ECU students and officials including Provost Ron Mitchelson, left, helped with clean-up efforts in Windsor following damage from Hurricane Matthew. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
On Halloween Jessica Parker worked near the corner of U.S. 17 Business in Windsor, shoveling gravel into potholes in a town park along the Cashie River, which had flooded a couple of weeks earlier.
The work meant something to her because Windsor is where her grandmother lives.
"I've got ties to Windsor, and they've been devastated so many times, I wanted to help," said Parker, a junior child development and family relations major.
She was part of a group of faculty members, staff and students who spent three days in October and November traveling to towns flooded by Hurricane Matthew and offering help-both physical and of expertise.
In Windsor, the flood damaged or destroyed 100 houses and 56 businesses, said Mayor Jim Hoggard. Nearly 200 people were evacuated from their homes. It was the fourth time in 17 years severe flooding has struck the town.
He asked if ECU could provide hydrologists and other experts to look at recent road and bridge construction upstream from the town in the search for clues about the flooding.
"I would like to prove what really as caused this," Hoggard said. "It's been too sudden to just be natural causes."
Provost Ron Mitchelson spurred the work groups to look at how ECU could best help its region recover and how to reduce the impact of future floods. But he wasn't interested just in a string of slideshows and reports.
"After Floyd, I thought we had too many ties and not enough work gloves," he said as he leveled gravel in a washout. "It's not good when people show up, say we have help for you, then get back on the bus."
In that spirit, members of the ECU community helped evacuate residents of the Cypress Glen retirement community near the Tar River in Greenville and then helped fill 7,000 sandbags to hold the river back from the facility. They worked.
In addition, students, medical residents and faculty members coordinated donations of supplies for those at local storm shelters and sent out teams to help address basic medical needs of the evacuees.
Another team traveled to flood- ravaged Princeville on Nov. 8 to deliver and sort items such as diapers and other basic necessities. Matthew's flooding was not as severe as Hurricane Floyd's in 1999, but it still destroyed a third of the town's structures and put 400 people
in shelters. Crews performed 72 swift water rescues in one nearby area of Edgecombe County. Outside buildings, mattresses, furniture, clothes and other debris lay piled by the roadside awaiting pickup by trash crews.
Local officials asked ECU for assistance with regional planning and flood plain mapping as well as helping individuals manage financial struggles. They also would like the university to facilitate discussions on what they can learn from Matthew.
Across the river in Tarboro, 80 percent of the town was affected by flooding, and water reached 7 feet deep at Town Hall.
"We really appreciate all of the help and support," said Daniel Gerald, city manager. "The help you guys can bring makes people want to come back and our citizens want to come back."
-Jules Norwood, Doug Boyd and Jamie Smith
Graduates of the School of Music are finding professional success and personal fulfillment serving their country and fellow soldiers as members of U.S. Army bands across the country and world.
"Our main mission is to provide musical support for soldiers and their families," says Sgt. James Old '08 '11, a trumpet player in the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band, based at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. It is one of more than 30 active Army bands that perform at Army posts, retirements, funerals and in the community.
Old's band performs about 350 missions a year and is occasionally deployed overseas. They play formal ceremonial music and pop/rock hits. "When deployed, we support the troops by giving them a taste of home," Old says. "My favorite part is being able to honor the people who do so much for our country."
Staff Sgt. Kevin Maloney '03 is a trumpet player in Pershing's Own, the Army's most prestigious ensemble. In addition to playing at important ceremonial functions, he also plays at funerals.
"I wasn't sure at first about playing at funerals every day; I was afraid it would be depressing," Maloney says. "But it is truly an honor to be able to do something for the families. It's actually uplifting in a way. I enjoy it very much."
To enlist in an Army band, musicians must pass an audition and basic training. Musicians can be stationed at any Army post, but unlike other Army service members who can be assigned any duty, musicians know they will be part of a band when they enlist. Entry into the premiere ensembles is handled a bit differently, according to Maloney, with appointments based on vacancies.
Either way, Army bands can provide a challenging and fulfilling career for ECU graduates, says Chris Ulffers, director of the School of Music.
"Our school does an incredible job training and inspiring all of our students to be wonderful and sensitive musicians," Ulffers says. "Frankly, most schools of music excel at this sort of training. However, what sets music majors from ECU apart is their dedication to serve."
Ulffers says some feel the call to serve in the military while they're still in school and some several years after graduation.
"I knew I'd have a job in the Army before graduating school," says Staff Sgt. Jackie Jones, who auditioned for Army bands before graduating in 2006. After auditioning in February of her senior year, she shipped out to basic training that July and succeeded despite the fact she "had never really worked out much before."
Jones had been talking to her professors and a recruiter about a career in Army bands, and when they offered a college loan repayment, "everything lined up," she says.
Jones spent several years as a drummer in various bands before becoming a recruiter herself in 2015. Based at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, she recruits from 13 states in the central and southwest U.S. She has met several ECU alumni on the job.
