New university studies program starts strong
From zero to 142 majors in one year is rapid growth for a new degree program at East Carolina University. The university studies program has experienced that surge because its flexible curriculum appeals to a definite niche of students, officials said.
“We’re getting off to a very strong start,” said program director Rondall Rice. The first four graduates with the university studies degree graduated at the end of summer session. Twenty-three are on track to graduate this winter, Rice said.
ECU created the university studies major in response to the needs of students whose interests and talents don’t easily fit into any major.
Generally speaking, the students he sees come from two academic backgrounds, Rice said. “There are the journey students and the off-ramp students.
“Journey students didn’t find a passion for something, although they took a bunch of courses.
“Off-ramp students are those that tried a traditional degree. They got pretty far into the major but changed their minds, so they try to transition into another major.”
The problem for both kinds of students, Rice said, is they sometimes get discouraged and drop out.
University studies takes an individual, personal approach. “We look at what they have taken and then look at what they’re trying to do,” Rice explained.
“We try to help them find their inner passion,” he said.
One university studies major is Connor Mangold, a junior from Kinston in the ECU Honors College. He’s what Rice would call an off-ramp student.
“I was a music student, but I decided that wasn’t for me,” Mangold said. He decided his real interest was an emerging field that blends computer science and art.
“My main area of study is sound design…for electronic music,” he said. “So, my major is part computer science, part music and part animation.
“The best thing about this degree is that it allows me to learn many aspects” of sound design, Mangold said. “It’s still early but I enjoy the fact I get to focus on different fields.”
Students declaring for the university studies major on average arrive with just under 109 credit hours earned, Rice said. “If you consider that most degrees require 120 hours, they’re close to getting a degree.”
Rice said some new students in the program arrive without the 2.5 GPA that most majors require, while others have great GPAs but just couldn’t decide on a major.
“The students who are drawn to us probably would have left the university without a degree,” he said.
After an initial introductory course, students meet with advisers who design a “thematic core” of courses that best fit each student’s interests. For the required capstone experience, students may chose to work an internship, complete a project or write a research paper.
For now, the university studies program is a free-standing unit, Rice said. “We are not under any of the colleges. It is under the academic affairs division, and we work directly for (Senior Associate Provost) Austin Bunch.”
The unit operates out of offices in the Old Cafeteria Building.
Among the first four graduates was Katelyn Morris. Rice said her thematic core, titled “adaptive technology,” included courses in communication, technology, leadership, multicultural sensitivity and children’s special education.
She interned with a high-tech company in Charlotte, which hired her after graduation.
Morris said she hopes her degree will allow her to “work towards selling technology that would allow the autistic child to learn to communicate through devices that will give these students a new sense of freedom.”
Rice said one university studies student is conducting research this fall, in concert with the Brody School of Medicine, on how electronic medical records are changing the health care industry.
He said he expects the university studies program will experience another growth spurt next fall. “The next level (of growth) will come from ‘part-way home’ students after we advertise to them. These are ones that dropped out or had other problems. This is specially tailored for former military,” Rice said.
Rice said he expects that by next fall all of the program’s courses will be available online.
Brooke Burnette and Toni Ormond, an administrative support specialist at the Ahoskie center.
Dental students prepare for practice, serve rural residents
Most people dread root canals and tooth extractions, crowns and dental fillings. But fourth-year students in the ECU School of Dental Medicine have been looking forward to those procedures for three years.
“I was the kid that loved to go to the dentist,” said Brooke Burnette, a Chocowinity native and member of ECU’s first class of dental students. “I know that’s pretty rare. I wanted a career where I could give back…and see people smile again.”
Burnette and the other members of her class left Greenville this fall to engage in applied learning at ECU dental community service learning centers built and staffed in rural, underserved areas across the state.
ECU is pioneering this model for training dental students. Each will complete eight-week rotations at three different clinics as part of their final year of study.
“This is more than just drilling and filling,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the dental school. “They’re developing an understanding about people across the state—why they might not have access to care, why they might not hold oral health as a high priority.”
Rebecca Ferguson was in Sylva for only three weeks before she noticed the difference between practicing dental medicine in Greenville and at the mountain clinic. “It’s a totally different patient population,” the Waynesville native said. “There’s definitely a demand and a need (for dental care in western North Carolina).”
Other students agreed it’s not uncommon to see patients at the clinics come in with pain rather than for preventive care.
There are also day-to-day operational differences for the students. During their third year in ECU’s Ross Hall—where the dental school is housed—the average day consisted of a mix of course work and care for about two patients. Now, their days are spent treating twice that many patients, on average.
“I had to figure out how to be more efficient,” Burnette said of her rotation at the Ahoskie clinic.
