On Oct. 1, the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter, and the Orlando Museum of Art, will host Eclectic Knights VII, part of OMA’s 16th season of 1st Thursdays. The event features more than 50 pieces of artwork, made exclusively by UCF alumni, faculty and staff.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, the UCF Alumni Association will participate in beautification efforts at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, as part of UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back. In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter will assist the biology department’s efforts to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.
UCF College of Business Administration student Jesse Wolfe, owner of O’Dang Hummus, will be featured on the Oct. 2 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” with his company’s custom flavors of hummus and hummus-based salad dressings.
UCF MedTalk returns on Oct. 7, when Dr. Annette Khaled will discuss “Tackling Breast Cancer,” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This popular event, hosted by the UCF College and Medicine and UCF Alumni Association, presents informal talks about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting.
Former UCF student Rob Starkman launched Rock ‘Em Apparel from his college apartment, and has since brought in more than $1 million in revenue each of the last two years for his unique brand of socks, which include UCF designs.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
UCF alumna puts on her dancing shoes to help raise money for nursing students
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.
“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.
The UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception took place Friday evening at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, where nine Knights were honored, and many others recognized, for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours to the alumni association.
On Saturday, the UCF Alumni Association hosted its annual Chapter & Club Council meeting, where nearly 50 chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — gathered to discuss the alumni association’s strategic plan, as well as many other important topics.
The next UCF MedTalk takes place this Wednesday at the Downtown PourHouse, where Dr. Griffith Parks will discuss “The Upshot on Viruses and Vaccines.” The MedTalk series allows participants to learn about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting. This informative and interesting evening is open to everyone.
Sonya Baumstein, ’09, the UCF alumna who was attempting to row solo across the Pacific Ocean was rescued over the weekend due to mechanical issues and bad weather.
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!
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 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 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.
Beth 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.
UCF has a unique opportunity to hear from Heather Gill-Frerking, director of science and education for the Mummies of the World traveling exhibit, on Wednesday, June 10. The exhibit — one of the largest of its kind — opens at the Orlando Science Center on June 13. (See video above.)
The alumni association hosts its eighth annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception on Friday, June 12. The evening recognizes some of the university’s most active volunteers for their countless acts of generosity and numerous volunteer hours with the association.
The UCF College of Medicine and UCF Alumni Association host their third MedTalk on Wednesday, June 17. “The Upshot on Viruses and Vaccines” will be presented by Dr. Griffith Parks, whose research interests include developing novel vaccines for viral diseases and the use of viruses for the targeted killing of tumor cells.
Nearly 200 women attended last Thursday’s annual UCF Ladies Football Clinic, hosted by the athletics department. In addition to getting tours of the team’s weight room and Wayne Densch Sports Center, throwing passes and trying on equipment, the lady Knights fans also got to meet players and coaches, and chat with Coach George O’Leary.
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.”