Ten community members will be recognized as Shining Knights, UCF Alumni’s highest honor, at a special ceremony during this year’s Homecoming events on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Pegasus Grand Ballroom of the Student Union 6-9 p.m. The UCF Alumni Shining Knights Alumni Awards program began in 2017 when the late UCF President John C. Hitt and his wife, Martha Hitt, were named the first Shining Knights. The Hitts were recognized as UCF’s first Honorary Alumni awardees. UCF Alumni will also present the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest annual award granted to a graduate of UCF. The most prestigious of the awards is the biennial Michelle Akers Award. In 2022, Darin Edwards ’97 ’10MS ’11PhD received the Michelle Akers Award for his work in developing and evaluating Moderna’s vaccine for COVID-19.

The ten individuals selected for this year’s Shining Knights Awards come from disparate backgrounds but share a passion for making UCF the University for the Future.

This year’s recipients include two individuals who will be named Distinguished Alumni; six who will join UCF as Honorary Alumni; one Young Alumni, and an accomplished current student who will be recognized as a Distinguished Student.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Highest annual award granted to a graduate of UCF.

Gideon J. Lewis ’00

When Dr. Gideon J. Lewis, was growing up, he followed his father, Gideon G. Lewis, a practicing family medicine physician, as he rounded on his patients at area hospitals. These interactions between his father and his patients informed his career decisions and quickly sparked his passion for a life of service. Lewis — a world-renowned sports medicine physician who earned a doctorate from the California College of Podiatric Medicine — is well-known for working with Olympic and professional athletes, and is board-certified in reconstructive rearfoot/ankle and foot surgery. He is a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, a member of the UCF Foundation Inc. Board of Directors, a clinical professor with Florida State University and an assistant professor with UCF College of Medicine. In 2010, he founded the UCF Surgical Internship Program and serves as its director. This innovative program is a semester-long internship designed to provide four pre-medical students exposure to the operating room alongside a diverse team of surgeons. Since 2011, at least eight of Lewis’s interns have been awarded the Order of Pegasus, UCF’s highest award. His generous service to the community is matched by his generous philanthropy, and he supports the Burnett Honors College, UCF Athletics and the Wayne Densch Center for Student Athlete Leadership. Lewis’s legacy of service and philanthropy to UCF and our students is a model for transformative healthcare.

Rocky Santomassino ’79

Rocky Santomassino, son of a WWII military officer, learned from his father, Rocco, the importance of a strong work ethic and to constantly learn new skills. Santomassino grew up in Orlando and has always recognized the need for quality education in our schools and for community support for the arts. After graduating from UCF, he was a senior vice president and chief operating officer of an insurance company, where he managed its tremendous growth and then left the company after it was sold. He then embarked on his second career, devoting his considerable energies to his residential design practice. He still found time to give back to the community he loves; Santomassino has held leadership positions in many civic and nonprofit organizations, including The Foundation for Orange County Public Schools Inc., and the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival. He is also a generous supporter of UCF, supporting two endowed scholarships and the efforts of Flying Horse Editions to bring established visual artists to the Orlando area through their residency program. Some of Santomassino’s accomplishments over the years include the UCF College of Business Administration Professional Achievement award as well as induction into the UCF College of Business Administration Hall of Fame. He was also awarded the U. S. Air Force Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Service Award. Santomassino says he does not seek the limelight for his many contributions, but he does enjoy connecting with other like-minded people at the events and can be counted on for bringing a festive air to any gathering he attends. He serves on the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Executive Council, and, previously, on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Business. Santomassino is humble and says he always enjoys giving back to UCF. We are so grateful for his unwavering, steadfast support.

John C. and Martha Hitt Honorary Alumni Award

Highest annual award granted to a friend of UCF.

