UCF Helps Evans High School Students, Community

(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)
(PHOTO: Evans Community High School website)

By Nada Hassanein
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Last October, Thomas Milbry set aside his marketing studies once or twice per week to mentor freshmen at Evans Community High School in Pine Hills. In this troubled, high-crime neighborhood, many students lack support at home to succeed in school. But with the help of UCF and volunteers like Milbry, ECS has been changing that.

Tucked away off Silver Star Road, ECS is the first “community school” in Florida, providing Pine Hills’ high school students with extra development initiatives, such as tutoring after normal school hours. ECS also aims to help students flourish during difficult home situations, whether that means donating a handicapped van to a disabled student whose parents couldn’t afford one, or providing a student’s mother, who was suddenly and tragically shot, with an at-home nurse aide.

In 2013, the U.S. Census reported that 23 percent of the town’s population was living below poverty level — compared with 19 percent in Orlando — and about 30 percent of the city’s residents were children.

The “community school” concept aims to address those issues by giving students holistic care. Along with extra academic services and mental health counseling, the school has its own wellness center with a physician, dentist and nurse on staff.

UCF is one of four partners that support ECS with mentoring through a Freshman Success class. Volunteers from campus also help organize focus groups with community members and families to analyze what other projects need to be implemented at the school.

“The main reason is because the needs of this community are great,” says Amy Ellis, assistant director of the UCF Center for Community Partnerships. The center, which is behind UCF’s involvement with ECS, has a goal of becoming a model for other areas in Florida to establish their own community schools.

“When we first began, the school was a D/F school,” Ellis says. “It was a struggling, inner-city high school.”

Nine years later, the Orange County school is rated a B/C, with 2,484 students enrolled last year, and more than 300 enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program.

According to data provided by the school, only 64 percent of seniors graduated in 2005, but now that statistic has increased to 78 percent.

“I’m a product of a great mentorship,” says Jarvis Wheeler, ECS director, remembering his own mentor in college at Florida State University, whom he is now naming his son Lawrence after. “He was a leader on campus. I didn’t even think that existed.”

Wheeler extended an invitation to UCF to begin a mentoring program at ECS last fall.

UCF molecular and microbiology alumnus Nathan Wooding, a volunteer coordinator last spring semester, dedicated six days per week to help ECS grow and sustain its programs. Along with recruiting other volunteers from UCF, Wooding managed the school’s food pantry, helped organize school events and spearheaded the freshmen mentoring program.

Wooding’s own mentee was a senior track runner who had to leave his dedication to the team to focus on grades in order to graduate.

“A lot of [students] at Evans High School may not have family who have gone to college,” Wooding says. “[My mentee] wasn’t aware of scholarships or how university admissions work. … He didn’t always have someone to talk to.”

Wooding says his former mentee, now a Valencia College student, is hoping to pursue a business degree.

Also involved with ECS is Hannah Nguyen, a UCF health services administration graduate student. Nguyen says her department is working on streamlining programs to train mentors, and is brainstorming for ways to bridge together prospective UCF volunteers with the school itself.

“The system would guide mentors if they don’t know how to mentor in a certain situation,” she says. “We’ve [also] identified a disconnect between UCF and Evans students. … There are still a lot of students not familiar with Evans.”

To help connect UCF and ECS students with one another, Nguyen said a weeklong “UCF Take-Over” event is planned for October. More than 30 campus organizations will showcase their services to ECS students.

This story was posted in a Sept. 13, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

Strength in the Saddle

Alumna ensures disabled horseback riders get the therapy they need

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Lauren Parslow, ’14, shares a quiet moment with Whitey, one of the horses that provides therapy,
through Freedom Ride, to physically/mentally disabled children and adults.
Lauren Parslow, ’14 | Volunteer Coordinator, Freedom Ride

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“Horses mirror our emotions,” Lauren Parslow, ’14, says. “What we feel, they will feel.”

