The University of Central Florida recently celebrated the professional achievements of some of its most distinguished graduates at the UCF Alumni Association’s annual Black & Gold Gala. Among this year’s honorees were Mario Ponce ’90 and Doug Akers ’07, who are both alumni from UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

Ponce, who was one of the hospitality program’s first students, was honored at the Gala with the Professional Achievement Award, while Akers received the prestigious Rising Star Award.

The Professional Achievement Award is given to a deserving alumnus who has reached for the stars in his/her respective field. The Rising Star Award is presented to a deserving alumnus who has displayed promise and excellence early in his/her respective field.

“It gives me great pride to celebrate the professional accomplishments of those whose careers we’ve helped start,” said Dr. Abraham Pizam, Dean of UCF’ Rosen College. “These two individuals are an inspiration to our students, and it is my pleasure to bestow two of our highest honors to Mr. Ponce and Mr. Akers.”

At a very young age, Ponce was fascinated with the restaurant business, and while at UCF, he discovered that he excelled in leadership roles.  After graduating with B.S.B.A in Hospitality Management, Ponce utilized his leadership skills to serve in managerial and director positions for restaurant companies, like Hard Rock Café International, Rosebud Restaurants, and Claddagh Irish Pubs. Today, Ponce serves as principal & operations specialist for Partners in Hospitality – a Chicago-based hospitality consulting firm.

Since graduating from UCF’s Rosen College with a B.S. in Hospitality Management, Akers, a theme park enthusiast, has served in variety of operational positions for attractions, like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando, and Hard Rock Park. In 2009, he accepted a position to join the opening management team for Universal Studios Singapore. Today, Akers remains in Singapore as the assistant director of park operations for Marine Life Park.

Alumni of UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management have been recognized at the Black & Gold Gala since 2006.

Professional Achievement Award Winners:

2006 Chuck Zell, ’03

2007 Scott Kaylor, ’93

2008 Alinda Ramos, ’96

2009 Scott Spilker, ’99

2010 Jeff Carcara, ’92

2011 Tom Vogel, ’89

2012 Mario Ponce, ’90

Rising Star Award Winners :

2008 Christopher Iaciofoli, ’03

2009 Anne Fischer, ’04

2010 Raki Phillips, ’00

2011 Jaimie Hines, ’08

2012 Doug Akers, ’07