The mission of the Honors College at East Carolina University is to prepare tomorrow's leaders through the recruitment, engagement, and retention of exceptionally talented students of character in a diverse intellectual living-learning community and to challenge them to attain high levels of academic achievement.
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The Honors College Living & Learning Blog
It is 9 am on a Thursday in January. I am sitting in Joyner Library at ECU with ten other faculty members. We could be working on research in our labs, writing manuscripts at our desks or talking with students about the internship applications they are working on—but those are the tasks for “normal days.” Instead, this select group of faculty members has gathered to discuss the pool of applicants for East Carolina University’s top merit scholarship—the EC Scholar Award. We spend most of the day at this and from the animated discussion in our conference room I can see that each faculty member is excited to be here. For me, this is one of my favorite days of the spring semester. Reading about the talented future ECU students and their dreams to serve and lead at ECU makes this one of my favorite days of the spring.
As faculty members we do a lot varied tasks. When I decided to pursue a career as a professor, I envisioned myself developing meaningful research questions—and pursuing those “answers.” I imagined myself in classrooms, lecturing eager students and exciting them about the study of public parks and their purpose and management. After nine years as a faculty member I do these things everyday—and I love my job. What I didn’t picture in my future, however, are the “invisible things” that faculty members do each day. Writing a reference letter for a standout student and describing her previous work in Costa Rica to the Peace Corp review board. Brainstorming with Honors College students who are looking to develop and understand how to implement meaningful discussions about race relations on our college campuses. Introducing a sophomore Honors student to a faculty member in recreational therapy who is doing work with athletes with disabilities. I had no idea that these activities would fill the space around my research and teaching as a faculty member. But I should have known. After all, my Honors College professor during my undergraduate studies did this for me. And we—members of the ECU faculty—love doing this stuff everyday.
As I sit here reading and re-reading EC Scholar applications, I imagine the energy and ideas they will bring to campus. This morning at Joyner Library I am “meeting” the next cohort of scholars on paper. I am already staring to anticipate just what challenges the Honors class of 2015 will bring to me. I can’t wait.
As an Honors College student, you are required to complete a senior honors project before graduation. I have been working in the organic chemistry lab of Dr. Allen for the past year on a peptide synthesis project. Essentially, I have synthesized an amino acid that should have an affinity for certain metal ions such as copper ions. My project aims to insert these novel amino acids into peptide sequences and then examine how the peptide chains interact with one another. One of the leading theories behind Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases is that certain proteins that function normally aggregate and then do not function normally. One theory as to how the peptides aggregate is that they bind to copper ions, which cause the aggregation. If my novel amino acid is successful, one will be able to insert it into any known peptide chain and observe whether the chain then aggregates, as it will be interacting with copper ions. This would help strengthen the argument that copper ions cause the aggregation of prion proteins.
After working in an organic chemistry laboratory for a year, I have realized how expensive laboratory research can be. Some of the compounds needed for my reactions or the solvents used in analysis can cost hundreds of dollars or more. In order to help fund my project, I decided to look for grants and other funding sources. The Honors College has recently created the Scholarly Activity Awards for Students (SAAS). This is a funding source that only honors students may apply for and it funds research, innovation projects, publication fees, or conference registration fees. I recently applied for research materials through this fund and I was awarded $398 to buy multiple solvents and amino acids for my project. Through this initiative students may receive up to $400 for one of the four funding categories. There are three deadlines throughout the year for this award including: March 15, July 15, and November 15.
Other sources of funding on campus include travel funds through the office of Undergraduate Research and the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (URCA) Awards. Recently I applied for a travel fund to support my travel to the 249th National ACS Meeting in Denver, CO where I will be presenting my senior honors project. I was awarded up to $350 dollars to be applied to travel, lodging, registration fees, and/or meals. This award requires that I initially spend the money myself and will be reimbursed after proper documentation is provided following the trip. The URCA awards are available twice a year and can provide up to $2500 including a stipend if desired. These awards fund undergraduate research on campus and require that students present a poster at Research and Creative Achievement Week on ECU’s campus in the spring.
Certain departments on campus, such as the Chemistry Department, also have funds that students may apply for to help offset research costs. I recently applied for a Chemistry Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) award through the Chemistry department and was provided approximately $1200 to help fund my research. Students should check with their individual departments to inquire about research funding. Other grants are available outside of ECU’s campus, but are more competitive as they are usually open nationwide. Students should apply for all funding opportunities that are available to them, as it will increase their chances of receiving an award. Undergraduate research is a wonderful opportunity, and although it can be costly, there are multiple sources of funding here at East Carolina University to provide undergraduates with this wonderful experience.
When I applied to the Italy Intensives program last spring, I was excited to finally have an opportunity to expand my horizons and see the rich history and culture that Italy had to offer. I had never traveled by plane, and the farthest I had ever been from home was Florida, I must admit. This trip was not just about exploring a culture; it was about maturing and discovering what I could do on my own. On September 15th, I finally arrived in the fast-paced city of Rome, and within that first week I was blown away by the ancient historical buildings, which amazingly, were still standing. The Pantheon, the Coliseum, the triumphal arches, the Vatican, and Saint Peter’s Basilica were the first places we visited, and there was much more to come!
We lived and studied in the quiet medieval Tuscan village of Certaldo Alto, about a 45 minute train ride from Siena or Florence. The next three months consisted of weekly art history classes in various Italian cities actually viewing the masterpieces for ourselves as we talked about the artists and how they made the artwork. I took a book arts making class and we even had the opportunity to learn the trade of jewelry making. Every night our entire group of students ate family style at a local Italian restaurant and shared our awe at how beautiful the Tuscan hillside was and our disbelief at being able to experience it. We visited Monterroso in Cinque Terre and swam in the clear cool Mediterranean waters, we hiked Mount Vesuvius and toured Pompeii, we saw hand-carved alabaster in Volterra, toured the Amalfi coast by boat, saw The Birth of Venus in person, toured the Vatican, and so much more.
Even so, perhaps the most memorable portion was sitting down with the local Italian people and just talking to them and socializing like I never had the opportunity to in America. In America, we’re always living in a fast-paced society surrounded by technology. I learned to unplug and relax and cherish the stories of those around me while sitting in the local Piazza (Plaza). My time there will never be forgotten and it is a time in my life that I believe I’ll cherish forever. When I left Italy, I not only left with a better understanding of the history that the world had to offer, I left touched by the people I had met and become close to in Italy. I left behind a new family, and I know that one day I will go back. This program opened my eyes and has encouraged me to want to travel more and to get in touch with those around me because I learned that a culture is not just its history, but also the stories of its people.