Jody and Roslyn Burttram

Although Jody and Roslyn Burttram had lived in Central Florida for many years, they did not become involved with UCF until their son, Jackson ’20, was an engineering student here. Although Jackson has relocated to Massachusetts, the Burttrams are still working on various initiatives with UCF Athletics and throughout the university. Roslyn has served as vice chair on the UCF Foundation Board of Directors, and as the immediate past chair of the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council and a member of UCF Town & Gown. With a background in critical care nursing, she also works closely with the College of Nursing on identifying the best ways to advance the college’s mission as they plan to move to their new location at Lake Nona. Jody, a former college student-athlete, is a UCF Athletics shareholder. He and Roslyn share their philanthropic and volunteer passions with many other community organizations. The Burttrams have made significant donations to support top priorities in the College of Nursing and have established an endowed scholarship that will support Ph.D. nursing students. Jody uses his business acumen to provide guidance and assistance on various UCF Athletics projects and, together with Roslyn, are transformational donors to UCF Baseball. The Burttrams have successfully blended their personal passions with the needs of the university and its students to align perfectly in a way that has deepened and expanded their love for UCF, even after their son’s graduation.

Alan Ginsburg

For decades, Alan Ginsburg has had a deep commitment to our Central Florida community. In 2014, he was instrumental in founding the Jeffrey and Diane Ginsburg Center for Jewish Student Life at UCF Hillel in memory of his son and daughter-in-law. The center, located just off campus, also includes 20,000 square feet of program space for the Catholic Campus Ministry. News of Ginsburg’s generosity reached Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Through Orlando’s Catholic Diocese, Pope Francis awarded Ginsburg with the Benemerenti Medal, the highest honor that a layperson of any faith can receive from the pope. Ginsburg is one of fewer than 200 individuals worldwide (and just a handful of non-Catholics) who have received this award. Additionally, Ginsburg established at UCF the Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Science Library and most recently the Ginsburg Center of Inclusion and Community Engagement.

Ginsburg has left his handprint on many Central Florida organizations — not only UCF, but also Rollins College, Stetson University, AdventHealth, Nemours Children’s Health, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and the anticipated Holocaust Museum for Hope and Humanity. He has also been active in Jewish and interfaith communities to increase inclusion and connection through conversation and education, which engage the diversity of humanity and inspire cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect. He established the Ginsburg Family Foundation as a vehicle of philanthropy to honor the memories of his wife Harriet and son Jeffrey, in the hope that “they shall live in Earth through the acts of goodness they perform.” There are few among us as inspirational as Ginsburg, and we are honored to recognize him with the John C. and Martha Hitt Honorary Alumni Award. In 2014, Ginsburg received an honorary doctorate in public service from UCF.

Marc and Sharon Hagle

Marc and Sharon Hagle made news last year when they went past the Kármán Line, the proposed boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space 100 kilometers above the ground. In a roughly 11-minute flight, the couple soared 66.29 miles from Earth, becoming astronauts. Back on the ground, the Hagles are still making news for their generosity to several Orlando-area ventures — including Marc’s savvy business sense through Winter Park-based Tricor International and Sharon’s nonprofit, SpaceKids Global, which looks to inspire young children into science, technology, engineering, art and math careers. Believing that having a strong athletic program can propel academic achievements stratospherically, they have provided generous philanthropic support to UCF Athletics to help the Knights upgrade its football campus as they transition into the Big 12 Conference. The gift will have a major impact on the daily functions of the lives of our student-athletes, coaches and the university community. Their leadership will inspire others to invest in UCF Athletics, and to keep reaching for the stars.

MJ Soileau

When MJ Soileau, Ph.D., was growing up, he wanted to be a banker. He decided on that profession when he accompanied his father, a sharecropper, to a local bank in the attempt to secure a loan. What drew him to dreaming about the profession? The air-conditioned bank and the ice-cold water fountains. Soileau came from “humble” beginnings, but his mother always emphasized that there was no shame in being poor, and the way out was education.

Fortunately for the world of science, Soileau discovered something he liked better than air conditioning — physics.