And, that’s what makes them especially well suited as animal partners in helping children and adults cope with physical and mental disabilities, and post-traumatic stress, while improving their interaction skills and building their confidence.

Parslow, who’s been riding and working with horses since she was 5 years old, works as the volunteer coordinator for Freedom Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Orlando. She loves everything about her job, because it allows her to make a difference in the lives of others every day.

“I can see the changes in the riders, their physical and mental health improving, and their overall quality of life improving,” she explains. “I also love that I get to work with the things I am most passionate about: children and horses.”

Freedom Ride is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship)-accredited riding center, which provides therapeutic riding lessons that help its mentally and physically disabled participants gain core strength, posture and balance.

In addition, the non-profit organization also provides hippotherapy, a form of occupational therapy in which a therapist uses the movements of a horse to engage sensorimotor and neuromotor systems to create functional change in a patient. It also offers a military program to help veterans increase self-awareness, enhance coping skills and learn more effective ways to interact and move forward within the community and with loved ones.

Parslow originally majored in forensic science at UCF — until she took chemistry, which was extremely difficult for her. During her struggle, she was also working at the YMCA, which led her down her new path.

“I realized how much I enjoyed working with children,” she explains. “I did my research and knew I didn’t want to become a teacher, so I took the early childhood development track. I loved every class and gave 100 percent every day.”

While pursuing her degree in early childhood development and education, Parslow interned with Freedom Ride for four months to gain the hands-on experience required for her major. Now employed with the organization for almost one year, she ensures they have enough quality volunteers to care for the horses, facility, and work the classes alongside the riders.

“I think my education degree helps me offer my expertise on our riders and their behaviors that the other staff may not understand,” she says. “I’m able to offer insight into why children do certain things and not others, or what they respond to best.”

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Jasper & Lauren

Horsin’ Around Q&A

Q. What advice do you have for current education students at UCF?
A. Enjoy what you’re studying! You’re going to be guiding future generations. A degree in this field is EXTREMELY important. I wish more people would understand that. The first eight years of life are most important. So many milestones are reached in that time frame. PLEASE enjoy what you are doing. There has to be passion for what you want to do or it will affect future generations.

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. The first thing I do when I arrive at work is greet all of my staff members and volunteers. We have a small staff, and we always ensure our volunteers have a great time. We’re a family, and I want to make sure that they feel that way. Throughout the day, I enter the volunteer hours into our database, work on the monthly volunteer newsletter, ensure that we have enough volunteers each day, visit the horses and riders, and am thankful that I have a job I enjoy. There are days where we may not have enough volunteers, so I’ll need to work a class, which I thoroughly enjoy! I’m always asking the other staff members if they need anything done, and I will do it if they need the help. My days go by quickly, but I always come to work with a smile on my face and leave with a smile!

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. “Trucks for sale.” Living on a farm is tough without a truck!

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. I’m a firm believer that if someone says they’re going to do something, they should do it. I don’t like seeing people, or myself, get their hopes up only to have them crushed.

Q. Last book you read?
A. PATH Instructor Manual. I’m going to become a riding instructor!

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. Happy-Go-Lucky, or something along those lines. I’m always, always happy. I always have a smile on my face and enjoy life to the fullest.

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to beat depression and anxiety. Before attending UCF, I was a very anxious and depressed teenager. I sought help from a psychologist and her dog, and overcame my depression and anxiety. Those two things are very hard to beat and overcome, but I’m glad I did. I think that’s why I’m such a happy and thankful individual.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Worrying never changes the outcome. How true is that?!

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to step up and take care of things when no one else is willing to help. It’s difficult, but it can be done!

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m easily intimidated, and I do NOT like confrontation.

More Info

See how Lauren and Freedom Ride are helping others:

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Equestrian Club at UCF Expands Outside of Stables

Equestrian Club at UCF Expands Outside of Stables

UCF's Hunt Seat member Alex Sipos rode to third place in an Intermediate Fences class at a UCF horse show on March 14. (Photo: Courtesy of Cy Cyr/Central Florida Future)
UCF’s Hunt Seat member Alex Sipos rode to third place in an Intermediate Fences class at a
UCF horse show on March 14. (Photo: Courtesy of Cy Cyr/Central Florida Future)

By Noelle Campbell
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

What’s a Knight without his horse?

