Recapping Our Third National Networking Knight!

On Thursday, March 7, UCF Knights gathered throughout the Kingdom for the third annual National Networking Knight. Whether you were looking for career coaching, networking, or just learning more about your UCF Alumni communities, NNK was the place to be.

professional headshotNational Networking Knight began in 2022 as a way for UCF Alumni to grow their professional network in engaging way, and to connect with both young and seasoned alumni in their industry and region. This year’s event was hosted by 11 different UCF communities throughout the eastern region of the United States, and in Chicago.

“We are so grateful to the many volunteers throughout Knight Nation who made this year’s National Networking Knight the best ever,” says Heather Junod ’98, associate vice president of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving. “Because of their tireless efforts, on this special night, 869 attendees connected with their fellow Knights and explored new ways to grow their professional contacts – and had a fantastic time in the process! We are already planning next year’s NNK, and we look forward to an even bigger NNK!” (Mark your calendars for next year’s NNK on March 6, 2025!)

Attendees at each location were treated to a selection of light bites and refreshing beverages, along with the opportunity to receive a professional headshot. Many attendees also participated in games like “Networking Bingo,” through which our competitive Knights could win prizes and bragging rights. Knights in the Washington, DC Alumni Community also welcomed UCF President Alexander Cartwright, who met and mingled with the alums, and spoke to the gathering about the importance of building connections throughout one’s life and career.

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Garrison Cohen

The Greater Orlando UCF Community held its NNK at the Fairwinds Alumni Center on campus, where the evening’s emcee, Garrison Cohen ‘14, an attorney at Holland and Knight, who has been involved with UCF Alumni since graduating from law school at the University of Florida, welcomed the nearly 400 attendees at Fairwinds – a much different audience than the one at his “day job” in the courtroom. Cohen also introduced NNK Lead Mike Bosley ’94 ’97MA ’04EdD, and guest speaker, Maritza Martinez-Guerrero 00 ’05MA ’11MBA, vice president of External Affairs and Philanthropy for the Orlando Magic.

“I was already involved with the Tampa Knights,” Cohen says, “But in 2022, my wife and I moved to Orlando, and I was just in time for the first NNK.” There, he met Brandon Fair, financial advisor with Edward Jones, who convinced him to join the board of the UCF Greater Orlando Alumni Community.

“National Networking Knight was a great event in its first year, and I have been able to see its growth over the years,” Cohen says.

“I met Knights of all ages, different backgrounds and different professions. There may not have been a lot of people looking for a litigator like me; but I traded cards with everybody because you never know who I might cross paths with, and I’m going to recommend a Knight every time.”

Knights at Fairwinds could also sign up for a 10-minute session with one of UCF’s career coaches.

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Rachael del Pino

One of our invited career coaches, Rachael del Pino ’09, a recruiter for Microsoft, worked for more than twenty years in human resources, talent acquisition, and recruiting and also has her own career coaching business, Accendo Career Coaching & Consulting. Del Pino works with clients on everything from resume writing to interview prep and everything in between.

“I have been most successful at helping candidates find where they fit in the ‘puzzle’ of job seeking,” Del Pino says. “I love helping people come up with ideas or think outside the box of what they think they know about themselves.”

It’s more important than ever to consider talking to a career coach like Del Pino – or one of the other coaches at NNK like Dawn Sipley ’04 and Jessica Villegas ’13. The current labor market is currently skewed heavily in an employer’s favor, meaning with more qualified potential employees available, employers can select the “best of the best.”

It’s a career coach’s job to make sure that potential employees present their very best selves during the hiring process.

“It can be hard for an individual to evaluate their own strengths and skills,” Del Pino says. “But a good career coach can – usually – quickly determine the best way to tailor your resume to those skills.”

Del Pino says that even though she had a brief session with the candidates she met with at NNK, she was impressed by what they’ve accomplished since graduating from UCF.

“Some were new grads, and some people had graduated nearly 20 years ago, same as me. What was really impressive was how all of them were still trying to move things forward in some way. That’s what we Knights do, right? Keep Charging On.”

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Robert Iezzi

Rob Iezzi ’07. director of health services for Katmai Government Services, says he was not that involved in networking and connecting with other alumni when he was a student at UCF.

“I was really just trying to survive,” Iezzi says. “I didn’t have the opportunity to engage, but now that I can see how important it is, I will make sure that my children not only enjoy the college experience, but to also take advantage of networking opportunities like those offered by the UCF Alumni community.

Iezzi has been on the board of the UCF Space Coast Alumni Community for about a year, he says. But his first event with the community was when he attended Starry Knight, one of the group’s signature events. Proceeds from the event benefit the Debbie K. Phillis Endowed Scholarship that funds scholarships for Brevard students.

“I was so impressed with the event that I knew I wanted to become more engaged,” Iezzi says. “The community welcomed me with open arms, and I took the opportunity to take on a leadership role.”

Prior to his current role, Iezzi was working in social services throughout central Florida, including various locations of the Boys and Girls Club. He was introduced to the organization while he was a student at UCF; part of the course requirement included a service-learning component.

Iezzi also worked for Boys Town in south Florida, where he met with the community and explained the preventative services that the organization provides. He was soon recognized by Boys Town leadership for his commitment and dedication by receiving a full scholarship for him to complete his master’s degree.

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Guest speaker Maritza Martinez-Guerrero 00 ’05MA ’11MBA, vice president of External Affairs and Philanthropy for the Orlando Magic.

At this year’s NNK event, Iezzi says the event was held at the Space Bar in Titusville, a rooftop location overlooking Kennedy Space Center and the Indian River.

“You come out of the elevator, and that incredible view is the first thing you see,” Iezzi says. “It felt like we were in the heart of space.”

To complete the evening, Janelle Coutts ’08 ’PhD, spoke about working at Kennedy Space Center, where she supports efforts for identification and quantification of unknown materials and contaminants for aerospace flight hardware and ground support equipment.  She also emphasized the importance of networking and what a great thing it is to be a Knight.

“What I’ve learned over the years, and I do not take for granted,” Cohen says, “Is how important UCF was to me when I was a student in legal studies. My professors wrote letters of recommendation for me, and gave me advice on the LSAT, and in countless other ways. We were on the same team, back then. And even now, we’re not just a ‘football’ school, we’re also an ‘engineering’ school, a ‘hospitality’ school, and many others. Events like National Networking Knight show that our reach extends far beyond sports, and they also show our enthusiasm, and that everyone has that forward momentum. I see that in everybody, and I’m so proud to be a Knight.”

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