One of the country’s fastest-growing and most progressive cities lies just beyond the borders of America’s most beautiful campus.

Tommy Tar explores Lake Eola by swan boat at sunset. (Photo by Scott Cook) Tommy Tar explores Lake Eola by swan boat at sunset. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Sebastian Sanchez ’14 grew up in northern New Jersey just outside New York City, and he always imagined starting his career in the Big Apple after graduating from Rollins. Or perhaps in the political power center of Washington, D.C.

But Orlando surprised him.

“Orlando is such a diverse community,” Sanchez says. “To be frank, I really didn’t get a chance to explore my Hispanic heritage until I lived in Central Florida and saw the way that different people and cultures can work and live together.”

After graduating from Rollins in 2014, Sanchez parlayed a 10-month stint in an apprenticeship program into a full-time project specialist position with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. There, he saw an ascending city from the inside and learned how new businesses prosper.

Sebastian Sanchez ’13 supports Orlando City Soccer Club at Camping World Stadium. The Major League Soccer team’s new downtown stadium opens this spring. Sebastian Sanchez ’13 supports Orlando City Soccer Club at Camping World Stadium. The Major League Soccer team’s new downtown stadium opens this spring.

“It tapped an entrepreneurial spirit in me that I didn’t know I had,” says Sanchez, who recently went to work for a Tampa-area IT consulting firm. “It gave me a perspective and an opportunity that I don’t know that I would have had in a much bigger city.”

Sanchez, like hundreds of Rollins alumni before him, learned not to underestimate Orlando. Amanda Roche ’12 ’14MBA shares his sentiment. In fact, as associate director of marketing at the Orlando Economic Development Commission, it’s her job to sell Orlando’s ever-growing list of superlatives to companies eyeing relocation or expansion.

“If you think Orlando is just theme parks, you don’t know the half of it,” Roche says. “Look deeper into Orlando and you’ll see we have a huge tech sector as well as life sciences, health care, aerospace, and defense.”

While Rollins’ commitment to global citizenship and responsible leadership prepares students to lead anywhere in the world, Tars are finding increasingly fertile ground right in the College’s backyard.

Charlie Freeman ’96, Orlando Magic COO (Photo by Scott Cook) Charlie Freeman ’96, Orlando Magic COO (Photo by Scott Cook)

New Reasons to Cheer

Orlando has changed dramatically in the 20 years since Charlie Freeman ’96 launched his career with the Orlando Magic. Now the Magic’s chief operating officer, Freeman started with the city’s first professional sports franchise as an intern while he was still a student studying economics at Rollins.

The Magic hired him in 1996 as a market research analyst for corporate sponsorship and broadcast sales, and after steadily working his way up the ranks, Freeman was promoted to senior vice president of business development in 2007. In that role, he oversaw the design, construction, and development of the Amway Center, a project that launched a rejuvenation of downtown Orlando that continues today. In those two decades, Freeman has seen the downtown area grow, adding an array of diverse restaurants and many new entertainment opportunities.

Freeman has watched Orlando’s sports scene evolve even more. Today, Central Florida offers an increasing number of opportunities in sports operations and marketing. Orlando City Soccer Club became Major League Soccer’s 21st franchise in 2013, and the club will open a new 25,500-seat stadium a few blocks from the Amway Center this spring. In January, the United States Tennis Association opened its new state-of-the-art national campus in nearby Lake Nona. The $60 million, 64-acre facility includes more than 100 courts and has been dubbed the “New Home of American Tennis.” Orlando’s iconic Citrus Bowl, which was recently renamed Camping World Stadium, underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2014 and now hosts a pair of college bowl games and the 2017 NFL Pro Bowl.

“There are great opportunities with us, with Orlando City soccer, with Walt Disney World and with the United States Tennis Association at Lake Nona,” Freeman says. “The landscape has really changed since I started as an intern with the Magic.”

Moya Nickodem Dacey ’04 ’09MBA on the field at Super Bowl LI. Moya Nickodem Dacey ’04 ’09MBA on the field at Super Bowl LI.

Orlando’s professional sporting opportunities aren’t limited to the physical world, either. Moya Nickodem Dacey ’04 ’09MBA found her niche working with video game versions of the NBA, NFL, NHL, PGA, and other professional sports. As an account manager at Electronic Arts (EA) in Orlando, Dacey has found a way to combine sports, technology, and her major in psychology while working in strategic alliance marketing.

In addition to the Madden football series, she also works closely with several other EA video games. Her responsibilities include working directly with the NFL and planning the company’s large celebration at the Super Bowl for EA’s business partners.

Arts and Culture and Inclusion

After more than a decade promoting everything from the Orlando Ballet to the Blue Man Group, Scottie Campbell ’96 is an authority on the city’s burgeoning arts and culture scene.

A theater major at Rollins, Campbell parlayed his early work with local theaters into his current role as senior manager of guest services & member relations at the Orlando Science Center. With the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, ever-expanding theme parks, and the growth of local theater groups, the opportunities to work in the arts in Orlando—or just enjoy them—are at an all-time high. Yet Campbell, who still writes, directs, and acts any chance he gets, says there is plenty of room for new performers to make their marks.