The Equestrian Club at UCF knows that statement all too well. It brings together students of all levels, who have a passion for horses, to participate in monthly competitions that span from Savannah, Ga., to Miami, Fla.

In the National Reigning Horse Association Collegiate Riding Championships on June 27, Hunt Seat rider Morgan Sykes proved to be good on his horse. He finished second in the nation, just a half point behind the national champion.

The title is a big leap from the club’s inaugural year when it boasted only four members.

Today, there are more than 50 members participating in one non-competitive and two competitive teams within the club. The competitive side of the club is divided into two parts: Hunt Seat and Western.

Hunt Seat competes in four divisions: walking, trotting, cantering and over fences, where riders must complete a course in the correct order and positioning.

“You’re judged in Hunt Seat on the way you perform with the horse — on how you ride as a rider, how correct you are and how effective you are in your positions as a rider,” explains Josie Graham, club treasurer and Hunt Seat captain.

For fairness’ sake, the names of competing horses are drawn from a hat and assigned to a rider, who only has about five minutes with the horse before competing.

“You have this horse and you have to adapt yourself to this horse, and it really makes you into an effective rider,” Graham says.

Western team members compete in Western pleasure horsemanship and reining. Like Hunt Seat, competitors rely on a random draw for their horses.

The horses could be donated to the show for the day by volunteers or belong to the schools the at which the team competes.

The Western team is available to anyone from beginners to the open class, who are allowed to show in the reining class. Reining incorporates Western-styled patterns, spins and sliding stops into its horsemanship.

But competing isn’t the only thing on riders’ minds. Since its founding, the club has taken care of Knightro’s partner in crime, Pegasus, who circles the field at every home football game.

The non-competitive team works with the Pegasus Mascot Program, which was created in 2001 by the UCF Alma Mater Society.

The well-being of Pegasus is in the hands of squires, who spend four to five hours volunteering and watching over Pegasus during football games. They also get the mascots ready for appearances and do crowd control, says Jennifer Steele, club president and Pegasus Mascot coordinator. During the 2014-15 football season, there were 10 squires.

All members of the club also volunteer twice per semester with the club’s philanthropies.

One such organization is Heavenly Hooves, a therapeutic riding center in Kissimmee, Fla., for people with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. The volunteers assist in many areas of the organization, including helping with lessons, fundraising and cleaning stalls. Amy Lesch, manager of the volunteer services, says the club’s presence at Heavenly Hooves is beneficial because of their passion and experience with horses.

But, whether they’re riding their way to victory or volunteering their time, club members are all about the teamwork.

“At the end of the show, it doesn’t matter how each one of us did because we’re all a team,” says Cara Spirazza, club vice president and captain of the Western team. “I think the teamwork and the team effort of it is the most rewarding part, because we’re all there for each other. We’re all riding together and putting in all the hard work together.”

Learn More

This story was published in a July 27, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

Swinging for Scholarships

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

JoyceDeGennaro-dance1
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.

JoyceDeGennaro-dance2

“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.

UCF Alumni Hosts 2015 Chapter & Club Council

CCC-awards-3
During the annual AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council, chapter and club chairs were presented with
framed photos of the Reflecting Pond as a token of thanks for all of their hard work and dedication to the UCF Alumni Association.

On Saturday, June 13, following the previous evening’s 8th Annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception, nearly 60 regional, college and special interest chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — attended the UCF Alumni Association’s AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

The morning began with a keynote address and Q&A by Anthony Jenkins, Ph.D., UCF’s senior associate vice president and dean of students.

