Florida Tech’s Class of 2015

Florida Tech is filled with all sorts of interesting and intelligent students, and this year’s graduating class is no exception. Here are some student success stories from both our undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies as presented by university president Dr. Anthony J. Catanese on May 8, 2015.

Paul Marley, Mechanical Engineering B.S.

Among the many events that happened in the year 1958, I will note two of them here: Florida Institute of Technology was founded, and Paul Marley was born.

By now, of course, you’ve heard of the former. But the latter? Well, he’s about to pick up his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, along with the distinction of being the oldest undergraduate in this spring’s commencement ceremony.

Just under three months shy of celebrating his 57th birthday, Paul came here a few years ago under less celebratory circumstances: he was among 170 employees laid off by DRS Optronics, where he had worked for six years.

At the time, the Palm Bay resident wanted to get his optical engineering degree. He had been taking classes at the local community college and had his eye on a bachelor’s degree in engineering, which was needed to get the master’s level optical engineering degree.

Attracted by the smaller classes offered here and encouraged by our school’s proximity to his home, and frustrated by job openings for which he was either overqualified or underqualified, Paul enrolled at Florida Tech.

“I decided maybe it’s meant to be that I come here,” he told us.

So he did, and he clicked with mechanical engineering so much that he’s now looking for a job that would allow him to get a master’s degree in a related area.

As for being as old as many of his fellow students’ parents – and hip replacement surgery last summer only added to his aura – Paul said the age difference enhanced his experience.

He joked about having shoes older than the students in his class and told classmates tales of the 1970s.

And he even offered the occasional tidbit of advice – but generally not about what they were learning. “I offered advice about life, not about class,” he said.

Now that’s how you get a well-rounded education.

Curtis Earl, Applied Mathmatics B.S.

Nearly 40 years after Paul was born, the world welcomed Curtis Earl.

If he wasn’t actually born with a calculator in his hand, he certainly had one in his head.  By age 6, Curtis was doing multiplication and division, and he was taking his first calculus course at 13. He was – shocker –Valedictorian of his high school class.

At age 16, with 48 college-level course credits already under his belt, Curtis started at Florida Tech. And today, at the age of 18, he is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics.

The youngest of our undergraduates here today, Curtis may also soon be among the youngest of our master’s recipients, as he is already underway with that program in applied mathematics and hopes to complete it next spring.

His age is something that his friends joked about, Curtis told us, sticking him with the nickname “12.” His membership in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity helped him deal with being a young student, he said, and he’s graduating today with many of his brothers. (His actual brother, Dalton, has just finished his sophomore year at Florida Tech.)

As for what happens in the future, Curtis is still figuring out that particular equation. “I’ll think about it during my master’s program,” he said.

Daniel Smith, Aerospace Engineering B.S.

As one of the premier technological universities in the world, Florida Tech produces engineers and scientists of the highest level – but we choose to do more than that.

We understand the importance of educating the whole mind, and how learning about and practicing artistic and even athletic endeavors brings our students a depth of knowledge and experience that helps foster success when the time comes to venture beyond our lovely campus.

We see the merits of this full educational immersion, if you will, and so, it is clear, do many of you.

Take Daniel Smith. This young man is graduating today with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. But he has also spent the last four years further developing two pursuits that began in childhood: the violin and hockey.

Daniel has been the lead violinist, known as the concert master, on our Music Program’s string orchestra, continuing to develop the skills he began building as a five-year-old.

And growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, well, there were three or four outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of his house. At lunch you’d see businessmen playing a quick game. Daniel started playing a quick game. Daniel started playing competitive hockey at 9.

So during his time here, Daniel played defense for the Panthers club team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

And yes, he believes his work with the violin bow has helped his hockey skills – soft hands, hard shot, they always say. But it was his desire for a variety of learning experiences that really drove him to his role as campus Renaissance man.

“I do try to make it so I can have as much experience in all the fields I can,” he told us.

Michelle Deal, Biological Science B.S.

Another well-traveled student graduating today, one who likely donned a few more layers than our Wyoming team did, is Michelle Deal.