“Orlando is expanding,” he says, “but it’s not so huge that you can’t make an immediate impact. You can help create the culture here and make it grow.”

Campbell’s impact has been felt far beyond the confines of arts and culture. From 2012-2014, he was executive director of Ivanhoe Village Main Street, a neighborhood revitalization program accredited by the National Main Street Center and funded in part by the city of Orlando. He’s also served on a number of local boards, from Keep Orlando Beautiful to the Maitland Art Center, and is a member of the area’s LGBT chamber of commerce.

Alexis Satterwhite ’16 is armed for creativity at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab. (Photo by Scott Cook) Alexis Satterwhite ’16 is armed for creativity at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Opportunity for All

While nearly four decades separate their graduations from Rollins, Michael O’Donnell ’78 P’17 and Alexis Satterwhite ’16 have found in Orlando the ideal place to fulfill professional and personal goals.

The region’s expanding business opportunities and wide array of cultural activities helped draw O’Donnell back to Winter Park as chief executive officer & chairman of Ruth's Hospitality Group, Inc., the restaurant company that operates Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

That same promise of possibility was enough to persuade Satterwhite, a native of Bloomington, Illinois, to put down roots in Orlando after graduation.

She recently turned an academic internship at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab into a full-time job as a project liaison. Along the way, Satterwhite also discovered that the real Orlando is nothing like the one depicted in vacation commercials.

“I love that the city is vibrant and growing and has a strong community base,” she says. “It’s also the center of so much. You’re an hour away from the beach and ocean waves, roller coasters and theme parks, and beautiful natural springs like Wekiwa Springs State Park.”

Heeding the Call Home

After graduating from Rollins, Eric Marshall ’91 P’20’s early career included stints in Atlanta and his hometown of Philadelphia. He was enjoying his career, but he always felt the tug of Winter Park and Orlando—bonds developed during his time on campus.

He says exploring the liberal arts as a student on a smaller campus helps create a shared experience that endures, no matter what career paths college friends might take. It’s one of the reasons he and several of his classmates remained or returned.

Now the vice president of park sales for Universal Orlando, Marshall is no longer surprised by the number of alumni who live here but are not from here. He also wouldn’t be too surprised if his daughter, Grace ’20, joins the ranks of Rollins alumni who set down roots in Orlando after graduation.

“That speaks volumes about the lifestyle and opportunities,” he says. “Orlando has become a great place for sports, diverse cultures, performing arts, and young chefs.”

Michael O’Donnell ’78, CEO and chairman of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (Photo by Scott Cook) Michael O’Donnell ’78, CEO and chairman of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Charmingly Cosmopolitan

As Orlando attracts more and more visitors and business from around the world, several enclaves are becoming increasingly sophisticated while still retaining their hometown charm.

O’Donnell finds that atmosphere on the brick streets of Winter Park, where he is not surprised to see people he knows from his student days more than 35 years ago. He recalls one recent morning saying hello to both his former English professor, Maurice J. "Socky" O’Sullivan, and his old friend, Allan Keen ’70 ’71MBA ’10H, who is chairman of Rollins’ board of trustees.

“I love driving on Park Avenue in the early morning,” O’Donnell says. “It’s so beautiful, but it also makes me realize that as beautiful as it is, I don’t want to enjoy those streets alone.”

Amanda Roche ’12 ’14MBA gets up close and personal with an art exhibit at Leu Gardens. Amanda Roche ’12 ’14MBA gets up close and personal with an art exhibit at Leu Gardens.

Roche sees that cosmopolitan charm come to life in the city’s diverse food scene and all the informal ways it connects people.

“There’s an incredible foodie community in Orlando, with a multitude of delicious, independent, family-owned restaurants,” she says. “Our food scene reflects the diversity of the community, with strong Hispanic, Latino, Asian, and Southern roots. It also gives a small-town vibe to the many main street neighborhoods around Orlando; creates a bond between neighbors, friends, and local business owners; and has established a tight-knit community around food and culture in Orlando that you can't find anywhere else in the world.”

Rave Reviews

Orlando is amazing! But don’t just take our word for it. See what the experts are saying.

No. 1 in U.S. for Job Growth in 2015
— U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016

Top 10 American City of the Future
fDi Magazine, 2015

Top 25 Cities for New College Grads To Live, Work, And Play
— SmartAsset, 2016

No. 36 Most Ethnically and Racially Diverse City
— WalletHub, 2015

No. 13 on The New York Times’ list of 52 Places to Go in 2015

No. 2 Most Creative City In America
— Movoto Real Estate Blog, 2015

Best City for Recreation
— WalletHub, 2016

A Best Performing City
— Milken Institute, 2015

Top 10 Cities Where African Americans Are Doing Well Economically
Forbes, 2015

Top 15 Cities Where Hispanics Are Doing Well Economically
Forbes, 2015