Next, alumni staff presented this year’s Chapter & Club Awards, which included:

  • The College Chapter Challenge Award tasked college-based alumni chapters to engage in professional development activities within their chapters that add value to their degrees and make meaningful connections back to the university. This year’s winner hosted an evening to provide alumni with a tool that’s invaluable in the industry in which they work — customer service training, provided by best-selling author Tim Miles. Congratulations to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter!
  • The Regional Chapter/Club Challenge Award tasked regional chapters with executing events with a strong university connection — which isn’t always easy when you’re not in Orlando! However, this year’s winner impressed the selection committee by working on events with local businesses in their community, while also working with the UCF regional campus closest to them on their signature event, Starry Knights. Last year, Starry Knights raised more than $6,000 for scholarships and, after this year’s event in July, they will be one step closer to their goal of endowing their chapter’s scholarship. Congratulations to the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter!
  • The Constituent Chapter Challenge Award tasked special interest chapters with creating opportunities to create meaningful connections with our student population. Chapter volunteers participated as panelists for the 4EVER KNIGHTS Alumni Speaker Series and served as mentors in the 4EK Connect program. Their signature professional development conference, PRO CON, raised $8,000 this year and allowed the chapter to engage with students in various stages of the UCF experience. Congratulations to the UCF Young Alumni Chapter!
  • The Chapter or Club of the Year Award was presented to the overall chapter or club that covered all of the bases in not only event programming, but in communicating with alumni and building meaningful connections. The selection committee was impressed by the winning group, not only for their philanthropic events — participating in multiple events through the year in addition to UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back — but also in the goals they set and how they reached them. They’ve grown their LinkedIn following from just 10 members to nearly 300, while becoming a chapter only two years ago. The judges were thoroughly impressed! Congratulations to the Denver UCF Alumni Chapter!

Chapter and club leaders then participated in breakout sessions on the alumni association’s strategic plan goals of communication, engagement, relevance and funding. After lunch, they continued with roundtable discussions on board management, social media, student engagement, professional development/career-focused events, and partnerships.

Before wrapping up the day-long conference with a catered happy hour and UCF Bookstore merchandise sales, attendees got to meet and participate in a Q&A with Mike Morsberger, the new vice president for alumni relations and development, and CEO of the foundation.

Thank you to all of our dedicated alumni volunteers! Go Knights! Charge On!

VIEW EVENT PHOTO GALLERY

UCF Alumni Board Welcomes Three New Members

The UCF Alumni Association board of directors, led by its chair, Peter Cranis, ’84, welcomes three new members this summer. The board is made up of dedicated volunteers who share their time and expertise to strengthen programs and services that benefit alumni and students.

Angela CohenAngela Cohen, ’98, is president/co-founder of Cyon, an Orlando-based professional recruitment firm. Angela’s expertise includes strategic planning and Fortune 100 corporate management. She and Cyon are dedicated to providing educational scholarships to deserving students at UCF through the UCF Foundation and her namesake scholarship to an active member of the Kappa Delta Sorority.
Trish CelanoTrish Celano, ’10, is vice president/chief nursing officer for Florida Hospital. Trish specializes in nursing strategies, mentoring, coaching and outcome management. She was the recipient of last year’s UCF College of Nursing Professional Achievement Award.
SMITH Beth015Beth Smith, ’04, is the community relations manager for Orlando Health. Beth combines leadership and volunteerism to support fundraising activities for numerous community organizations, including UCF scholarships. In 2012, she was named one of the Orlando Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” nominees.

Learn more about the UCF Alumni Association Board of Directors.

UCF Students Provide Linens for the Homeless

WhiteLinenProject
(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy of Shakera Quince)

By Shanae Hardy
Central Florida Future

Blanketing the city with compassion and comfort, the White Linen Project at UCF is leaving its mark around Central Florida in the form of sheets.

Students at UCF formed the White Linen Project, a volunteer initiative that provides linen to homeless families, to leave an imprint on their community.