She said the students also have to make sure they’re asking all the right questions. Many patients are on other medications that could cause issues during the course of dental care and may be unaware of the potential for adverse drug reactions.
“You really don’t know anything about your patients,” said Jorge Arriagada, who completed his first rotation in Lillington. “You have to review everything.”
ECU faculty dentists working alongside the students at each location support their transition to the clinic.
“You get one-on-one teaching for all aspects of dentistry,” said student Jeremy Hyder, a Hickory native on rotation in Elizabeth City. “It’s a unique experience that I don’t think a lot of other dental students—if any—get to have.”
Additionally, the students are all acting as informal ambassadors from ECU and its dental school. Their presence helps attract patients to the clinics. Arriagada said he and his classmates are often stopped as they run errands in their scrubs. People are curious about who they are and why they’ve come to their community, he said.
“Eventually, we’ll be on roller skates going from patient to patient,” Arriagada predicted, laughing. “We’re offering affordable care, and that’s going to be a huge benefit to these communities.”
The students said they’re benefiting, too.
“I was expecting to enjoy it, but it definitely lived up to (my expectations) and surpassed them,” Hyder said. “It’s what life will be like after graduation.”
Engineering senior Coriyon Arrington
ECU program celebrates 10 years of engineering
ECU’s engineering program launched at a perfect time for Kyle Barnes.
The 2004 Roanoke Rapids High School graduate planned to enroll at ECU for two years and then transfer to another university where he could complete an engineering degree.
But Barnes didn’t have to leave to earn his degree. He met Paul Kauffmann, one of the founders of ECU’s engineering department, who encouraged Barnes to apply for the new program.
“Everything it offered appeared to be a perfect fit for my needs and interests,” Barnes said.
As one of 35 close-knit engineering students in that first class, Barnes said he “was able to build relationships with students who were undergoing the exact same challenges.”
ECU celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its engineering program during Homecoming weekend in October.
Kauffman, Tarek Abdel-Salam and Phil Lunsford started the Department of Engineering to meet a growing need for degreed engineers to help support a large manufacturing industry in eastern North Carolina. The program has been instrumental in providing a steady pipeline of engineers to support workforce needs, said Hayden Griffin, department chair for engineering.
Barnes, 28, is an engineering manager at Carver Machine Works, a fabrication and welding company in Washington, North Carolina, that serves customers in the aerospace, defense and power-generation industries.
Lindsey Crisp, president and chief executive of the company and an ECU graduate in accounting, said he’s often asked how his company—given its rural location —finds quality employees.
“I say all the time to our customers that we are in rural eastern North Carolina, but we serve customers all across the United States,” he said. “And then I talk about our relationship with ECU and the engineering school and how that pot of graduates is going to win our business.”
Crisp said he’s hired at least five ECU engineering grads in the last two or three years because they bring a problem-solving mindset to the job. Many, like Barnes, started as interns while in college.
Another benefit of hiring ECU engineering graduates, Crisp said, is that they often are from eastern North Carolina themselves “so they tend to remain here for several years.”
The program graduated its first class of 26 in 2008. Now, 550 engineering students are enrolled, and the department expects to grow to 1,000 students in the next five to 10 years. However, class sizes average 20-25 students, allowing for individual attention and hands-on learning in state-of-the-art laboratories beginning with the first semester of classes.
“I believe the small classroom size is what sets this program apart from most any other,” Barnes said. “This creates a learning environment that caters to the student and the available time needed for each student to succeed. I hope this student-to-instructor ratio can be maintained with the growth of the program.”
The caliber of students enrolled in the program has evolved with tougher admissions criteria. More than 450 students applied to the program in 2013, and 159 are now enrolled as freshmen for the 2014-15 academic year. Students earn a bachelor of science degree in engineering and can choose from one of five concentrations: bioprocess, biomedical, electrical, industrial and systems, and mechanical. Classes began in August for the program’s first graduate degree, a master of science in biomedical engineering.
The rapid expansion of ECU’s engineering program earned it a step up in academic standing this spring when the UNC Board of Governors approved renaming the College of Technology and Computer Science to the College of Engineering and Technology. The change had the unanimous support of other engineering programs in North Carolina’s public university system.
David White, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, said the move sends a clear message to companies considering locating here.
“Our economic development partners inform us that our new name…is important for promoting economic prosperity in the East, which is consistent with our university mission,” White said. “This name sends a message to prospective business and industry that we can provide the engineering-related talent they need.”
About 95 percent of ECU’s engineering graduates are offered jobs within 90 days of graduation. Approximately 65 percent of them stay in North Carolina—and about half of those in eastern North Carolina.