"The musicians we have from ECU are some of our top musicians," Jones says. "I feel like ECU alumni do really well in Army bands."
Originally from Jacksonville, Jones came to ECU because it was close to home, affordable and known for its music program. She was on the snare drum line in the Marching Pirates for three years and participated in several other ensembles.
Serving comes naturally to ECU senior and Air Force ROTC cadet Jessica Buss. Not only is she preparing to serve in the military, she also serves the university and the community.
As the service coordinator for Detachment 600, Buss organizes volunteer service opportunities for her fellow cadets in the Greenville area. This fall, she helped organize a blood drive for the Red Cross and a cleanup of the Tar River.
"Service really resonates with me," said Buss. "I'm naturally drawn to service organizations because I believe in their mission."
It was this commitment to service that qualified Buss for a 2015-2016 Alumni Scholarship from the East Carolina Alumni Association. Alumni Scholarships are given each spring for the following academic year on the basis of academic merit, leadership and service.
Buss has also volunteered at the Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, Rebuilding Together Pitt County and more.
"Volunteering in the community has definitely shaped who I am as a person; I see people from many different backgrounds," she said. "It's so nice to know that an organization like the alumni association values volunteer service so much."
While the ROTC program does offer some scholarships, Buss says she is still "super grateful" for the Alumni Scholarship.
"ECU is more affordable than most schools, but it can still be a burden," she said. "Getting the Alumni Scholarship was a great feeling. It has eased my mind so much and allowed me to do more."
Buss, a native of Fayetteville, always knew she wanted to serve in the military because both of her parents served.
"My dad is an Army paratrooper, and my mom is a lab technician for the Air Force," she said. "Seeing their pride in what they do really inspired me to serve. In every capacity, they inspire me."
Buss and her older sister are the first generation in their family to go to college. Buss originally wanted to go straight into the military, but her parents convinced her of the importance of a college degree. Buss said ECU was her top choice because of its quality education and programs such as ROTC.
ROTC also allows Buss to develop her skills as a leader. She completed summer leadership training, a competitive program about 60 percent of cadets nationwide are accepted into between their sophomore and junior years. Based in Alabama and Mississippi, this 28-day " field camp" provides training in physical conditioning, weapons, hand-to-hand combat and survival skills. Those who successfully complete the program get a four-year contract with the Air Force.
"Field training gave many amazing opportunities to actually apply our leadership skills," she said. "We learned quickly that leadership isn't a starring role. Ultimately, our leadership ability was measured by the success of those we were leading. That's one lesson that I will carry with me everywhere I go, that being a leader means that you give up the right to think about yourself."
Buss is now in her second year as her unit's service coordinator.
"My goal is to bring people together," she said. "My favorite part of serving is a tie between the people we meet and the impact we leave behind."
For Buss, serving the country, community and university are one.
"To me, it's all unified," Buss said. "Serving in all these ways just makes sense to me. This university has given so much to me; it's only natural to give back."
Buss' fellow Alumni Scholars all display this commitment to community service, one of the hallmarks of the Alumni Scholarship program. Recipients are also encouraged to get involved with alumni programs as a way to say thank you to the university and network with alumni.
Twenty recipients of 2016-2017 Alumni Scholarships received a total of $37,500 thanks to the generosity of ECU alumni and donors.
The Alumni Scholarship program is funded with proceeds from two signature fundraisers, the ECU Alumni Scholarship Classic golf tournament each fall and the Pirate Alumni Road Race and Fun Run each spring. Proceeds are increased when sponsors such as Hilton Greenville and PotashCorp Aurora help cover expenses of hosting these events.
To donate to the Alumni Scholarship program or become a sponsor, contact Shawn Moore '91 '98, director of scholarships and signature programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-328-5775.
With an eye toward growth, the ECU Board of Trustees approved a 2 percent tuition and fees increase for new students at its Nov. 11 meeting.
The increase was recommended by the Campus Based Tuition and Fee Committee and will raise the tuition rate to $4,452 per semester for incoming, in-state freshmen and transfer students- up $87 from the previous year. Non-resident students will see a $406 increase. The new tuition rates are fixed for incoming undergraduate students for eight semesters.
Funds from the tuition and fee increase will be used for faculty and staff retention, student services, technology improvements and graduate assistantship support. Funds also will support Honors College merit scholarships. During the meeting, Chancellor Cecil Staton discussed ECU's intention to increase Honors College enrollment from 100 to 200 new students per year beginning in fall 2017.
The proposal also included a $2,000 tuition increase for the Brody School of Medicine and a $1,000 increase for the School of Dental Medicine.
Trustees also unanimously adopted a resolution requesting University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings and the UNC Board of Governors support the expansion of programs and facilities at the Brody School of Medicine. Those include the conversion of $4 million in nonrecurring funds allocated to Brody this year to a permanent funding source; expansion of the Brody class size from 80 to 120 full-time students over the next eight years; the expansion of medical residency slots available in eastern North Carolina; and planning money for a new $150 million medical education facility at East Carolina.