Shakera Quince, a junior management major, was influenced to begin the nonprofit organization when she began volunteering for the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, one of the largest homeless shelters in Central Florida. After volunteering twice a week and witnessing several families that slept in the cold, Quince said she felt a deep connection with the children and families she served. She decided to challenge herself on what she could do to further provide resources to the families at the mission.

“I was able to find out that one of the major needs was linen, specifically white linen at the time,” she explains. “So, I stayed up late at night for a couple of weeks trying to figure out what can I do. Lo and behold, the White Linen Project was born.”

Quince paired with four other students who shared her passion for wanting to change some of the circumstances of the homeless, including her former roommate, Katrina Poggio, a senior journalism major.

Poggio said she is currently working on a photo project for the White Linen Project’s website to bring awareness to the homeless community.

“I got involved because Shakera and I have a mutual interest in making a difference,” she says. “My favorite part about the volunteer initiative is that I have an opportunity to give a voice to those who go unheard.”

After developing the program for almost a year, Quince and her team introduced the White Linen Project on campus in April. By partnering with several community-wide volunteer initiatives, such as Volunteer UCF, Straight Street Orlando and the Mustard Seed of Central Florida, the White Linen Project has beckoned attention for the immense demand for linen donations.

In order to provide students with opportunities to donate, members of the White Linen Project tabled outside the Student Union every Monday in April, allowing students to either drop off linen directly to them or at other designated areas around campus.

For the summer, Quince and the rest of the team have obtained two options for students to continue to donate to the White Linen Project: the UCF cubicle located on the second floor of the Student Union and the Knights Pantry.

After their first month on campus, Quince, Poggio and their team collected more than 150 pieces of linen.

Poggio and Quince are looking to expand the team with more volunteers so the organization can eventually grow into a registered student organization.

“We have so many ideas as we grow, and one of them is maybe even handing linens out downtown to people who sleep on the ground outside. Coming with a box of pizza and some linen and just saying, ‘Hey, have a nice night,'” Quince said.

In the future, Quince is hopeful that her initiative will expand beyond the UCF proximity.

“Hopefully one day we can go outside of Orlando,” she says. “One day, maybe we will collect enough linen to send over to other countries.”

More Info

White Linen Project

This article appeared in a May 13, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.

Vacation Dreamers, Meet the Doers

Six Rosen College grads working at Florida’s most luxurious resorts share what it really takes to make dream vacations come true

Rosen-six
(Top from left to right:) Ron Emler, director of human resources,
Four Seasons Resort Orlando; Meagan Strout, ’12;
Valeria Rivera-Florez, ’14; and Kristina Rosar, ’08
(Bottom from left to right:) Tricia Taylor, general manager, The Breakers; Hetul Patel, ’10; and Kathryn Shook, ’09

By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

Ever wondered what it takes to keep the world’s most luxurious resorts running smoothly? The answer is a lot of hard work, dedication and very special people. Because they work where everyone wants to vacation, these individuals are charged with a unique yet challenging mission: to make vacation dreams come true.

Six Rosen College graduates working at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando and The Breakers, two world-renowned luxury brands, offer an inside perspective on how the hospitality industry’s finest resorts create unforgettable and unparalleled guest experiences every day.

Four Seasons Resort Orlando:

  • Valeria Rivera-Florez, ’14, golf retail supervisor
  • Meagan Strout, ’12, sales administrative assistant
  • Sarah Staub, ’09, assistant director of spa
  • Kristina Rosar, ’08, Ravello restaurant and lounge assistant manager

The Breakers:

  • Kathryn Shook, ’09, reservations manager
  • Hetul Patel, ’10, guest services manager

What attracted you to joining Four Seasons Resort Orlando/The Breakers and becoming part of their team?

