On March 18, UCF transitioned to remote learning and working due to the coronavirus pandemic. While most students and faculty are off campus at this time, there are a select group of people still working on campus. Here are a few of the essential personnel who are keeping UCF safe and ready for the return of Knight Nation.

Michael Deichen

Associate Vice President for Student Health Services

I came here in 2001. Since 9/11, we have faced some major public health threats. It began with Anthrax and was followed by H1N1, Ebola and Zika. Every one of those events helped UCF build the strong health safety and response system we have in place now. If this was 19 years ago things would be so much harder. Although we do remain extremely busy, we haven’t been overwhelmed by COVID because it’s been a relatively gradual rollout since January.

“We’ve gotten through other major health crises and we will get through this one.”

My staff has been amazingly flexible. One week we were doing our care in person and the next all our clinical providers had to transition to telehealth, through which we’ve completed thousands of visits virtually. Our pharmacy has been working hard filling prescriptions, transferring some prescriptions to other pharmacies and answering calls, all the while developing a new way of dispensing medication to students without having them enter the building. Some of our staff are now processing about 16,000 student immunization records while working from home.

We’ve gotten through other major health crises and we will get through this one. It’s the feeling of the unknown that is creating the most stress right now. I remain very optimistic about the solutions that are being worked on and am certain things will normalize in time.


Sudipta Seal

Chair and Professor of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering

We’ve seen a shortage of masks, gloves, face shields and PPE during this outbreak. So one question we’re looking at is, ‘How do we safely reuse protective equipment?’ We’re working, with support from the National Science Foundation and Professor Griffith Parks from the College of Medicine, to research if a nanoparticle coating can be applied to these supplies to capture and deactivate the virus so we can help alleviate the shortage. At the same time, we’re trying to understand how nanoparticles interact with pathogens.

“This is a time for scientists and researchers to use their expertise to see how they can really help communities.”

This is a time for scientists and researchers to use their expertise to see how they can really help communities and have a broader impact on society — and that feels good. Although most people are working remotely, in some ways we are even busier than we used to be because there’s constant communication and planning, which is something positive in a way. But as a department chair and a professor, not seeing students, staff and colleagues face-to-face is hard. We’re still helping and meeting through Zoom, and it’s great that I’m seeing more of my family now. But being in the Student Union and eating lunch with the people I’m used to seeing is something I miss.


Crystal Saul

Associate Director of the Office of Presidential Events

It is tough sometimes leaving the house knowing I have an 11-month-old and my mother-in-law, who is in her mid-60s, living with us. I just want to make sure I keep them protected. Despite these troubling times, I’m trying to focus on practicing gratitude daily. With that said, I’m incredibly grateful to have a job.

“If [the Class of 2020] can make it through this, they can make it through any challenge they have in adulthood.”

I manage the Burnett House, which is the on-campus home of the university president. We’ve been working to prepare the home for President Cartwright’s arrival so he can feel welcomed and get to work on helping the university get through this pandemic. It’s important that our department supports the president as best we can so he can lead through any challenges we may face, which he is well equipped to do.

Presidential Events also organizes over 100 programs across the university each year to engage community partners internally and externally. Obviously our daily tasks have changed significantly, but we have been putting most of our energy into the virtual commencement and making that a memorable experience for our graduates, despite the pandemic we are facing. The Class of 2020 not being able to have the year they planned is a tough pill to swallow. But if they can make it through this, they can make it through any challenge they have in adulthood by calling on the determination and grit they’ve had to demonstrate during this time. Their lives are just getting started, and though this is the end of a chapter, there is so much more to look forward to. In the long run, they will be stronger.


Andre Simoes

Greenhouse Coordinator for UCF Arboretum
Senior plant sciences major

It kind of feels like my senior year is fizzling out, but there isn’t much anyone can do about what’s happening. I know the transition to online classes hasn’t been easy for everyone, but I’ve been lucky with my classes. Another thing I’m really grateful for is the fact I’m still able to work at the Arboretum. It’s been hard being home so much, so being here is a huge help for me. And the Arboretum — which really is all of campus, and its 82 acres of nature trails — is still here for students who are nearby and need fresh air.

“It’s been hard being home so much, so being here is a huge help for me.”

As greenhouse coordinator, I organize events and plant sales at UCF. We had to cancel about eight events during March and April because of the coronavirus, but we’re working on planning events for when campus is open again. Even though most students are gone now, there is a lot to do here, especially since we don’t have the help that we usually get from volunteers. Each week I’m working about 4 hours from home to plan a new section in one of our gardens and I spend 6 hours on-site, usually weeding, cleaning and doing maintenance. The fresh produce we harvest goes to Knights Pantry, which is still supplying students in need with food, so it’s important we continue to take care of gardens and green spaces.


Tony Chronister

UCF Police Department Sergeant

Almost any time we have a state or national emergency we are a unified command with the Central Florida region. We help where we’re needed. For example, in 2017 campus served as a staging center for the National Guard with Hurricane Irma relief.

“Almost any time we have a state or national emergency we are a unified command with the Central Florida region.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve partnered with Aventus Biolabs to set up a drive-through testing site on campus that can serve up to 250 people a day by appointment. Normally, my duties focus on organizing and planning for special events, but I also helped develop and manage the traffic plan for the testing site, which is designed to minimize contact between people and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a department that is centered around community partnerships, we’re encouraged to engage with people and be in close proximity to them. The biggest difference in how we’re doing our jobs now is that we have to maintain social distancing, which often means we can’t engage with the community like we typically would.