Also approved was a total of $55 million in renovations for Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The plans call for expanding the upper deck on the south side of the stadium with four tiers of suites, lounge and loge areas with a total of about 1,000 seats, a new press box and food service and seating amenities. Other improvements will include a new "Pirate Promenade" area leading to the stadium to serve as an entryway for football players, band members and cheerleaders as well as an upgraded parking and tailgating lot, a pre-game open seating area in the Murphy Center end zone, indoor baseball practice facility and improvements to the Ward Sports Medicine building and Scales Field House.
Construction is slated to begin after the 2017 football season for completion before the 2018 season. A total of $12.2 million has been raised so far, and premium seating areas have been sold.
—ECU News Services
This image is from a 2013 exhibition of the Veterans Book Project held at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Acting on the ECU motto, “To Serve,” Joyner Library has added a book by Al Thompson Jr., On the Currahee Trail, and one by Robert Sills, Type 2 Bipolar, to its Veterans Book Project collection.
The collection began in 2005. Books written by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Vietnam era veterans make up the collection of more than 50 books. ECU plans to add at least two titles every year.
As part of the Veterans Book Project, ECU hosted a veterans writing workshop in April.
The goal was to help veterans express their life experiences through words, according to Tom Douglass, ECU associate professor of English and event organizer. Veterans Book Project founder Monica Haller led the workshop, and another will be held in March.
More information about the project is at veteransbookproject.com.
In addition, the library has begun a collection of photos, biographies and other information about students, alumni, faculty, staff, family members and any others who served in the U.S. armed forces.
It’s an online exhibit Joyner will host permanently at digital.lib.ecu.edu/veterans.
“We are looking at is as an opportunity for current and past students, faculty and staff to recognize their own service or that of a loved one by providing a photo and information related to their name, branch of service, service dates, hometown, duty locations and a brief narrative,” said Arthur Carlson, university archivist. “We hope that over time we can introduce improvements to the site, such as selecting only U.S. Marines or locating individuals who served in specfic duty locations or eras. Our goal is to visually document the commitment ECU has to military service.”
ECU’s fall enrollment of 28,962 students is the largest in the university’s history.
The Graduate School set a record with 5,461 students enrolled in more than 75 graduate programs. That number reflects a 9.5 percent increase over 2015 and surpasses the goal of 5,000 students by fall 2019.
“We made several internal changes that have improved our customer service and increased how often we directly interact with potential students,” said Heidi Puckett, director of graduate admissions.
Puckett said the largest growth was in the College of Education, which saw a 21 percent increase with more students enrolling in the administrative and adult education programs. The College of Business wasn’t far behind, with a 16 percent increase this year.
ECU’s total undergraduate enrollment is 22,969, which includes 4,320 freshmen. The total graduate student enrollment—including dental and medical students—is 5,993.
ECU not only is one of the nation's best educational values, but also has some of the nation's best academic programs.
That's according to annual rankings by Educate to Career and U.S. News & World Report.
ECU has been named a 2017 Top 100 Best Value College by Educate to Career. It's ranked 99th out of almost 1,200 universities in the 2017 College Rankings Index. The California nonprofit analyzed labor market outcomes of graduates from accredited four-year colleges with enrollments of 750 students or more, according to its website.
Ron Mitchelson, ECU provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said many national rankings measure the volume and quality of inputs and ignore the outcomes that are achieved.
"We know that when students come to us they are transformed, and this value-added ranking reflects those transformations," Mitchelson said. "It's certainly validation of the quality of our programs and the hard work of many faculty and staff."
He added that ECU's top-100 ranking "reflects our mission- driven focus on student success and being a great value."
Educate to Career says it's the only organization that evaluates the total costs related to attending college and the outcomes of students when they enter the workforce. The rankings are determined by which schools did the best job of improving earnings and attainment of quality employment of their students, according to the ETC website.
Some of the metrics used include percentage of graduates employed in occupations using their fields of study, average salary, employment within one year of graduation and the number of years in school.
This year, ETC significantly increased the weighting of graduation rates as part of its ranking system.
ECU also ranks in the top tier of national universities, according to U.S. News.
In the magazine's 2017 "Best Colleges" guide released online Sept. 13, ECU is ranked 210, tied with Montana State University, Old Dominion University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
ECU also is one of 100 schools named in "A+ Schools for B Students," which used student SAT and ACT scores, class rank and freshmen retention rates to develop a list of colleges and universities where students "have a decent shot at being accepted and thriving-where spirit and hard work could make all the difference to the admissions office," according to U.S. News.
To develop the national university rankings, U.S. News assigned ECU and other universities to a peer group based on the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classification for higher education institutions.
Among ECU's peer institutions, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte ranked 202 and UNC-Greensboro ranked 220 while North Carolina A&T State University was ranked in the second tier of the nation's best universities.
The magazine listed 298 institutions in the national universities category offering a range of undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees and research. Ranking metrics were assessed by academic peers and high school counselors; graduation and retention rates; faculty resources; student selectivity; financial resources; graduation rate performance; and alumni giving.
