A new group of UCF Forum opinion writers will start sharing their viewpoints Wednesday in the weekly series, succeeding the nine columnists from the past 12 months who commented on social issues, technology, racism, texting, life lessons and many other timely subjects. The columnists commit for a year to participate in the series.

Many of the past year’s columns raised questions or concerns, and others suggested solutions to problems – but mostly they gave us something to think about.

In addition to appearing on the UCF Today website each week as a project of UCF News & Information, the columns also appear on other platforms both local and afar – places such as the Huffington Post, Context Florida opinions website, Orlando Sentinel, Brevard Business News and others. You also can hear the columns on WUCF-FM (89.9) on Sunday mornings between 7:50 and 8 a.m.

For all their contributions to the UCF Forum this past year, thank you columnists Tom Cavanagh (Center for Distributed Learning), Nathan Holic (Writing & Rhetoric), Maritza Martinez (Community Relations), Rebekah McCloud (PRIME STEM/Student Support Services), Erin O’Flaherty (accounting graduate), Bob Porter (Business Administration), Leandra Preston-Sidler (Women’s Studies), Mark Routhier (Theatre) and Rich Sloane (Education). For readers who would like to go back and read past columns, go to https://www.ucf.edu/news/and search the columnists’ names. The columns are also archived podcasts at WUCF.

The incoming panel of columnists is bringing all new backgrounds and different viewpoints to the UCF Forum. Their diverse experiences are in public administration, communication, business, and other fields. They are a mixture of faculty members, staffers and one student; some have been at UCF for many years, and others are fairly new.

So, for the next 12 months, here are the writers who will be sharing their opinions through the UCF Forum:

Alaina Bernard

Alaina Bernard is the UCF assistant director of Landscape & Natural Resources, supervising all grounds maintenance at the university. Bernard, who has a master’s in biology from UCF, created the campus land-management program and oversees the university’s natural-resources program, which includes environmental compliance and tree care. Her campus initiatives include wildland-urban interface land-management techniques, sustainable land and grounds management, research, partnerships and student involvement. Bernard, who has worked at UCF 11 years, is a state-certified “burn boss” for managing controlled burns, a wildland firefighter, and is on the steering committee for the Central Florida Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. She helps oversee interns at the Arboretum, and as an instructor in biology teaches Systems Sustainability, a service-learning course incorporating land and grounds stewardship. Bernard enjoys paddleboarding, cooking and spending time with her dogs, and on the weekends she likes to “find an adventure and embark on it.”

Melody Bowdon

Melody Bowdon is executive director of UCF’s Karen L. Smith Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning and is a professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. She grew up in Oklahoma City, where she lived until beginning work on her Ph.D. in English at the University of Arizona. In 1999 she joined the faculty at UCF, where her research and personal interests intersect in the subjects of child advocacy and community engagement. She is most known professionally for her research and teaching in the field of service-learning in technical and professional communication and faculty development. Bowdon is an avid reader of all kinds of fiction, especially historical, and spends her free time with friends and family. She returns to Oklahoma to visit as often as she can.

Rick Brunson

Rick Brunson is an associate instructor of journalism in UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication. Before starting work at UCF in 2003, he worked for nearly 20 years as a reporter or editor at newspapers throughout Central Florida, including the Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Tribune and Daytona Beach News-Journal. In addition to teaching reporting, editing and ethics, he continues to work in the news industry as a part-time production editor at the Sentinel and as a writing coach at WFTV Channel 9. Brunson has written or edited hundreds of news and feature articles covering everything from politics to sports to Florida history to crocheting to crime to country music. A longtime Central Florida resident, Brunson is a proud Knight, having graduated from UCF in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in journalism. He earned a master’s degree in American history from the University of South Florida in 1999.

