"BE YOU" Story Project


 

The UCF Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) is continuing the “BE YOU” Storytelling Project – the sharing of the life stories of our diverse students, faculty and staff in our semester newsletter, as well as at campus events. Every member of the UCF community brings their own life story and combination of identities and experiences to our campus, and UCF is the richer for it.

 

Our community members’ stories can bridge the gap of myth and misunderstanding that seem to separate us, by revealing our shared humanity and highlighting the unique path we take toward self-realization.

 

These stories will be featured in the print and electronic version of the newsletter and posted on our “News” page, a new addition coming soon to our website. Some of the stories will also be part of the UCF Diversity and Inclusion Wall in the Hitt Library for the month of October.

 

Tell your story and encourage your classmates and colleagues to contribute to a more inclusive UCF.

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GUIDELINES

  • 500-word story of your experience or an important event impacting your life
  • One quote addressing the topic “What Respect Means to Me”
  • One high-resolution photo to accompany the story

 

CONTACT FOR SUBMISSIONS, REFERRALS OR QUESTIONS



Stories


Every member of the UCF community brings their own life story and combination of identities and experiences to our campus. “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Sharing our stories brings humanity to our understanding of difference and the similarities we all share.

Sofia Baptista

Sofia Baptista

Swaran Nandini

Swaran Nandini

Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez

Natalie Lopez

Natalie Lopez

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders

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Sofia Baptista

Sofia Baptista


Sofia Baptista, a self-proclaimed math enthusiast, is a special statistic all her own.  More  than  7,000  undergrads  are  enrolled  in  UCF’s  College  of  Engineering  and  Computer Science.  Of  those  7,000-plus,  19  student-athletes  have  selected  engineering  as  a  major.  Of those 19 Knights, ten are female. 

And Baptista, a UCF women’s tennis Senior from Portugal, happens to be one of them. She has not given a second thought to classifying her life or situation as unique. 

When she was 11, she contracted mononucleosis, but doctors failed to properly diagnose her at  first. Thinking  it  could  be  a  number  of  other ailments,  she underwent  multiple  treatments and had her tonsils removed, but she said it took roughly three years to fully recover.

She  lost  her  muscle  mass  and  her  confidence  was  shaken.  She  grew  frustrated  at  her  weak body and losing to “lesser” competition.

“But I never gave up,” Baptista said. “I always went to practice five days a week, even when everyone  told  me  it  was  not worth  it  and that the  best thing  to  do  was to  quit tennis.  And  it did pay off. Finally I started improving. It was a long process but I ended up stronger than I was before. At 15, I was in the top-five of my country, and now I’m here at UCF.”

It’s  a  move  that  has  worked  out  well  for  the  beach  lover,  who  knew  if  she  was  going  to accept a scholarship in the States, it had to be somewhere with a tropical climate.  Baptista has been interested in structures and math from an early age, so pursuing a degree in civil engineering seemed like a no-brainer to her. 

During  her sophomore year, to her delight, she was selected for the UCF Civil, Engineering and   Construction   Engineering   (CECE)   Department   Sophomore   Award   for   outstanding academic  achievement.  As  an  incentive,  she  earned  a  day  shadowing  a  Disney  Imagineer. She toured backstage of the Magic  Kingdom and saw the inner workings of everything  from ride maintenance to transportation at the parks. 

Baptista said the experience was the first time she saw her future in action, not just in books and  papers.  Whether  she  ends  up  at  the “Happiest  Place  on  Earth”  or  building  bridges  in underdeveloped  regions  of  Africa,  Baptista  is  certain  she  is  setting  herself  up  now  for  a fulfilling career ahead.

Baptista  stated “the  respect  I  have  for  my  teammates  and  coaches  has  aided  my  respect  for my classmates and professors.  I know how to work in a team environment and respect is key to success- in the classroom, on the tennis court, and in life.”

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Swaran Nandini

Swaran Nandini


It is truly challenging for International students to leave their family & friends, culture, and home country to pursue academics in the States. However, the accepting and friendly UCF community  makes  this  transition  a  lot  easier  for  us  International  students. I will be completing  4  wonderful  years  at  UCF  this  Fall  and  it  warms my  heart  to  see  the  ever-growing efforts to increase diversity awareness here on the UCF campus (special shout out to the Internationalization Committee). UCF has offered me numerous opportunities along the way to excel in academics, research, and leadership efforts. As a result of which I am able to continue my ever learning journey of self-growth and improvement. DzWhat  Respect  means  to  medz–  Respect  is  the  most  regarded  value  in  India,  the  very  first thing  that  is  inculcated  in  us  from  the  very  young  age.  Hence,  respect  to  me  is  being considerate and tolerant towards other person’s opinions, choices, and beliefs. I think that we  can  potentially  get  rid  of  hateful  arguments  and  disharmony  if only  we  could  take efforts  to  be  respectful  to  one  another,  instead  of  trying  to  bring  them  down  just  because they are different from us.