ECU's Brody School of Medicine is ranked among the nation's top five medical schools again this year for the percentage of its graduates pursuing careers in family medicine.
The American Academy of Family Physicians calculates the annual rankings by averaging the percentages of each school's graduates who entered family medicine residency programs during the past three years. According to those calculations, an average of 16.7 percent of ECU medical graduates began training in family medicine from 2013 to 2015.
Brody ranked fourth on this year's list, which was published in the October issue of Family Medicine, the journal of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.
This year, ECU's medical school is the only one in the Southeast to make the top five-where it has been ranked for six consecutive years. Brody has been ranked in the top 10 since 2007. No other North Carolina medical school has made the top 10 during that time period.
"This is evidence of our long- standing commitment to provide talented and committed primary care physicians for North Carolina," said Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, Brody's senior associate dean for academic affairs.
Approximately one in five medical office visits is made to a family physician, according to AAFP data. That totals nearly 192 million office visits annually — nearly 66 million more than the next largest medical specialty.
—Amy Adams Ellis
As the fall semester began, distance-education students in ECU's master of science in nursing program gathered on campus for several days of hands-on training designed to prepare them for a variety of situations they will encounter working in the health care system.
The first set of exercises involved nursing students in the midwifery and neonatal nurse practitioner concentrations who collaborated in role-playing scenarios in which they explained procedures or delivered bad news to patients. One station involved a translator and a couple that didn't speak English, while another focused on the risks involved in a pre-term delivery.
"The true benefit of this exercise is the collaboration, teamwork and communication," said Amy Jnah, director of the neonatal nurse practitioner concentration in the College of Nursing. "It offers students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in simulated clinical scenarios involving counseling of laboring women or families of critically ill infants. This allows the students to self-assess strengths and weaknesses, and fill any recognized knowledge-practice gaps before participating as a team leader after graduation."
For the first time this year, students in the midwifery concentration were included in the role-playing exercises, creating collaboration across disciplines similar to what would happen in a real delivery setting. Translators from the local health department and drama students were brought in to lend realism to the simulations.
"Communication is so important in health care," said Kim Fleming, a student in the midwifery program. "You have to make sure to give all the information in an accurate and compassionate way, and knowing that you've done it before, that you have that script in your back pocket, is a great confidence builder."
Fleming, like the rest of the students in the program, is working on her master's degree while already working as a nurse; she's a labor and delivery nurse at a high- risk facility. She became a nurse so she could be a midwife to "help people through these difficult transitions. Birth is hard even though it's beautiful," she said.
"There is research that shows that simulations like these really do improve outcomes," said Rebecca Moretto, who is in her last year of the midwifery program. "Between these groups of professionals there are some gaps in communication, so this helps close that gap and keep everybody safe."
Moretto also said she has bene ted from the other students' experiences and perspectives. "We're all coming from different disciplines," she said. "My background is in low- risk deliveries, so I've been able to learn from Kim, who has experience in high-risk situations."
The students will soon be working with patients during clinicals, so it's important to prepare them for what they will face, said Becky Bagley, director of the midwifery concentration. "In these exercises they're outlining what will happen and why to help make the patient more comfortable.
"These simulations have been successful with the NNP program, and they asked us to join in with our midwifery students. We're learning together and practicing together, and we make a great team," she said.
Shannon Moore's master's in the NNP program will be her third degree from ECU.
"I had the opportunity to see the midwives doing what they do best (as far as providing care for a pregnant mother) and then actually experience the passing of the baton to us as NNPs for us to take over in our role of providing excellent care for the infant," she said. "I could actually feel the support from the midwives in our simulations as we delivered bad news to the parent about their infant - support not only for the mother, but also support and backing for the NNP. It truly felt like a team."
The midwifery students also worked with interns from the OB/GYN program at the Brody School of Medicine as well as Brody and nursing faculty to practice labor-and-delivery skills. The simulations included breaking a mother's water, placing a fetal scalp electrode, birthing a baby using a manikin and infant, and performing a pudendal block, a method of delivering anesthetic.
"We're practicing basic hand maneuvers during delivery, and they've done really well," said Monica Newby, assistant clinical professor in the Brody School of Medicine, who ran one of the simulation stations. "Some of them hadn't seen these alternative birthing positions and different ways to give birth, so it just puts the idea in their mind and gives them something to think about."
Fleming said the exercises provided a lot of information at one time, but the practice helped build confidence. "It's a little daunting knowing that we'll be doing this with real people who are scared and screaming," she said, "but it's good to start building that muscle memory and technique."
The simulations give the faculty a chance to critique and correct the students' technique, Bagley said. "If they make a mistake, it's here in a safe environment."
Finally, the midwifery students participated in a mini business institute, where they learned from business school and midwifery faculty about developing a business plan for a practice.
"It is important for practicing nurse-midwives to employ sound business practices in order to continue to maintain financially viable clinical practices, regardless of whether they are employees or administrators of their own offices," said Connie Dewees, clinical assistant professor of nurse-midwifery. "Today's changing health care industry requires that midwives be both expert clinicians and knowledgeable business persons."