Todd Dagenais

Todd Dagenais has been head volleyball coach at UCF since 2008, compiling a 102-87 record heading into his seventh season. He earned his bachelor’s in sports medicine at Central Michigan University in 1995 and played volleyball on the university’s club team for four years. Before arriving at UCF, Dagenais coached at Southern California, Michigan State and Northern Michigan universities. He spent one season working with USA Volleyball to develop players for the U.S. national team, and during summers stays active with the organization. Dagenais was part of the coaching delegation of the U.S. Volleyball women’s national team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He is a certified athletic trainer and was selected by one of the country’s leading sports instructional-video companies to make a video on how to train a libero, a defensive specialist in volleyball.

Richard E. Lapchick

Richard E. Lapchick is chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at UCF and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which is known for its Racial and Gender Report Card for professional leagues, colleges and the media. He is a human-rights activist and an expert on sports and social issues, having spoken before the U.S. Congress, United Nations, European Parliament and on numerous TV programs. He is president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport, has authored 16 books and is a regular columnist for ESPN.com and The Sports Business Journal. Lapchick was invited by Nelson Mandela to his 1994 presidential inauguration in South Africa. In 2006, Lapchick, his family and DeVos students formed the Hope for Stanley Foundation, which organizes student-athletes and sports-management students to work in the reconstruction of New Orleans. He was named the 2006 Florida Public Citizen of the Year.

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton is a lecturer and internship programs director in UCF’s School of Public Administration. She has taught courses in public affairs, health management and informatics, and public administration since 2008 in the College of Health and Public Affairs. Lopez-Littleton holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As a McKnight Doctoral Fellow, she graduated from UCF with a Ph.D. in public affairs with a concentration in health-services management and research. Her research areas include exploring the role and responsibilities of anchor institutions, social-justice issues, and racial and ethnic health disparities. She is interested in strengthening community resiliency through university partnerships and collaborations. On her own time she likes watching classic movies, listening to reggae music, dancing and performing stand-up comedy.

Anthony B. Major

Anthony B. Major is an associate professor of film in UCF’s School of Visual Arts & Design and program director of Africana Studies in the College of Arts & Humanities. He also serves as program director for the Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary Studies. His career spans three decades of directing, acting, producing, writing and teaching, and has worked with Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones and others. Before joining UCF, Major was vice president of the Redd Foxx Corp. and worked as stage manager for Dolly Parton. His teaching career began at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. At UCF, he’s produced documentaries and exhibits on “Jesse L. Brown, First African-American Navy Fighter Pilot” and “Goldsboro: An American Story.” Booker Performing Arts High School in Sarasota honored him with its first “Leaving a Legacy” Award by naming the Anthony B. “Tony” Major Rehearsal Hall.

Vu Tran

Vu Tran is an anthropology graduate student in the College of Sciences, with research interests in bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology. The Orlando student was inducted into the 2014 Order of Pegasus, UCF’s most prestigious student recognition given for academic achievement, outstanding university involvement, leadership and community service. She has earned the President’s Honor Roll and has been on the dean’s list every semester she has been at UCF. Tran is a Ronald E. McNair scholar and a member of three honor societies. She has served on the President’s Leadership Council and as a board member of UCF Animal Awareness. From her experiences at the university, she said she believes in giving back to others through civic engagement and inspiring others to make a difference. She is an avid gamer and also enjoys sewing, cosplaying, exercising, wakeboarding and drawing.

Laurie Uttich

Laurie Uttich is a writer and instructor of creative writing in the English Department. After more than 15 years as a professional writer in marketing and corporate training, she returned to school and received her MFA in creative writing at UCF. She has taught at the university since 2009 and she said she spends most of her free time writing (or trying to write). Her true love is literary nonfiction, but she’s been known to occasionally flirt with fiction and poetry. Her writing has been published in Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth and other journals. Recently, she published her first poem in The Missouri Review, where it was selected as Poem of the Week. Uttich is also a mother of three boys and spends weekends watching them play sports. Sometimes, late at night, she said she attempts to play her garage-sale guitar.