Rivera-Florez: What really attracted me the most was the fact that I get to be a part of history in Orlando with the first Four Seasons in the area. In the future, I want to be able to open hotels and be a part of new teams and experiences and this job has given me that opportunity.
Strout: I always wanted to be a part of Four Seasons and an opening team, and it was a bonus that this hotel was in Orlando – an area that was not only familiar to me, but also in the hospitality mecca. Orlando is such an amazing city because you are surrounded by the most amazing talent and have the opportunity to experience guests from all around the world. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Staub: I wanted to be a part of the best hotel and team in Orlando, and I wanted to learn from the best!
Rosar: Whether things are positive or negative, an organization finds its destiny with the attitude and drive of its leadership. In this case, the passion and love for the industry from the leadership, along with their positive attitudes keep associates happy and motivated!
Shook: From the age of 16, I recognized what The Breakers had was truly special.  The team’s passion for what they do and the family culture they’ve created exudes from each employee.
Patel: Our General Manager Tricia Taylor came to speak at Rosen College in the fall of 2010. During her presentation, she really stressed the family culture at The Breakers. Company culture was always the most important thing for me when I was looking for a job. It was The Breakers’ culture, history and brand reputation that influenced my decision to choose the team.

How do you think the luxury travel segment is different from others from the perspective of a hospitality professional? Does it require different skills or strengths?

Rivera-Florez: Guests in this segment of travel really expect a level of service that has to be perfectly executed and that is definitely a skill by itself. Employees have to be extremely knowledgeable about their job and property.
Patel: The luxury segment is all about creating lasting memories for our guests through personalized, proactive service and focusing on the small details. The segment is always leading the way, introducing new and innovative ideas to serve guests. In order to succeed, you need a team that is familiar with all industry segments and can demonstrate high attention to detail, exhibit creativity and adapt to constant change.
Strout: Any hotel can make a bed properly or have clean dishes, a nice pool and more, but what sets apart the luxury segment from the rest of the industry are the driven, passionate, empathetic individuals that make up the team and work tirelessly every day to create unforgettable experiences for our guests. Our guests not only expect to have a clean room, a delicious meal and a flawless experience from check-in to check-out, but also expect to feel an emotional connection with the hotel, which comes from experiencing warm, genuine and anticipatory service from our employees.
Rosar: I believe that those who work for luxury hotels have a “sense of pride” to ensure their guests stay is the best one they’ve ever had. The passion and compassion these associates have for making someone’s day better is incomparable. To get up and go to work every day, knowing you can and will make a difference in someone’s life by allowing them to fully relax is worth the hours that we put in.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do in your job?

Strout: I was lucky enough to be one of the first employees on property, back when the hotel was still under construction and I had to wear a hard hat and construction boots to work every day. The best part of being one of the first team members is that there really aren’t procedures in place. I had the opportunity to create policies and procedures, train new employees, design collateral and play a big part in how the Sales Team operates every day.
Shook: Being a member of our Community Relations team has been something that has been especially meaningful to me.  We have been encouraging our 2,000 team members to volunteer in our community and give back in many ways. Last fiscal year, we recorded 13,058 hours!
Rivera-Florez: Taking charge and ownership of the new golf store and retail business in the hotel. It has definitely shown me the business [aspect] of retail [as it relates] to the guest experience. We work closely with buyers and make sure that all the product that we have is the right product to deliver the best service that we can.

What are the key lessons you’ve learned so far from working in the luxury travel segment?

Shook: I’ve learned that every detail in making a guest’s experience special goes a long way, from a simple “Happy Birthday,” to arranging an extravagant excursion.
Strout: It’s sometimes better ask a guest if you can take the time to investigate an issue and get all of the answers for them so you can come up with the best solution than to hastily give them an answer or compensation that doesn’t solve the problem. The key is to fully understand the problem so you can do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future!
Rivera-Florez: Smile. It is the most important lesson and advice you can learn and give. You can’t teach anyone to smile, but if they do it naturally, it’s the most rewarding thing you can give as part of the guest experience.
Rosar: Always have multiple alternatives for the guest if you cannot complete their initial request. When people have choices, they feel as if they are in control.

How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you for working in the luxury travel segment and your current role?