U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked ECU's online MSN program among the top programs in the nation. With 46 students, the NNP program is one of the five largest in the U.S., Jnah said. The nurse-midwifery concentration is the only program of its kind in the Carolinas. It has 39 students and recently received 10 years of accreditation, the maximum granted by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.
"I think this is one of the best things we can do to help the students prepare for real-life situations," said Sonya Hardin, College of Nursing associate dean for graduate programs.
Dr. John "Jack" Rose, center in dark suit, is shown at the ceremony announcing the distinguished professorship named in his honor.
The director of research for the East Carolina Heart Institute is going to have a special title in honor of a cardiologist and professor who has changed the lives not only of many eastern North Carolinians but also people around the world. The director will be known as the John "Jack" Rose Distinguished Professor.
"A distinguished professorship is the highest honor to be bestowed on somebody," said Dr. Mark Iannettoni, who is interim chair for the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences in the Brody School of Medicine. He expects the first recipient to be named to the professorship this fall. The heart institute is a partnership of ECU, Vidant Medical Center and private physicians to advance education, research, treatment and prevention related to cardiovascular diseases.
"It's an amazing honor for me," said Rose. "There are a lot of people, though, who equally could have received this honor, and really it's not just for me, but for all of the people who have taken care of patients and have taught at this institution."
Rose has been a physician for nearly 50 years. He received his undergraduate degree in history from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1968 and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, where he also completed an internship and residency training. He completed a cardiology fellowship at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill.
Rose started working with patients at Pitt County Memorial Hospital (now Vidant Medical Center) in 1982. During that time, he also taught medical residents, eventually joining Brody as a professor in 1990.
"I think what I really respect about Jack is that he is so humble and so dedicated to any patient, any student and any colleague at any time," said Iannettoni.
"He is a master teacher and a master team builder," said Donna Lou Edwards, nurse manager of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at ECHI. She said no matter what role people play on the patient-care team, Rose considers their ideas.
Edwards and others who work with him described Rose as humble and kind, dedicated to getting the correct diagnosis for his patients. Rose is also known for his attention to detail and bedside manner.
"He is a doctor's doctor," Edwards said. "He has a regimen, and he will never deter from it; he will not take a shortcut. That's why patients get excellent care and evaluation from him."
One of Rose's passions is traveling to Nicaragua to provide treatment of rheumatic and congenital heart disease. He started making the trips in the 1980s and has made about two a year since 2001.
"He has done tremendous work bringing hope to patients who wouldn't be alive if it weren't for his hard work and persistence," says Dr. Carlos Espinoza, a fellow in interventional cardiology at VMC.
A native of Nicaragua, Espinoza met Rose on one such trip in 2001. He said from the moment they first worked together, Rose inspired him.
"I was really impressed with the way that he'd treat each patient with so much respect and dignity-the way that he approached each of them, the way that he examined them-he was so thorough examining each patient," Espinoza said.
Rose's most recent trip to Nicaragua, in February, ended with him being medically evacuated to Florida after being hit by a motorcycle.
"It was very unnerving that morning. We were getting ready to start clinic and excited about having a new team of physicians... then we hear that our main soldier is down," Edwards said.
"I'm doing better; I'm not normal yet, but I'm getting better," Rose said.
"We are just pleased with the miracles that we receive. We feel like we received one," Edwards added.
Rose hopes to go back to Nicaragua in February, though he'd like to go sooner.
The professorship was established about 10 years ago with funds from the Vidant Health Foundation and matching state funds but was not filled or named. The endowment will pay about $64,000 annually for the ECHI research director's research expenses, research personnel, travel, equipment and supplies.
"When you reflect back over the career that Dr. Rose has had, it's just obvious that he embodies the characteristics and traits for which this distinguished professorship was envisioned 10 years ago," said VMC President Brian Floyd.
A $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will enable the ECU School of Dental Medicine to offer more scholarships to economically disadvantaged students over the next four years.
The award-from the Health Resources and Services Administration's Bureau of Health Workforce-is aimed at increasing the number of providers working in underserved communities by providing funds to accredited U.S. health professions schools.
Thirty ECU dental students have already benefited from the funding. More than 120 are expected to receive scholarships over the life of the grant.
"We know that educational debt is a critical factor in a graduate's decision of where to practice, and our aim is to keep that debt as low as possible," said Dr. Margaret Wilson, vice dean and associate dean for student affairs in the dental school. "With less debt, graduates have greater flexibility in where they choose to practice."
North Carolina is the fifth-fastest- growing state, yet ranks 47th in the nation in dentists per capita, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. Twenty-seven of the state's 100 counties are served by no more than two dentists per 10,000 people, and one-third of the dentists practicing in the state are 55 or older.
"The school seeks not only to admit students from communities of need, but students who have a goal to practice in these communities," said Dr. Wanda Wright, division director of dental public health at ECU and the grant's primary investigator. "One day we hope to see a map indicating that our graduates are practicing in areas of greatest need across the state."