Rhiana Raymundo ’19

Social Media Coordinator for UCF Marketing

In this day and age, social media is where many people go for answers during an emergency or crisis. We are an instant news source — this is a 24/7 job and we have to act fast and accurately. Whether we’re tagged or not, we see everything UCF-related that anyone says and our main goal is alleviating situations with clarity and compassion. We’re constantly working with administration across the campus to share information and address any concerns or questions. We care a lot about UCF and the people that make it the university that it is.

“In this day and age, social media is where many people go for answers. We are an instant news source — this is a 24/7 job.”

During this time, I work from home most days to create and distribute crucial messages regarding the pandemic and university updates. But I’ve had to come to campus a few times to capture content for videos and photos. This is a really difficult time, so we also make it a point to create content that helps uplift people and share the positive stories we find on social. With everything going on, so many people have been going out of their way to be kind and help others, and that’s strengthened my faith in the Knight community.

I graduated from UCF last year and am a graduate student now. A lot of my own friends were supposed to walk UCF’s stage, and so was my younger brother for high school. I feel for them.  We’re doing our best to create a few extra special things for the upcoming virtual commencement as well, including sharing the stories and experiences of those graduating virtually. We look forward to these celebrations and the rescheduled in-person ceremony in the future — when it is safer for all of our Knights to be together. I just want these grads to realize their achievements will never go unnoticed because of the pandemic.


Adam Chandler

Pop Parlour Owner

It’s slow here in the summer, but this makes summer look busy. We’ve been here for about five years and all of the local vendors in Knights Plaza have always had good relationships with one another. We’re trying our best to support each other right now. I try to eat at Burger U when I can, and they come over for coffee. Even the people working at Limbitless Solutions come over twice a day. But it’s been really hard because we’ve lost more than 95 percent of our customers.

“There are still ways to support small businesses – and I hope people keep that and us in mind.”

I think people don’t realize we’re open, but we are, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re still serving popsicles, coffee and other beverages through our walk-up window. We’ve also started delivering within six miles of both our campus and downtown locations. Social distancing and the stay-at-home orders are important to follow, but there are still ways to support small businesses — and I hope people keep that and us in mind.


Jon Palmer

Assistant Director of Sports Turf and Grounds

Grass doesn’t stop growing and eventually campus will be back to normal, so our department, which is responsible for everything inside of the Athletic Village, is still working regularly to keep everything in shape. It’s tough for student-athletes to be away right now, but we know as soon as they’re allowed back they will be —and we need to be ready.

“It’s tough for student-athletes to be away right now, but we know as soon as they’re allowed back they will be —and we need to be ready.”

Player safety is the biggest concern, so we have to make sure there isn’t anything on the grounds that may cause them to injure themselves. We have to keep doing all the maintenance we normally do, which isn’t like normal home landscaping. For example, the grass in the stadium needs to be mowed three to five times a week in season. In a way, because there aren’t student-athletes practicing on our fields right now it’s been easier to get things done. But because we have to social distance it’s been hard to do things that require more than one person. Our team is six people, we’re pretty close and regularly eat lunch together, but we can’t even do that now. It definitely feels different here.


Nicole Arft ’11 ’16MBA

Accountant for Public Safety Equipment
Supply Manager for UCF Police Department  

I am responsible for the university’s emergency fund used to help alleviate some of the financial burden for departments at the university. As a state government agency, UCF is eligible for FEMA reimbursement during emergencies, which for us is typically a hurricane. I’m the person who collects all of the documentation and information we need to apply for public assistance. This is more challenging now because the entire university is being affected by the pandemic instead of the select departments that normally incur extra costs during other emergencies.

“I’m the person who collects all of the documentation and information we need to apply for public assistance.”

This part of my job I could perform remotely, but I started a new role about two months ago that requires me to be on campus to support our police officers. In my new role, I am responsible for supplying our 88 police officers with the masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer they need to keep themselves safe while protecting the UCF community. Obtaining these high-demand, critical supplies has been the biggest challenge out of all my responsibilities. But we’ve been lucky to receive donations from other departments on campus, such as our colleges, Recreation and Wellness, and Housing and Residence Life, which aren’t utilizing these critical supplies while working remotely.


Steven Freund ’01

Director of Security Management

Our department manages the access control system, security cameras, license plate readers, and contract guard services at UCF. During this period of reduced campus operation, we’re installing new cameras and access control, replacing aging hardware, performing software upgrades, and testing and implementing new features in our security systems. The installation process for access control and cameras can sometimes be inconvenient to those working or attending class on campus, so we are working quickly to complete as many projects as possible before campus operations return to normal.

“When [students, faculty and staff] do return it will be a more secure learning and working environment because of the work we’re doing.”

Most of my department is working from home, but I’m still here to help resolve security-related issues and provide on-site support to our vendor as they upgrade the security across campus. Despite these challenging times, I am incredibly grateful for my entire department as they continue working hard to support the university. While most faculty, staff and students aren’t able to be here right now, when they do return it will be a more secure learning and working environment because of the work we’re doing.


Tara Vargovich

Emergency Management Program Coordinator

My job changes based on the day, week or circumstance at hand. Typically in emergency management you have an incident and then a relatively quick response. But with this pandemic, everything is so drawn out that it’s difficult to know what all we need to find solutions for — especially doing so virtually. I work out of the Emergency Operations Center on campus [pictured above]. Usually this space has 50 to 60 people in here during an emergency, so we are all in one place working together. But for this particular emergency that really can’t happen. I also have to work with outside agencies, such as local law enforcement, fire department, hazmat, and search and rescue teams.

“My job changes based on the day, week or circumstance at hand.”

On a personal note, I’m a single mom from Ohio. My elderly mother is helping take care of my son who is here, but my daughter is a senior finishing school back home. I’ve had to help get supplies and prepare my mom, my children and myself.  There was a learning curve that I had to overcome to ensure I could support my family and my essential job.