Rosen College of Hospitality Management 2020 Alums Thriving in Entertainment Industry Post COVID
photo above: Just a few of the graduates from Rosen’s Entertainment Management Program who are thriving since the pandemic. From left: Maddy Frye ’20, Asanti Brizard-Josephs ’20, Austin Spears ’20, Karol Luczkiewicz ’20 and Jeremiah Rivera ’20, in front of the iconic Rosen fountain
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For 14 months, beginning just before the 2020 vernal equinox, UCF was plunged into a nearly endless winter break, thanks to a novel virus. “Novel” in this instance, referred to something previously unknown, but also meant, “an invented narrative that is usually long and complex and deals with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events,” according to Merriam-Webster.
Sounds about right.
In the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, some of its newest instructors grappled with how to best manage the new world of online classes, frightened students, and overall uncertainty. They went back to the basics of hospitality for answers and served up a generous serving of kindness and priceless lessons for students to find success in this new world.
“Spring 2020 was a scary time for all of us, but especially for our students who were about to graduate in a few weeks,” says Lauren Sigmund ’19MS an adjunct faculty member in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and 2022 UCF 30-Under-30 award recipient. “They had all worked so hard for the last 4 years and at that moment, it appeared as if their dreams just vanished,” Sigmund recalled.
One of those graduating students was Chicago native Karol Luczkiewicz ’20EMBS. Luczkiewicz was drawn to UCF’s entertainment management degree through a friend in the program who had invited him to a music festival in the Sunshine State.
At the time, Luczkiewicz was finishing up his degree at a community college in Chicago and beginning to recognize that a career in live music was his passion. He thought the Rosen College degree in entertainment management was broad enough to open some doors in the industry, and a trip to the beautiful Rosen College campus helped him solidify the decision to pursue this program.
But in March of 2020, only weeks before reaching graduation, everything was turned upside down. Other seniors in Luczkiewicz’s spring capstone course, Maddy Frye ’20EMBS and Jeremiah Rivera ’20EMBS, also found themselves in the same position.
“I went into entertainment management because I fell in love with going to concerts,” Frye says. “And then, as I became more involved with the process from seeing a production go from nothing to something, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
In her senior year, Frye was working at her final internship with Universal Orlando. Then, the world shut down. For a while, it also looked like the entertainment industry was finished.
“I didn’t really know what my next plan was,” Frye says. “I had just put all this time and money into a degree where the industry had seemingly come to a complete stop.”
Similarly, Jeremiah Rivera had gone to enjoy a music festival during spring break 2020 and came back to the world in lockdown. “So that kind of caught me off guard,” Rivera says. “At that point, I was supposed to go to Okinawa for five months for an internship, and I was just in denial thinking it was still going to happen.”
The Dark Days
“To understand where we are today, it’s important to look back at the lessons we learned during the darkest of days,” says Sigmund, “Millions of people through no fault of their own, lost their jobs and livelihood. Our students were trying to break into an industry that had gone away.”
As the reality of an internship in Japan faded, Rivera found various jobs after graduation, but because of the uncertainty about the pandemic, they didn’t last.
Luczkiewicz still had to fulfill one required internship before graduating in the fall of 2020. Having lost his job and his professional internship, he moved back to Chicago to live with his parents. He had little hope of finding his final internship in a city where he had no professional network.
“I was completely lost,” Luczkiewicz says. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life at that point, and the world still seemed very, very uncertain.”
Maddy Frye found the same challenges in finding work in the industry and opportunities to apply her newly awarded degree seemed to be fading also.
In those dark days, Sigmund along with Rosen colleagues Dr. Jose Nieves and David John were very concerned how their students were struggling emotionally with the very uncertain times. “For most of our students, this was the first crisis in their generation,” says Nieves, an adjunct instructor at Rosen. “They had issues with family members getting sick and had other situations in their lives they might not have been prepared to navigate.”
Together, the three adjunct professors discussed what their approach would be at great depth. “We knew that this was a historical moment and that we wanted to address the reality of the situation. Certainly, there were real problems, but we were also extremely confident that these students were still on a path for a great future,” says John.
Photo: Instructors in Rosen’s acclaimed Entertainment Management Program banded together during the pandemic and implemented creative processes to help their students succeed. From left, Jose Nieves, David John, Lauren Sigmund ’19.