Charlotte native Gabrielle Robinson has had to work harder than most to get to college—an auditory processing disorder causes her to learn differently from the typical student.
“Usually I have to record things, just to have it repeated so that I can fully understand it,” she said.
Robinson’s determination has her succeeding at ECU thanks in part to the Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships, or STEPP, Program, which gives students with an identified learning disability a chance to go to college.
About 10 students are accepted each year, and ECU starts working with them during their senior year in high school. First-year STEPP students arrive a week before their first classes begin to take part in a special boot camp that gets them ready for college. While at ECU, they work closely with STEPP faculty and staff.
“It’s an answer to our prayers; it truly is,” said Lisa Ward, whose son, Andersen, is dyslexic. Ward said she tried private school, public school and home-schooling him. During his junior year of high school Ward said her son wanted to give up, but then they found out about the STEPP Program.
“When I first heard about it, I wanted nothing of it,” Andersen Ward said. “I thought I could do it myself. Then I had the realization I couldn’t go to college doing this by myself and expect to get good grades. I needed something like this to actually succeed and know what I’m doing.”
Like Robinson, Ward is now an ECU freshman, where they are two of nine new students in the STEPP Program. This is the program’s 10th year, and the group includes the 100th STEPP student to be admitted to ECU.
“Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten into school anywhere without the STEPP Program,” said former STEPP student Lee Olson ’14.
Because of her learning disability, Olson struggled with reading and writing. Her high school grades were fine, but she didn’t score well on the SAT. STEPP leaders took that into consideration when accepting her.
“I think it gave me a place where I felt comfortable to go and ask questions and be there as long as I needed to be,” Olson said.
She now works with abused and neglected children in Wilmington.
STEPP Director Sarah Williams doesn’t know of any other program like ECU’s in the country. While there are other schools that accept and cater to those with learning disabilities, she said STEPP is unique in that the university offers a comprehensive approach to serve students without it costing extra for those students to receive that support.
“We wanted this to be accessible to students who have the capacity to earn a college degree but would need some extra support and may not have the money to pay for extensive extra support services,” Williams said.
STEPP got off the ground with a donation from Walter and Marie Williams. Their grandson has a learning disability and went through the program as well.
“We believe in the staff. The staff is so important; they care,” Walter Williams said.
Today, STEPP is partially funded by a five-year grant from the Oak Foundation. The family foundation is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and has an office in Chapel Hill. As part of its Learning Differences Programme, it trains teachers, mentors children and supports the development of technology to help them learn. Because of this, Oak Foundation program officer Dana Brinson said the foundation wanted to be a part of the STEPP Program.
“It’s not feasible for a lot of people to pay for this level of support in addition to what college is costing these days,” Brinson said. “One of the key components that we really appreciate about STEPP was that this was provided at no additional cost to the students and their families.”
But in order to keep STEPP free for students, the program is going to have to build a $4 million endowment to sustain it. Leaders have raised $1.5 million so far.
For students and families, the program is a life-changer.
“He’s going to get a degree,” Lisa Ward said, smiling.
This summer, ECU students and faculty members helped unearth surprising discoveries while excavating the ancient Nabataean capital city of Petra, Jordan.
ECU professor of anthropology Megan Perry is co-directing the Petra North Ridge project with fellow archaeologist and historian Thomas Parker of N.C. State University. Their task is to piece together the puzzle of an enigmatic people.
The city was the center of the Nabataean Kingdom until it fell into ruin sometime between 300 and 700 A.D. It remained virtually unknown to the Western world until a Swiss explorer discovered it in 1812, at which point the civilization's relics were still beautifully preserved thanks to the protective nature of the rock formations.
Since then, researchers have been asking questions about the lives of ordinary people who lived there.
Perry and Parker's project has focused on excavating first- to fourth-century A.D. houses in the ancient city, along with first- century B.C. to first-century A.D. tombs used by its residents to bury their dead. Two faculty members and eight current and former ECU students, along with students and staff from other institutions, returned to the Middle East for six weeks in May and June to follow up on excavations performed in 2012 and 2014.
Exploration in a new area of the city's northern edge revealed a surprising discovery - the remains of a first- to second-century A.D. complex that contained a caldarium, or heated room typical of Roman-style baths.
"The function of the complex is not clear," said Perry, "but it could have served a domestic function similar to other buildings nearby, albeit a more elaborate version."
Perry said the find led the team to change its hypothesis on the history of the neighborhood.
"If the caldarium indeed is part of a larger villa, that would imply that elite individuals lived in this sector of the city-and essentially in the same neighborhood as more moderate dwellings," she said. "If it is a public bath, it would mean that Roman-style bathing was more widespread amongst the Nabataeans than we previously thought."
The debris that eventually filled this complex also contained the project's most stunning find, according to Perry-two almost-complete marble statues of the goddess Aphrodite along with her companion, Eros, that probably date to the second or third century A.D.
