Shannon (Sumner) Ingram ’74, history
A dead president, brain research and the opening credits of television’s “Bonanza” are among the strands that connect Shannon Ingram to UCI. At age 12, while watching Lyndon B. Johnson dedicate the future campus, she decided to one day attend the university. After keeping that vow, Ingram married a yacht captain to the stars and sailed to Hawaii, where she edited a tourist magazine. She later returned to the mainland, working as a marketing manager for the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim and a Colorado tech firm before dropping everything to care for her aging parents. She published a memoir – The Heart Way – about assisting her folks and helped raise thousands of dollars for mind research at UCI, earning her recognition as an Alumna Honoree Against Alzheimer’s. That led to marketing gigs for dementia care companies. Ingram is also exercising her history skills, writing a book on Southern California’s Garner Ranch, which has appeared in television shows and movies and been in her stepfather’s family since 1905, when – according to her research – it was won in a poker game.
Jen Karetnick, M.F.A. ’92, poetry
An albino alligator that can talk and write poetry is the central character in Jen Karetnick’s new play, “SWAMP!,” which will be staged in the Florida Everglades next spring as part of a National Park Service artists-in-residence program. It’s the latest in a string of offbeat projects by the UCI alumna, a freelance journalist who also performs in a four-person flute orchestra and recently published a collection of climate change poems and a mango cookbook. Married to a neurologist, Karetnick teaches creative writing at a Miami charter arts school and lives in a renovated cottage on the last remaining acre of a 1930s mango plantation in Miami Shores. “It sounds romantic,” she says of the tree-dotted property. “It’s not. Every summer, we harvest thousands of pieces of fruit – and clean up thousands more pieces of bad fruit. It’s hard labor in 100-degree heat and humidity. But I’m never leaving it.”
Rachel Fine ’94, music
When a panoply of painted pianos popped up in public places across Los Angeles four years ago, Rachel Fine was the primary planner. Ditto for a 2014 fiddle festival that featured eight Stradivarius violins worth a combined $40 million. For nearly a decade, Fine has toiled behind the scenes of Southern California’s arts world, shepherding events and raising funds, mostly through executive posts with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the L.A. Children’s Chorus, where she also helped create an ensemble for boys with changing voices. A onetime competitive pianist whose professional aspirations were derailed by a repetitive strain injury, Fine redirected her musical ambitions toward “helping performing arts organizations thrive.” Last November, the Berkeley native took over as managing director of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, an eclectic entertainment hub in Beverly Hills that presents theater, dance, opera, classical music and children’s programs.
Vishaal Melwani ’07, international studies
He came to UCI against his will. Vishaal Melwani’s mom thought he was hanging out with “the wrong crowd,” so she packed him off to Orange County from the family home in Las Vegas. It proved to be a turning point, helping transform Melwani from a third-generation tailor who had been sewing since age 7 into an up-and-coming men’s clothing magnate whose online company – Combatant Gentlemen – has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch and other media outlets. Aimed at millennials, the firm is primarily known for its smartphone sizing app and $160 suits (originally made with fabric derived from company-owned sheep in Italy and cotton fields in India). The clothier recently expanded its product line to include shoes, shirts, belts, ties and wedding gear. It also started opening brick-and-mortar stores – outfitted with bars and barbers – including a shop at Combatant’s Irvine headquarters.
Daniel Seo ’11, economics
On the path from professional yo-yo champ to Catholic priest, Daniel Seo has taken a number of detours. He threw pottery, climbed mountains on three continents, dabbled in baking and filmed music videos that grew into minor YouTube sensations. He also launched a competitive snowboard team and broke both wrists while zooming the slopes, leaving him in dual arm casts his entire freshman year at UCI. In the middle of this activity, Seo sensed a calling – “almost a whisper” – from God. And so, a year after earning an economics degree, the La Palma resident enrolled at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, abandoning his hopes of becoming a cinematographer and dad to study for the priesthood. Over the summer, he took Korean lessons in Seoul, traveled to Poland for a Catholic youth summit and began interning at Santa Clara de Asis parish in Yorba Linda.
Chris Austin ’13, public health policy
He sells a line of hats and hoodies, gives motivational talks to youth, and hangs out in Finland and Greece, leaping skyward to smack around a leather ball. At UCI, Chris Austin was a volleyball sensation, the first African American setter to start for an NCAA championship team. Born in Dallas and raised near Las Vegas, the 6-foot-3 star helped lead the Anteaters to two national titles (in 2012 and 2013) after transferring in from Long Beach City College. Since then, Austin has stayed with the sport, both as a player (competing professionally in Europe and beach tournaments) and coach (via National Champ Volleyball, a training academy he founded). More recently, he published a book, The Way, about a championship volleyball club team from Hawaii. Austin says the paperback uses the sport as a metaphor for life, showing readers how to achieve success in any endeavor.
Misha Euceph ’15, philosophy
“Dates & Other Mistakes,” a KUCI radio show started by Misha Euceph, helped pave the way to a 2016 black-tie soiree at which she hobnobbed with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, actor Morgan Freeman, actress Emma Watson and singer Aretha Franklin. Her radio program – along with literary journalism classes and writing for the New U – stoked the Pakistani native’s interest in audio newscasts and led her to a master’s program at Northwestern University. There, Euceph’s multimedia journalism pieces garnered a White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship – and entree to the group’s celebrity-studded annual banquet. Her work also opened the door to a summer internship at WNYC, New York’s flagship public radio outlet. “Radio offers a kind of intimacy, simplicity and challenge that I love,” Euceph says. “The human voice is the most powerful conveyor of emotion. Radio also requires empathizing with the listener in the absence of images.”
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