Rivera-Florez: The best lesson that Rosen College gave us is that most of our professors are still working in the industry and keeping up with all the changes that hospitality is going through. It is a [constantly] changing industry and employees, as well as the company, need to keep everything updated as the market evolves. Professors really speak from real experience and not a book lesson.
Shook: Rosen College prepared me for my career at The Breakers by giving me the opportunity to have hands-on, real-life experiences. The tools that I learned in each of my classes have carried through into every aspect of my job. I am better educated in several revenue management practices and am able to pick up new responsibilities quickly as a result of my time at Rosen College.
Staub: My experience at Rosen prepared me for my role because of the opportunities that were available. From the career fairs to internships and planning real events…Rosen really put things into perspective.

What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?

Patel: My favorite part about attending Rosen College was the ability to speak with professors for advice and guidance. Smaller class sizes and a separate campus made professors accessible and easy to meet with.
Rivera-Florez: Being able to have such a big family in the industry. When you start working in hospitality, you notice how many people you know in all the hotels around the area and around the world. In the future, you are going to be able to network easier and be a part of a new generation of the hospitality industry.

What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students interesting in entering the luxury travel segment?

Rosar: I would ensure they understand that hospitality is not only a career, but a lifestyle. It is fun, exciting and ever-changing. There are many opportunities that will allow you to travel around the world, grow within organizations very quickly and meet incredible people that could potentially turn into lifelong friends. I would also encourage all students to delve deep into the things they find interesting while they have time before they enter their career role, i.e. if you are interested in working in restaurants, work on enhancing your knowledge of wine and food.
Staub: I would advise them to intern at a luxury property or to look into a Management Training program. Don’t burn bridges!  The person sitting next to you could help you get the job or be your future employer.
Patel: Gain as much experience as possible prior to graduation. The luxury segment requires you to have knowledge of all areas of hospitality and having experience in a variety of positions will give you the competitive advantage.
Shook: My advice would be to not be afraid to work your way up through the business and to step outside of your comfort zone. By limiting yourself to only accepting management roles right out of college, there are key components to your growth and development that are missed. You never know what is going to end up being your niche until you open yourself up to all opportunities.
Strout: A colleague of mine sent out this great quote that I think sums it up: Your smile is your logo. Your personality is your business card. How you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes yourtrademark.

See original story on UCF Today. For more information about hospitality education at Rosen College, please visit hospitality.ucf.edu.

Life after College: Expect the Unexpected, Say Three UCF Grads

Rosen-alumnae

By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

Graduate. Get a job. Get promoted. Climb the ladder. Succeed. That’s what most students think life after college is all about. Three alumnae recently spoke to Wilfried Iskat’s Introduction to Lodging class at Rosen College about the unexpected curves and swerves that come after graduation and how to make the most of the journey.

Jamie Realander, ’11, Kate Thomas, ’05, and Jennifer Garcia, ’09, all traveled unconventional paths to their current jobs, but found that their experiences helped them realize their true potential and discover their professional passions.

Realander is a conference center sales manager for the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, and, although she just graduated in 2011, is already a veteran employee of the company. Realander started working for Rosen Hotels & Resorts in February 2006 and rotated through multiple positions learning hotel operations. Then, in June 2011, she took an opportunity to work for the new JW Marriott in Indianapolis. Personal matters led her to return to Orlando and the company she refers to as “family.”

Realander hopes the future holds the opportunity to open her own boutique hotel and credits Rosen College for guiding her in the right direction to someday realize that goal. She encourages students to make the most of their time before graduation.

“Life after Rosen has drastically changed and I am not quite sure how I juggled school and a full-time career before,” Realander said. “Take advantage of every opportunity and be sure to get your name out there. There is something to be learned in every experience. You may not realize it at the time, but hindsight is 20/20.”

Thomas, a marketing manager for the Hyatt Regency Orlando, found herself doing work she never expected on her way to her current position, including human resources, revenue management, digital media and email marketing. Thomas stressed the importance of volunteering for projects and trying new things, despite lacking prior education and training, in order to continuously learn and provide value to your employer.