"The statues likely had been imported, based on stylistic characteristics along with the marble qualities. These hypotheses will be tested further through art-historical analysis of the sculpting as well as chemical analysis of the marble itself," said Perry.
"Finding such items," she added, "really makes you see how museum objects-usually presented devoid of any context-had ties to actual people and places in the past."
ECU maritime studies alumna Melissa Price '15 served as the project conservator and directed the statues' cleaning.
"She provided suggestions for their conservation-essential for these exquisite objects that rival those found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre," said Perry.
The statues are largely intact, and additional portions of the heads and upper extremities were also recovered.
Over the years, the Petra North Ridge Project has served as a study-abroad opportunity for students from ECU and other institutions. This year, 17 students from across the United States participated in the project for course credit, gaining hands-on knowledge in archaeological field techniques and experience with Middle Eastern culture.
"Many of our graduates become practicing archaeologists for government organizations or private companies," said Perry. "Our field schools provide firsthand experience in the methodological choices and critical decisions professional archaeologists make every day."
Funding for the excavation is provided primarily by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration, with additional support from ECU's Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences and the departments of anthropology and geography, planning and environment; the al-Himma foundation of Amman, Jordan; the American Center of Oriental Research; and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The grants supporting the project run through the end of the 2016-17 academic year.
Now that the excavation process is complete, Perry and her team move to the analysis and publication phase of the project.
—Jules Norwood and Lacey Gray
ECU researchers are studying an invasive parasite that takes over the reproductive system of mud crabs and even alters their behavior, potentially impacting coastal ecosystems.
"It's detrimental to the host crab because they can no longer reproduce their own young,"
said April Blakeslee, assistant professor of biology. "We call it a body-snatching parasite because it takes over from throughout the inside of the crab."
The parasite is a kind of barnacle, Loxothylacus panopaei, or Loxo for short, that is native to the Gulf of Mexico.
The female barnacle infects the host and spreads its roots, Blakeslee said, then produces an external sac containing thousands of eggs on the crab's abdomen, which are fertilized by the male Loxo.
"Once it does that the sac becomes larger and then the larvae are released into the water," she said. "So a few infected crabs can infect the rest of the population pretty quickly."
Infected crabs continue living and feeding but are reproductively dead, earning them the nickname "zombie crabs."
In the Gulf, where the mud crabs have developed some resistance to the parasite, infection rates are low (less than 5 percent), but in the Chesapeake Bay, where Loxo is considered an invasive species, infection rates may be as high as 75 or even 90 percent, Blakeslee said. It has also been found in waters all along the East Coast, as far north as Long Island Sound.
The parasite also affects the crab's behavior, causing it to protect the egg sac as if it were the crab's own young. The protective behavior is found not only in female crabs, but also in males, which would not normally exhibit such tendencies.
By hijacking the mud crabs' reproductive system, Blakeslee said the parasite could have a dramatic impact on the population.
"These mud crabs are very small, but they're really important because they're a huge part of the food web," she said. "They are prey for things like blue crabs, lots of fish and birds. And in turn they eat tiny things within the oyster beds. Studies have shown that if you pull out these intermediate species, the whole system can fall apart."
In July, Blakeslee and a team of students and collaborators deployed crab collector units at sites along the banks of the Pamlico and Neuse rivers to monitor the mud crab population and the prevalence of Loxo in coastal North Carolina waters.
The collector units, or crab condos, as the team calls them, are usually deployed near docks, where they can be tied off and easily retrieved. Each condo has a device attached that records the water temperature on an hourly basis, and the researchers will measure the salinity monthly when they check the collector units.
As many as a few dozen mud crabs-or more if they've just reproduced-could take up residence in each of the crab condos.
Sites were chosen upstream and downstream along the two river systems. "Starting at pretty much fresh and moving toward saltier water as you get closer to the Pamlico Sound and to the ocean, we'll put (collector units) out at these different locations and see how that affects the densities of the mud crabs and the prevalence of the parasite," Blakeslee said.
The hypothesis is that the crab has adapted to the parasite in a couple of different ways. "One is that it can resist infection by this parasite, and the other is that it can escape the parasite by being in really low salinity waters," Blakeslee said. "The parasite doesn't do as well in fresh water, so the crabs can basically find refuge there. "If that holds true we will see less of the parasite as we move upstream."
Blakeslee is working on a grant application to submit to the National Science Foundation to study that hypothesis throughout North America. She recently received one of 35 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards from Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which provides $5,000 to support the North Carolina portion of the research. ECU will match the award in the same amount.
"Another part of our work is showing the impact of humans in moving things into places that they wouldn't have been able to get to," Blakeslee said. "Humans have been transplanting oysters for long periods of time, especially the early to mid-1900s, and we think that's how this parasite has spread. The mud crabs are native here, but the parasite was completely absent before."
Invasive species can also have a ripple effect. In Texas, the mud crabs have been found in freshwater lakes.