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Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez


Respect. A word so broad and so little practiced. Is it simple words such as please, thank you, ma’am, sir, or hi? Is it respect when you help and you are not called for? Many times in my life I felt the pressure, the stares, the glares and the prying, judgmental eyes…watching.  The words read in between lines. Yes there has been times when I been tormented, told and looked down, that I could not, and would not be able to achieve the “illusory” dreams I had. You are a women, you are young, you don’t know what you are getting into, because you are minority you can get so far, it takes brains, dedication and ambition, you, you, you…that is all I heard. But where is written that I cannot, I must not, I should not, I dare because such limitation are due to imagination, discrimination and because such possibilities had not been seen or fulfilled.

Ignorance, self-pity, and excuses the fundamentals of dreams deferred. But acceptance, knowledge and reasons are things I’ve obtain throughout the years, in order to stand my ground. YES! I want to accomplish great things, I want change lives, and people who are like me. It is okay to dream, to think, to love something which is silently prohibited. It is okay to begin and finish the race where no one has ran. It’s okay to be called dreamers, imaginers, mad people because the best people are. In the end the only eyes I wish for is admirations, love and respect!

Its true that I have to work harder than anyone else not because I want to prove people wrong, but to prove that I am right. There has been times where I been told that engineering was not something I should consider because it is hard, competitive, and rigorous. It’s true, but why would it be hard if it is I love.

Coming from my area, it was thought that was a privilege not given to everyone. Many believe that if I would start I would not finish, that if I dream I could end up broken. It could be true, but it could be true that by doing that I would live with regrets, with a flame of hope that I put out. I don’t believe that those like me should throw their dreams away from the words of others.

Respect. Respect what your peer, your brother, your friend. Stereotyping is not respect, assuming what category Hispanics, lesbians, women, and people of different religion fit into. It’s not a box, a square that we check off that gives us a sentence of restrictions. Don’t speculate, deduce, affirm characteristics and possibilities from identify, this will only lead to segregation among the crowds. Acceptance is the answer that rings the bell on Sunday morning to bring the people together. To those who like me were told stop, let motivation not be to prove people wrong, but to do something great. It just all about…equality. Acceptance is the sunshine at open people’s eye from a night of darkness.

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Natalie Lopez

Natalie Lopez


Simply, respect is equality. To me, respect means treating every person I encounter equally, irrespective to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.  I treat people the same way I would hope to be treated, without judgement or prejudice. If I have an opinion, I would want others to respect that opinion. I keep this thought in mind when interacting with other people, whose opinions I may or may not agree with. Accepting everyone’s right to an opinion is one of the major aspects that make up the concept of respect.

In my experience, respect can also be defined as the act of accepting other people’s thoughts and ideals, without judgement, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. This is a major facet to respect that not everybody is capable of, as of yet. I have experienced many people who are still not able to accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This causes controversy when it comes to things like religion. A lot of people are unable to accept other people’s ideals or beliefs, without any form of judgement. In fact, I sometimes find it hard, as well, to show acceptance to some ideals that I don’t agree with. However, to practice respect would be to accept others’ right to their beliefs, just like I have a right to my beliefs. This form of respect isn’t always shown in our culture. Many are even rebuffed for their beliefs. Hopefully though, through education and an inclusive culture, this type of mentality can be changed. Showing respect to someone is having the capability to “agree to disagree.”

Respect isn’t just accepting other people’s opinions or ideals, though. It is also being sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. This is the behavioral trait that many people associate with the word respect. However, respect doesn’t just mean being nice to someone. It means being conscious about what other people may be feeling and responding to their feelings in the way you would like to be treated. In this form, respect is being aware that other people also have feelings, and that those feelings should be acknowledged and taken into account.

Everyone has experienced a time when they were disrespected. From experience, I can tell that being disrespected makes you feel bad inside, almost worthless or contemptible, like you’re not good enough to be speaking to the person disrespecting you. In reality, that’s what disrespecting someone does. When you disrespect someone, you’re essentially showing contempt; you’re showing that this person is not good enough to deserve your respect. This is not, and never should be, the case. While I personally believe in the phrase, “Respect is earned,”there is a fundamental respect that each human being should always have for one another. This respect comes from the acknowledgement that the person you’re speaking to is your equal. It is the respect that every person should have when entering any situation. It is the respect that should come from being human.