The last weeks of the spring 2020 semester they worked together to craft their final lectures. First, they co-produced videos for their classes each week with encouraging messages and personally reached out to students as a way to stay connected.
“They immediately were checking in on us to see if we were ok,” states Frye. “And that was very reassuring.”
The team then focused on tools and techniques to help prepare the students for the uncertain times ahead. “We knew that they already had the skillset to enter the workforce but what was most needed at that point was the mindset for resilience and adaptability,” states Nieves. “We encouraged students through different exercises to explore their own personal values and beliefs as inspiration and motivation.”
The team knew that the industry was changing but believed that new graduates had fresh skillsets that may be lacking in experienced workers. “You are entering the industry at a time when the rules are being rewritten. This could be to your advantage,” John described to the students.
Next Sigmund explains, “We had already been introducing the concept of power networking within peer networks. The last several weeks we stressed that getting through these times is about leaning on and helping each other.” Sigmund, who includes professional networking curriculum in each of her courses stated, “your network, especially during the toughest days can be a critical lifeline. Our students needed to learn that quickly.”
And finally, the last lesson the team decided to illustrate for the students was one of kindness. The three announced in their weekly videos the donation of their salaries to the student emergency fund.
“That made a big impact on me,” stated Frye. “They really helped me see the good in the dark times we were facing.” Frye tweeted her appreciation on that kind gesture and was featured in an 2020 UCF article.
“We actually had intended to do this donation and not mention it to the students, but we decided that it may be reassuring to know that there was help around them,” states John.
“We knew there was great need,” Nieves says. “And we also knew that if you don’t act on it, then it’s just words. And we are not the type of individuals that just like words. We like to get into actions. And that was that.”
Developing a good mindset, building and maintaining a strong network and practicing kindness is exactly what these graduates took away from their spring semester heading into the unknown. Many students kept in contact with each other and also their professors. There were plenty of rough days and the students leaned on each other for support and encouragement.
About six months after graduation, Rivera was unemployed and desperate for work. As good timing should have it, John and Sigmund were teaching a new semester together and asked Rivera and some recent graduates to share their experiences of ‘life after graduation’.
“I was honest on the call, and I told his class, ‘Well, there’s nothing going on for me. I’m struggling,’” Rivera recalls. The next day, John reached out to him and a few UCF Rosen graduates to review a new production software program called V-Mix, designed for producing virtual events. John’s company, LMG, was looking to train technicians to quickly learn the new software for broadcasting virtual productions.
“This was a non-existent need one year prior. During the pandemic, production shifted quickly into the virtual world and very few technicians knew how to run it. We were very confident that these recent graduates were primed and ready to take on the challenge,” stated John.
Rivera joined Frye, Asanti Brizard-Josephs ’20HMBS and Austin Spears ’20EMBS for a “test pilot” training program. At the end of an eight-week apprenticeship, all four class of 2020 Rosen College alums were hired as full-time video technicians.
“It was an amazing blessing,” Rivera says. “I was extremely grateful for the opportunity.” Today the apprenticeship program is an integral part of LMG; Rivera also participates in the training of new recruits.
Rivera has also gone from wondering if he had made a mistake in his career choice to traveling all around the country for his job. “I’m super-excited for 2023, and for what the future holds for my career,” Rivera says. “I pivoted from pursuing the music business to going into production, and I’m so glad that Dave John saw something within me that I didn’t see in myself at the time.”
And for Karol Luczkiewicz, through applying power networking, resilience, and hard work he is realizing his career dreams as an account executive for LMG’s concert touring division. His professional networking skills produced opportunities that each lead to a new stepping stone, getting him closer and closer to his career goal. Today, he continues to show gratitude and kindness by helping others along the way and enjoys celebrating the successes of his fellow 2020 grads.
Luczkiewicz says that his degree in entertainment management was a perfect way for someone to learn about the business side of entertainment – everything from calculating an ROI, planning an event from start to finish – more so than learning just the technical side. But, he adds, some of the best skills learned were from his final semester leveraging his professors’ parting lessons during those dark days.
“Tough times can produce great leaders. And these Rosen College students have been tested during very tough times,” says Nieves. “These crucible moments have helped shape a remarkable new generation.”
Written by Camille Dolan ’98