"We think the parasite may have helped fuel the crab's evolution toward tolerance for low salinity, to the point that they have moved into these lakes and can live and reproduce in
a freshwater system, where the crabs themselves are invasive, so it's not a good thing for the lakes. But they're completely parasite- free there because the parasite can't live in fresh water."
Team tutor Jim Eisenmann, a Marine Corps veteran, works with Raquel Williams on an initial velocity equation.
Some have already served our nation's military and returned to school under the GI Bill. Others are members of the National Guard, Reserves or ROTC.
All are team-oriented, mission-focused and driven - attributes any employer would value - and they are serving their fellow students at ECU's Pirate Academic Success Center through a mutually beneficial program called the Green Team Project that engages military-affiliated students as tutors.
The program is part of ECU's efforts to be a military-friendly university, said Elizabeth Coghill, director of the PASC.
Started with University of North Carolina General Administration funds for special populations support and continued with
help from a local community foundation, the Green Team Project offers a variety of benefits for participating service members. In addition to a paycheck and a flexible work schedule, tutors become more connected to other students and to faculty members within their own fields of study, reinforce their own learning and gain valuable work experience in a positive, collaborative setting.
"What the research shows us about the experience that our military students have is that they're less connected on campus," Coghill said. "They tend to isolate, because the worlds that they are living in are so different."
Once they become a part of the PASC, she said, they are in constant contact with other students, they have a mission and they are part of a team. "It allows them to become more connected to what the university is all about," she said. "They take that drive to serve that they had in the military and transition it to (this role)."
After serving all over the world in the Marine Corps, Jim Eisenmann was working for Jarrett Bay Boatworks in Beaufort when a coworker asked him, "What are you doing? You're crazy. They'll pay you to go to school."
He did just that, starting with business classes at Carteret Community College. But when the economy turned south and he was laid off in 2009, then found out he had a child on the way, he began to rethink his future.
"I didn't want to run a business because I want to have time with my kid," he said. "So I started looking at teaching, and that prompted me to go back to school for physics."
Now with a bachelor's degree under his belt, he's working on a master's degree in applied physics with the goal of becoming a college professor. He has worked as a tutor throughout his time at ECU and said the experience has been invaluable.
"Tutoring physics, since it's my major, these things that I try to teach people will be forever crystallized in my brain," he said. "By helping other students, it fortifies my understanding of the subject."
Since he's a few years older than many of his fellow students, he said, "it's hard to keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening with the students coming in. But I get to interact with them and understand their culture, how they think and what their struggles are."
Like Eisenmann, Guiseppe Jeanty's experience has been a little different from that of the typical college student. Jeanty, a first-generation college student who grew up in Haiti, joined the Army National Guard after high school to help support his family after his mother's cancer diagnosis.
"Afterwards, I wanted to go back to school," he said. "My major is engineering, and a lot of other schools wouldn't accept someone coming off a year's break. ECU gave me an opportunity and had faith in me."
The college environment took some getting used to, he admitted. "Classes in the military are really engaging, and everyone is fully hands-on, awake, answering questions, really gung-ho. If someone told me something, I wouldn't hesitate; I'd go ahead and do it," he said.
On campus, the learning environment is more laid back, he said, and he quickly realized he would have to apply himself in his own study time.
Jeanty will receive a bachelor of science in engineering in December before being deployed to the Middle East with the National Guard, where he works in satellite and radio communications. He said his experience as a tutor has improved his problem-solving ability as well as his social skills.
"You come in here with a smile, and you get to meet all kinds of people working here on campus at the Pirate Academic Success Center," Jeanty said. "With that, your social skills go way up and you realize that, hey, the students here are great. It's actually easy to talk to them, you just have to step out and say hi."
While Eisenmann and Jeanty joined the PASC after receiving emails inviting them to apply, Chris Garcia discovered the tutoring center when he needed help with his own introductory physics courses - the same courses he's now tutoring other students in.
"Tutoring benefits me by allowing, and even forcing, me to study and assimilate every small piece of information about the courses I tutor," he said. "Every day, I learn new tricks and am able to pass them along."
The experience, he said, has also helped bring him out of his shell. "I describe myself as an introvert," he said, "but if you told that to anyone I work with they'd probably laugh in your face."
Especially meaningful, he said, is when a student he's working with has an "aha!" moment, when everything falls into place because of his efforts. "Those moments really make tutoring one of the most rewarding jobs I'll ever have," Garcia said.
Eisenmann agreed. "The best way to learn is to teach," he said. "I think it's the best job on campus. It directly impacts you as a student, and it's just a win- win, really. You get to meet great new people, and it's a fun place to work."
Each semester, there are about 20 Green Team tutors out of a total of 250 PASC tutoring staff. Each tutor works with an average of 200 students a semester. The feedback and outcomes have been overwhelmingly positive, Coghill said, and she hopes to encourage other universities to create similar programs.
"We really want to see our state, especially, begin to adopt these kinds of practices," she said. "They make the best tutors.
You can see the pride that they feel in being a tutor, and being connected with this place. It not only gives them a job, but it gives them their own success at the university."