“My life after Rosen has been unpredictable as far as a career path goes,” Thomas said. “What was predictable is that I graduated with the skills and work ethic to make a go of anything I pursued. Every experience counts, no matter what the job, volunteer experience or interaction — it will teach you something.”

Garcia says Rosen College taught her to dream big and reminded students to believe they can achieve their goals even if they can’t see a straight path to success. Garcia currently works for the Florida Panthers hockey team as a client management specialist, but infiltrating the sports industry proved difficult despite her persistence. With aspirations to become the senior vice president of events for the NFL and produce the Super Bowl, she encourages students to prepare for professional rejection, no matter how focused or accomplished they are while pursuing their degrees.

“Life after Rosen was eye opening,” Garcia said. “No matter how strategic your internships or how many hands you shake in college, there comes a time where you lose the ‘help me and hire me because I’m a student’ umbrella. My advice would be to prepare yourself for rejection because it makes it easier to power through. You learn the true value of resiliency and you become hungrier and hungrier to land the next interview.”

See original story on UCF Today.

Rosen College Alumna to Lead Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce

Rosen-KatieWorthington

By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

At just 30 years old, UCF graduate Katie Worthington, ’05, will be the new chief executive of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, bringing a fresh perspective to a budding area of Central Florida. Like most success stories, Worthington’s was neither predictable nor planned, but for her, it started at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

After graduating from Rosen College with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, Worthington left her job working at the front desk of the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, a hotel she helped open, and relocated to Polk County. After brief stints in financial services working for State Farm Insurance and SunTrust Bank, she spent several years as the director of reception, public relations and customer service for a local medical clinic.

In 2011, she joined Clark/Nikdel/Powell , an integrated marketing strategy firm located in Winter Haven, where she currently serves as media and account director for clients such as Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, the Central Florida Development Council, Enterprise Florida and Fantasy of Flight. She also volunteers for various community organizations, including the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, founded the Winter Haven Young Professionals Group, organized the first Polk Emerging Leaders awards ceremony and received the 2013 Leadership Winter Haven Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“Because I’m a tourism nerd, I tried to get involved in anything I could do volunteer-wise within my clients’ business areas, the Chamber of Commerce and economic development,” Worthington said. “Over about six or seven years, I did of a lot of volunteering and became very familiar with the Chamber and all of Polk County.”

As her local reputation and professional brand grew, people started to take notice of Worthington’s talents and passion. When current Chief Executive Bob Gernert decided to retire after a 17-year career that saw CSX and Legoland Florida arrive in Winter Haven, she was encouraged to apply. Following a national search, Worthington was named to lead the Chamber on January 17, 2014, and will officially assume the role on March 1.

Worthington credits her education and experience at Rosen College for making her well-rounded in various aspects of business, including customer service, operations, marketing and public relations, a foundation that translates across industries. She also benefited from learning about the economic impact of tourism and how it can transform communities.

“I think having that holistic view of the economic impact of tourism is probably what’s prepared me most,” she said. “I think of restaurant management and even thought I never wanted to own a restaurant, knowing the challenges of running one makes me much more prepared since many of the chamber members are small business, family-owned restaurants. I certainly have an appreciation for them since I had to come up with a business plan for a restaurant, do a financial analysis and learn about operations in class.”

Worthington hopes to guide Winter Haven through what she calls a pivotal point in the city’s history as community leaders work to formulate a strategic plan for the future. She points to Winter Haven’s strengths as both a tourism and residential destination with its traditions, natural assets and potential to attract young professionals to live and work.

As she reflects on the journey to her new leadership post, she advises students to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible whether it’s through volunteering, shadowing professionals, doing internships or getting involved in student organizations. Also, never underestimate the value of hospitality education to various industries.

“A hospitality management degree is, in my opinion, great because it teaches you the business element as well as customer service, public relations and marketing,” she said. “There’s an emphasis on customer service, which in reality, is the real reason businesses succeed, no matter what industry you’re in.”

See original story on UCF Today.