Graduating with her bachelor’s degree in biological science, Michelle worked since her freshman year in Professor Rich Aronson’s lab, and this year became the first undergraduate to participate in his National Science Foundation-sponsored crab research in Antarctica.

“I was really honored that they offered the trip to me,” she said. “It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

For five weeks this spring, Michelle lived on the research vessel, working four-hour shifts watching live camera feeds from the sea floor, analyzing those images, collecting crab specimens and handling other important duties.

In addition to the scientific knowledge she gleaned, the experience taught Michelle a broader lesson, she told us: “The trip made me realize that really, you can do anything. There are so many good opportunities out there, it’s good not to limit yourself.”

B.S. Forensic Psychology Seniors

Just as we take pride in students who tap into both sides of their brain, we are thrilled to be able to offer undergraduates an unprecedented level of hands-on and in-depth research experiences. What a powerful learning tool those can be.

Graduating today with degrees in forensic psychology are five students who have done some amazing – and in some instances, still confidential – work with the FBI as part of their research with our new Center for Applied Criminal Case Analysis.

Amy Caparelli, Matthew Gold, Jamaul Grayson, Devin Lucky and Jenna Seward spent spring break in Wyoming with faculty and alumni working closely with federal agents. They were researching violent crime and conducting case analyses in search of better methods to prevent and deter criminal behavior.

The team studied both offender and victim characteristics, Jenna and Amy told us, so they can better understand not just what causes someone to be a criminal but also what might increase the chances that someone is victimized.

Guided by Florida Tech’s Marshall Jones, this important research garnered the attention of Matt Mead, the governor of Wyoming, who flew in to meet with the team.

“What we did in Wyoming has never been done before,” Jenna said.

Nikia Rice, Biological Sciences/Marine Biology M.S.

Education can be a gateway to a newfound passion, and that is certainly what happened with Nikia Rice.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in marine biology here in 2009 and later returned to pursue her Master of Science degree in marine biology, which we are pleased to bestow today.

During her tenure as a graduate student, Nikia overcame some personal hardships to earn her degree while at the same time dedicating her life to the conservation of endangered sea turtles.

In addition to conducting research on vision in these gentle giants, Nikia serves on the board of directors of the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, and she is the coordinator of its education committee.  She has participated in numerous workshops, symposia and conferences, and provided a variety of lectures and public outreach events, all aimed at saving endangered marine turtles.  Her work has garnered awards from the American Microscopical Society, the scientific research society Sigma Xi, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, and the Florida Fly Fishing Association.

Nikia recently discovered that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young sea turtles have died from ingesting plastic pollution off Florida’s Atlantic coast.  She intends to combine this discovery with her interest in vision, animal behavior and biochemical analyses to preserve these ancient citizens of our oceans.

Pan Luo, Global Strategic Communication M.S.

As an undergraduate in Shanghai Business School in China, Pan Luo studied international business.

An interest in America culture, and a fondness for Florida’s climate, brought her to our campus, where she has now earned a master’s degree in global strategic communication (as well as a host of honors, including Outstanding Graduate of the Year in Arts and Communications).

 I offer that academic bio because it’s fascinating to see her degrees, with their international perspective, come together so perfectly for the really cool job Pan now has.

She is a show coordinator for Universal Creative – yes, THAT Universal. The theme park operators are planning to open a 3.3 billion dollar park in Beijing in 2020, and between now and then, Pan will work with her team to support producers and designers of that new park.

She’s already worked on rides and attractions associated with Harry Potter and Despicable Me.

The new park will be a unique blend of American pop culture and attractions that reflect China’s cultural heritage, Pan said – a great mix for someone steeped in international business and global communications!

“It’s really exciting to see the development of a theme park,” Pan told us.

This is not the first time Pan, whom friends call Dancy because of her fondness for dancing, has served as a bridge of sorts between cultures. She had an award-winning run as president of the Chinese Scholars and Students Association here at Florida Tech, where she helped students open bank accounts, secure mobile phones and so forth.

It was part of an overall experience here that she said really prepared her for operating successfully in our increasingly global world.

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