In his more than 35 years of service to UCF, Soileau founded and led the Center for Research in Electro-Optics and Lasers (CREOL) and fueled its research program from $36 million in 1999 to more than $145 million in 2016. As a UCF distinguished professor, he served as a mentor and inspiration to his fellow faculty members and to students. In addition, Soileau, and therefore UCF, has received international recognition and acclaim for his innovative laser research. In addition to his professional obligations, Soileau has served as a volunteer leader for many community organizations including the Orlando Science Center Board and the Astronaut Memorial Foundation and received the Directors Award from the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission (now the Orlando Economic Partnership). He has also been active on committees and boards for many international professional or scholarly societies including the Optical Society (now Optica) and president of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE), which awarded him their highest honor in 2008. To show their appreciation and devotion to UCF, Soileau and his wife, Cheryl, established two endowed scholarships. The first scholarship is for first-generation students. Soileau is particularly interested in helping first-generation students as he was the first in his family to attend not only college, but high school. He has always been a Knight, and we are proud to recognize him with our highest honors for a friend or supporter of UCF.

Young Alumni Award

Alanna Reynolds ’16 ’19MA

Alanna Reynolds ’16 ’19MA was selected for the Young Alumni Award from this year’s outstanding group of 30 Under 30 Alumni Award recipients. Reynolds, an intelligence analyst senior for Lockheed Martin, has been a member of the UCF College of Science’s Alumni Board, and is passionate about providing mentoring opportunities to current UCF students. She herself received valuable mentoring and guidance from her mentors at UCF while she was a student and is committed to giving back to her alma mater.

As a graduate student, Reynolds realized that the effects of the pandemic, coupled with a hectic work and personal schedule, were taking their toll on her mental and physical health. Reynolds sought out medical professionals who helped her recover. She has been very open about her struggles and believes it’s important to encourage people to speak more openly about mental health issues. Reynolds is active in the community through CFCArts, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Board and the Laurita Spina Bifida Project. She was a recipient of the 2019 President’s Volunteer Service Award. Currently, she is also part time student at UCF pursuing a Ph.D. in security studies, while also working full time at Lockheed Martin. While much of the work that she does is classified, there is something that we can confidently share: We are so proud of the way she faces challenges each day and look forward to hearing much more from Reynolds as she continues charging on.

Distinguished Student Award

Alyssa Marrese

Alyssa Marrese, a student in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, learned the art of hospitality from her grandparents in Massachusetts. As a child, she noticed how her grandfather greeted the employees at restaurants, and how her grandmother instituted a “doughnut day” every Monday because that was a favorite treat. The tradition continues, Marrese says, and now her family equates doughnuts with hospitality.

Marrese is the definition of dedication to the university community at Rosen College. She is a member of multiple organizations, including the Rosen College Leadership Council. She is one of the most active members of the council and serves as the Dean’s Student Ambassador. In this role, she represents students during the Dean’s Advisory Board meetings. During the pandemic, Marrese took the uncertainty and created an opportunity. She used the time to complete a tourism management certificate from FAU and the post-crisis hospitality management certificate from USF. After this, she went on to complete the JOR hospitality solutions luxury leadership certificate, the Rosen College Professional Development Leadership Workshop certificate and the UCF Inclusion Champion Program. As a student mentor, she helped the professor with the course by teaching students about the academic and professional opportunities available to them as freshman students at the university. She shared her personal experiences as a freshman with the students and inspired many of them to get involved in campus life. Her leadership influenced the lives of many students and helped them achieve future success through the relationships that Marrese nurtured during her time as a volunteer. Marrese’s drive and positivity in the face of the challenges of the global pandemic are truly remarkable, and she is most deserving of this award.

We invite you to join us as we celebrate this year’s Shining Knights honorees at a reception during Homecoming week. The UCF Alumni family is excited to recognize 10 honorees this year. Tickets are available here, and include a pre-reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and dinner. Black and Gold cocktail attire recommended.

Sponsorship opportunities for the 2023 Shining Knights Alumni Award Reception are available, and are a great way for your organization to honor our Knights.