What is your current job title and responsibilities (please make sure we know your College, Department, etc.)
I am the Program Coordinator for the Office of Research and Civic Engagement in The Burnett Honors College. I assist in the management of our research (Honors in the Major and Burnett Research Scholars) and volunteer (Honors Educational Reach Out) programs housed in The Burnett Honors College. I am also one of the co-instructors of the Honors Symposium course.
What is your history at UCF and before UCF? (past job titles, responsibilities)
I have been employed in my current position in The Burnett Honors College since 2006. Prior to this, I was an undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology at UCF. Since acquiring my job as Program Coordinator, I have also received a Master’s degree in Sociology and will be earning my Doctorate in Sociology this spring.
What is your academic background?
My background is in psychology and sociology. As a graduate student, I decided to fully dedicate my studies to intimate partner violence prevention, community-based prevention programming, and public policy. In the near future, I would like to collaborate with government agencies and non-profit organizations on intervention strategies to reduce violence and abuse, and increase community engagement in these intervention strategies.
What is your favorite UCF memory?
There are two memories of UCF that are among my favorites. The first is walking across the stage to receive my Master’s degree in May 2010. Only a few of my family members earned a college degree, let alone a graduate degree. This moment was not only rewarding for me, but also for my parents who sacrificed quite a bit for me to attend college. The second was when I met my spouse for the first time, which was during the second semester of my freshman year. Some of my best memories at UCF involve our success, either individually or together.
If you could change one thing at UCF, what would it be? ($ and time no object)
I would create more graduate level programs in the College of Arts & Humanities. Although my degrees are from the College of Sciences, I have a vast appreciation for the ways in which the disciplines housed under the College of Arts & Humanities serve as a foundation for how we critically understand and communicate information. It would be wonderful to see the university develop more doctoral programs and experiences for students in the College of Arts and Humanities that complement the institution’s strategic goals.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
Learn as much from your students as you try to teach them. It is easy to get caught up in programming and lesson plans, and sometimes we forget what students can help us to understand about ourselves. I have had the honor to work with some of the best and brightest students at UCF, and the most meaningful lesson that they have taught me about being a leader is that mutual respect, honesty, and a healthy sense of humor are the most important components of fostering a positive team environment.
If UCF was going to name something in your honor, what would you like it to be and why?
A center on campus that would be devoted to researching violence against women and creating partnerships with local shelters, institutes, and organizations to get more students involved in prevention efforts. UCF Victim Services is doing a wonderful job in bringing a broader awareness of domestic violence to the UCF community. There are also several faculty and students doing important research on domestic violence. However, in discussions with many of my students I find that they still hold common misbeliefs about domestic violence and do not have a clear understanding of the risks and hardships that survivors encounter. Having a center would be a more accessible way for our students to learn about domestic violence through social, cultural, public health, and policy perspectives and be able to better identify the causes and consequences of this issue.
If you could have lunch with anyone at UCF (who you do not normally eat lunch with), who would you choose and why?
I would enjoy having lunch with Martha Hitt. I have met her a few times at events, but have never had a chance to talk with her for more than a few minutes. I would be delighted to hear about her journey at UCF and share my own perspective as well.
Who at UCF would you like to thank for your success?
There are three individuals in particular who have devoted their time to fostering my success as both a scholar and a professional. Dr. Valerie Sims in the Department of Psychology served as my first research mentor for my Honors in the Major thesis, and her willingness to guide me through a large-scale project gave me confidence in my abilities to conduct quality research and move forward with applying for graduate programs. Dr. Jana Jasinski in the Department of Sociology has also devoted years to shaping me into a successful scholar. In addition to serving as my thesis adviser for both my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, Dr. Jasinski has given me the direction to produce several research projects that have been presented at national conferences and published in journals/books. I could not have asked for a better graduate-level experience, and this is in large part due to Dr. Jasinski’s dedication. Last, but certainly not least, Kelly Astro, who served as my supervisor in The Burnett Honors College for nine years, gave me this opportunity to work with research and civic engagement programs which has absolutely changed my life for the better. I cannot thank her enough for taking a chance on me (I was far more introverted when I started my job than I am now), for trusting me to take a lead role in developing programs, for supporting my decision to pursue a graduate education while working full-time, and for creating an environment that made “doing work” the most enjoyable part of the day. I feel that my success is largely her success – I owe quite a bit to her not only as a mentor, but also as a friend.
Name and describe a teacher or researcher from your past who truly inspired you and why.
Dr. Joyce Gray, my high school English teacher. Her energy and encouragement transformed me from an average student to an exceptional student. Through her innovative teaching methods, I realized my full potential as a thinker and became more excited about applying to college. In my professional life, I still emulate some of the strategies that she used with my own students – a true testament of how the lessons of great teachers will remain with you.
What undergraduate or graduate class/program/experience inspired you the most and why?
During my junior year at UCF, I took an Urban Sociology course taught by Dr. James Wright. The course was what I would consider intense at the time, but I enjoyed the challenge and the fact that this course was far more applied than any others I had taken to that point. We had to complete 20 hours of volunteer work, read four books and write two papers, and take a final exam. On several occasions, I remember Dr. Wright telling me on my way out of class that “I should consider switching my major from psychology to sociology”. That was in 2003, and the more I looked into the Sociology Department at UCF the more I realized that there was a real need for what I always wanted to study but did not think was important enough to turn into a career. Thirteen years later, I am a graduate student in the Department of Sociology. Dr. Wright’s words and his Urban Sociology course helped me to finally find my place in the academic world.
What is your favorite restaurant or food?
I really enjoy authentic Italian or Greek food. There is a place down the street from Stetson University in Deland – Santorini – that is run by a Greek family. Any day is a good day when I visit this place for lunch or dinner.
What is your favorite movie, book or music?
Music has always been a significant part of my life. My father was always musically inclined – he played trumpet and bass guitar, and he still has programs and ticket stubs from seeing The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, and other classic rock bands in Cleveland, Ohio back in the 1960s and 70s. There was rarely a weekend when I was growing up that music was not playing in our home. Without a doubt, my top two favorite artists are Eric Clapton and John Mellencamp. I have been fortunate enough to see both of these artists live in concert. Seeing Clapton perform at Red Rocks stadium – hopefully during the summer season – is on my bucket list.
What is your favorite vacation destination?
I had the opportunity to visit Germany for two weeks in 2014 when my spouse was working on a post-doctoral research fellowship. Experiencing the culture and history of the large cities such as Frankfurt and Koln was wonderful, but the smaller towns absolutely stole my heart. Marburg, in particular, was where I spent most of my time. It was like something out of a dream: castle on a mountain, cobblestone streets, and beautiful cathedrals. I have never felt so much at peace than when I was there. I hope to visit as much as possible, and perhaps reside there for a period of time in the future.