—Crystal Baity with Steve Tuttle and Margaret Turner contributing
Jim Merriman, left, principal architect, and Jeffrey Stebar present models of the proposed Health Sciences Campus (on table) and Main Campus student union buildings to the Finance and Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees.
Trustees review design plans for new student union
The design team for the university’s new Student Union is going back to the drawing board following input from the Board of Trustees.
Perkins+Will architects presented a model to the Finance and Facilities Committee during the board’s quarterly meeting Sept. 18-19.
Trustees asked that the center, which will front approximately 300 feet on 10th Street, have a more defined presence since it will be so visible from the street. There is no physical entry planned on 10th Street; students will access the center from all other sides.
“We had talked about how this (building) would be one of those ‘front’ doors to campus,” said chairman Robert Brinkley. “It needs more enhancement.”
To try to invigorate the streetscape, some of interior spaces—such as dining seating areas—will be moved from the Sonic Plaza side to the street side. Revised plans for the first and second floors are expected at the November trustees meeting, said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs at ECU.
“We need to take pause,” said Bill Bagnell, associate vice chancellor for campus operations at ECU. “We want to make sure that we do it right the first time.”
Plans call for the student union to cover almost 209,000 square feet with an adjacent parking deck, with construction costing $95.5 million. Furniture, fixtures, audiovisual and other equipment plus design costs and fees will push the total to $122.2 million. The facility will provide a new home for the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, a new lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender center, student government and student group office space, multi-venue dining facilities, a new bookstore and a dividable ballroom as well as balconies, patios and an outside media screen.
“It will be a transformative building for this campus for decades and decades to come,” said Chancellor Steve Ballard in his remarks to the trustees during the full meeting.
The project includes a 700-car parking deck in same area as the current parking lot south of Mendenhall Student Center. With a short delay in approved plans, officials expect the center to be completed by the 2018 fall semester. Construction will take 24 to 30 months.
Mendenhall Student Center was completed in 1974 when East Carolina had 11,000 students. Since then, the student body has grown more than 145 percent, and an extensive health sciences campus with more than 3,000 students has developed around the Brody School of Medicine.
An almost-72,000-square-foot student union also will be built on the Health Sciences Campus between the East Carolina Heart Institute and Laupus Library. The University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the N.C. General Assembly approved plans for both buildings earlier this year.
In other business, trustees approved final plans for a new $4 million dance building to be built one block west of the corner of 10th and Evans streets. The building’s 16,000 square feet is the minimum amount needed for dance program accreditation. It will include dance studios, a library, courtyard and parking. Bids will be taken in spring 2015 with an estimated completion in early 2016.
Author Wes Moore conducts an in-depth discussion of his book, "The Other Wes Moore," with a small group of students before addressing a standing-room-only crowd in Wright Auditorium.
Author encourages students to make the most of college
A hush swept over the standing-room-only crowd Oct. 21 in Wright Auditorium as Wes Moore bounded to the center of the stage. The author of The Other Wes Moore delivered a message that touched on the importance of accountability, opportunity and community.
“You’re here to be heard,” Moore told the group composed of mostly students. “You’re here to give it everything you’ve got.”
He urged them to take advantage of higher education and all it has to offer, to experience it not only for good grades but also to make a positive difference for themselves and for others in college and beyond. “Take this experience, and drive it till the wheels fall off,” he said. “Higher education will never simply be determined by your transcripts.”
Moore visited ECU as part of the annual Pirate Read program, through which incoming freshmen are expected to read and study a selected book before arriving on campus. Students then participate in class discussions, seminars and other activities based on the book’s central themes.
The Other Wes Moore explores how the paths of two “Baltimore sons” with the same name diverge based on decisions and circumstances.
The author and the man who shares his name were born blocks apart within a year of each other. The author became a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow and business leader.
The other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the 2000 murder of a Baltimore County police officer.
Moore emphasized the importance of choosing a positive direction in life based on motivation to improve society and how accountability can change individuals and society. The book also shows how factors like socio-economic status and the presence of role models can play a part in how people perceive their strengths and abilities—and what they choose to do with them.
“There are people standing on the edge of greatness,” he said, “and they don’t even know it.”
After considering both Moores’ life stories and whether to write the book, the author decided to write a letter to the imprisoned Moore. The response he received was “one of the most interesting letters I’ve ever read in my life,” he said. It was also one that raised more questions than answers on how two lives could go in such different directions. The letters continued, followed by face-to-face visits at the prison.
Moore stressed that the point of the book is not to “celebrate one” Wes Moore and “castigate the other,” but that one thing he hopes readers get out of the work is “how thin that line is between our life and someone else’s,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Moore met with a small group of selected students for an in-depth discussion of the book and a question-and-answer session. The students peppered Moore with creative inquiries about the title of the book and how the incarcerated Moore felt about its publication.
