global building.

It will be led by Yahya Alassaf, who earned his doctorate in civil engineering during December’s fall commencement. Alassaf will be returning to his native country in three weeks to begin his career in academia as a civil engineering professor at Northern Border University, located in the city of Arar.

“UCF has been and will be a special place for every Saudi. It’s a place where people dedicate their life to supporting us and making us better,” Alassaf said. “To be a part of and to lead the first international alumni chapter at UCF is a great honor. It means a lot to all of us. It means the spirit of UCF will be with us forever. We are proud to support and represent UCF in Saudi Arabia and beyond.”

charter

Alassaf said he came up with the idea a few months ago. The idea became a reality after meetings with UCF Vice Provost for Faculty Excellence and UCF Global Cynthia Young, PhD; Assistant Vice President for UCF Global Nataly Chandia; and Senior Associate Vice President for UCF Advancement Julie C. Stroh.

Stroh said half of UCF’s alumni base lives in the Central Florida area and roughly 200,000 alumni live in the state of Florida, but as UCF looks to strengthen its global presence, international alumni chapters seem like the logical next step.

“UCF is nothing if not entrepreneurial. It’s important that we look across the country and across the globe for these connections,” she said. “Diversity is important. The beauty of this culture – the smell of the Arabic coffee in the room, the lovely music playing, the beautiful faces – how could that not be important?”

Young said of the 75 conferred Ph.D. degrees last weekend, 25 percent were bestowed to international students like Alassaf. However, of all the undergraduate students at UCF, half of 1 percent are international students. She hopes to increase that number to 5 percent (3,000 undergrads) and challenged the alumni chapter to help in achieving that goal.

“Think about how you can impact not just graduate students but undergraduate students and help them transform their lives by coming to UCF,” she said in her address to the crowd. “You’re truly ambassadors.”

Alassaf took the message to heart.

“I assure you that every Saudi Alumni will be a great representative of the values of UCF and its commitment to excellence,” he said. “And we will do our best to be an exceptional alumni chapter for UCF.”