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Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso

Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso


Claudio Leandro de Sousa Afonso is currently in his second semester at Global UCF. He talks with a big smile, and peppers his speech with a hearty laughter. He’s a natural when it comes to numbers. He’s quick to offer assistance to classmates who are having a hard time in areas he excels at, such as math. Claudio’s from Angola and from an early age decided that he wanted to pursue an education in Engineering. It was his tenacity, dedication, and persistence that brought him to the University of Central Florida.

When Claudio was 14, his brother purchased his first home computer when majoring in Informatics. Claudio spent time with his brother learning how to fix computers and electronic devices, and he was hooked. He knew what he wanted to do in life, and was determined to make it happen. Soon, Claudio was teaching himself the ins and outs of the family’s computer.

In Angola, where he grew up, students choose their education track when entering high school. Claudio chose Technical Communication and Engineering. In his spare time, he tutored kids in his neighborhood in general education, prioritizing his time after school and weekend nights. After high school, he spent two years studying in Namibia. He studied English as a Second Language in his first year, then moved to Telecommunication Systems. He knew he wanted more of his education and began to pursue options of studying abroad, but was rejected several times. Rejection, it seems, is fuel to Claudio’s ambition. Claudio dreamt bigger.

By happenstance, he met a recruiter from France who told him about the Global UCF program at the University of Central Florida. His family wasn’t sure about sending him so far away from home, given that his brothers were completing their education in Europe so there would be no familiar faces around for support. Despite his family’s initial skepticism at studying so far away, he became determined to follow through with the application at UCF. The university has a highly ranked Engineering department (and we can’t say that the weather didn’t help his decision either). There were many sleepless nights until finally receiving his acceptance letter from UCF. It taught him that if you want something hard enough, you have to put your heart and soul into achieving it.

When asked to define respect, Claudio said, “Respect to me means treating other people right. You can’t look at people and think they’re above or below you – I try to see everyone as equals, and aim to treat them as I would like to be treated myself. Pride is the opposite of that and I value being able to apologize if I’m wrong.”

After graduating from UCF, Claudio dreams of building a technology manufacturing company to help the communication process in Angola. He wants to make an impact in his home country and create an environment for learning and growing, giving back to that community.

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Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders


My family is from the suburb of Codsall, outside the industrial city of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. My parents were looking for a better life experience and chose the USA because of the better quality of life and multiple opportunities for my entire family. We assumed that the American and British cultures would be somewhat similar, but in reality they differ quite greatly. The difference between visiting on vacation and actually living here was surprising; more so for my sister and I because we had to assimilate into a new culture. It took me some time to adjust, but really high school was when I felt that I completely fit in. I had to learn how to conquer the patented British social awkwardness and use the correct terminology in conversation. Nowadays, if I didn’t have my heinous West Midland accent no one would be any the wiser.   

We moved to Saint Cloud, FL, just southeast of Kissimmee, in January 2007. I began to attend Saint Cloud High School in fall 2007 and knew no one and at first struggled to make friends, until I started playing soccer. I graduated in June 2011 and then spent two years at Valencia Community College attaining my Associates degree while still playing soccer. I transferred to UCF in the summer 2014 with a new International Students Visa. I am getting my Bachelors in Journalism and a minor in Sports Business Management. It is probably the best decision I have ever made for myself.  Not only has it boosted my confidence and provided a spark, it has also given me opportunities and experiences I never would’ve had back in England. Meeting Professor Bukstein who helped connect with Orlando City Soccer which began my path into sports management.

I first got involved with the RWC after participating in the FC Barcelona soccer camp in June 2014.. After signing up with graduate assistant John Conley, he suggested that I should give officiating a shot. In the Fall of 2014 I completed both the rules and field clinic to become a soccer official. Three minutes into my first game, I had already started developing a passion for soccer officiating. I really like the unique challenge of officiating competitive games and enjoy working with the other officials and staff.

My main goal for the future is to be a community programs manager with Orlando City Soccer Club Foundation. I already volunteer as a coach within the community camps they host for 7-10 year old kids. It is so rewarding to watch the progression of the kids not only on the field but as individuals as they learn soccer and important life skills such as teamwork and respect for others.

My definition of Respect: My meaning of respect is split into three parts. Firstly, to not judge someone at first glance due to what they wear or how they may act. Secondly to listen to what they say and be interested in what they are saying. Finally, it is about treating people the way you want to be treated.