Entering a classroom dynamic that invites people from all backgrounds, ages and differing opinions to share their thoughts and collaborate without judgment is exactly what inspired emergency management master’s student Travis Leslie ’16MS to give back to UCF.

As he pursues his second master’s degree from UCF, Leslie has pledged $25,000 over the next five years to help grow the emergency management master’s program  through the Travis M. Leslie Emergency Management Endowment. It is the program’s first official scholarship, which will go to one student in the program each year starting in Fall 2025. The program is ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, and is in the College of Community Innovation and Education.

 Support students in UCF’s emergency management program and join the UCF Day of Giving celebration.

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Along with his aspiration to see the program grow, Leslie says he was inspired to give by the inclusive community he feels the program has fostered.

“All the professors either directly or indirectly promote an atmosphere of thought diversity by the way they talk and present their classes,” Leslie says. “People come from different walks of life, beliefs and ideologies. We’re not always going to agree, but it’s always been a very open and inclusive environment. The faculty and the students respect other people’s ideas.”

Leslie’s UCF journey started in the criminal justice master’s  program. He has worked as an Orange County deputy sheriff for about 20 years and decided to return to school for a second master’s degree. Leslie says he chose the emergency management program to diversify his knowledge base so he can work in the field once he retires from law enforcement. He expects to graduate from the program in Spring 2025.

Leslie says his interest in emergency management in the context of socially vulnerable or minority communities was piqued after learning about the issue from faculty. In fact, two faculty members in the program who had a marked impact on him were professors Claire Connolly Knox and Christopher Emrich, whose research and classes inspired him to want to pursue a similar path.

One of Leslie’s first classes in the program was Hazard Analysis and Planning with Emrich. That class, he says, opened his eyes to the issues that impact socially vulnerable communities that are often glossed over.

“Individuals within these communities have additional challenges as it relates to disaster preparedness, response and recovery,” he says.

Leslie says he knows he wants to continue doing research in this area and hopes to eventually use that research to ideate solutions to mitigate these challenges in his own community through consulting work or in the private sector.

At the end of the day, Leslie says he hopes this scholarship fund can help others who may not be able to attend college otherwise, specifically undergraduate students.

“It’s a pay-it-forward situation,” Leslie says. “I’ve been very blessed as far as paying for my schooling because I had the financial means and assistance to do so, but I would like to pay it forward because some people may really want to do this but can’t because of the cost. If I can act as a bridge between someone not being able to go to college and going to college, that is what inspired me to create this fund.”

Join Travis Leslie ’16MS in supporting students in UCF’s emergency management program. Make a gift April 11 on UCF Day of Giving.