The author Moore said he would not have moved forward with the project without the other Moore’s permission—he agreed and gave the author contact information for friends and family whose accounts also appear in the book. Even with his cooperation, said the author, tensions naturally flared at times throughout the research process because of the investigative nature of the project.
“We had to delve into a place of discomfort,” he said. “It was definitely a delicate dance.”
He said the imprisoned Wes Moore was amazed after reading the book, seeing how his decisions and actions changed the course of his life. The author added that he is haunted that the two Wes Moores could have easily been in opposite situations.
“I wanted to let the reader go on a journey,” he said, “to see that it’s the smallest decision—made by us or to us—that can make all the difference in where we end up.”
Evidence of that journey was present in the students’ questions for Moore. Some wondered which Moore was truly the “other Wes Moore,”—both are, Moore said—while others wanted to know the very moment the author knew his own life was headed in a positive direction. One student wanted updates on other people mentioned in the book who played parts in both Moores’ lives—some updates were good; others were tragic.
Destiny DeHart, a senior majoring in art and psychology, was selected to attend the small group session through the Honors College and EC Scholars program. She said hearing Moore speak helped her view the book and its themes in a new narrative voice and perspective.
“I want to go back and re-read it in his voice,” she said. “You could really see how he grew.”
DeHart said having access to authors and other guest speakers on campus enriches students’ experiences and enables them to learn as much as possible from the speakers’ expertise.
“These kinds of opportunities,” she said, “are really important to the quality and our outlook as a college and as individuals.”
Lindsey Greene checks her mail in White Residence Hall.
ECU plans to phase out residence hall mail delivery
In another sign of technology’s continuing impact on student life, a yearlong project to phase out mail delivery to the roughly 5,600 residents of ECU’s 14 residence halls has begun.
It’s not like the students will miss the six-day-a-week service, according to William L. McCartney, associate vice chancellor for campus living.
“The fact is, they just don’t get much mail at all anymore,” he said. “Mostly it’s junk mail and circulars. If you watch them when they come pick up their mail, it goes straight to the trash can.”
Beginning fall semester 2015, McCartney said the process of delivering student mail on campus will be the same as the current system for handling package deliveries.
When a dorm resident gets a box of cookies from home or shoes bought online arrive, the university sends an email and a text message to the student saying the package is available for pick up at the central mail facility behind the Flanagan Building on Main Campus or one of the two Neighborhood Service Offices in the student housing areas.
That system worked fine with the more than 7,000 packages delivered to students last year through the two Neighborhood Service desks alone, McCartney said.
To make picking up packages and mail more convenient for students, ECU plans to open a second delivery center in the new Gateway dormitory complex that will serve the College Hill community.
Space now taken up by post offices in the dorm lobbies will be remodeled for other uses, McCartney said. Some dorms will get larger computer rooms, others will get better lounges or larger gyms, he said.
McCartney said ECU modeled its transition away from residence hall mail delivery on the experience of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which dropped the service last year. ECU’s similar proposal, which carries an estimated $800,000 price tag, was reviewed and approved by the UNC Board of Governors at its Aug. 1 meeting.
The end of mail delivery in the dorms is another of those “back to the future” moments that McCartney said he has experienced working in Campus Living.
“Back in the day, it was a big deal when we replaced the pay phone at the end of the hall with free phones in every dorm room. Now we’ve taken the phones out of the dorm rooms because every student has a cell phone, and the landline phones were just in the way.
“And guess what’s back at the end of the hall on every floor? A public phone.”
Cable TV and desks, believe it or not, might be the next dorm fixtures to go. McCartney said surveys have shown students don’t watch much TV, and when they do, they just tune in on their laptop computers.
Likewise for desks; McCartney said students tend to sit on their beds to study. “Their desks now are mainly used for piling stuff on, so maybe the desks can go to make room for whatever is the next big thing,” he said.
McCartney said there is one trend in campus living that should only grow stronger—the demand for quick access to good food.
“Not too many years ago, there weren’t a lot of places you could eat on Main Campus. Now we have 26. And the expectation that most students have is that every one of them will be like going to a nice restaurant.”
Bryan Duttman changes a bandage for Al Schreier.
Simulation trains students to care for patients outside clinical settings
Al Schreier rocked back in his recliner surveying the three future Pirate nurses who filled his small apartment. They were there, they explained kindly, to follow up on an injury to Schreier’s leg. He needed his bandage changed and a general condition assessment.
He listened patiently for a while, nodding as they advised him to limit his smoking and refrain from drinking while on pain medication. But then something else crossed his mind.
“Have you seen my pet cobra?” he asked. “Or my lizard? Sometimes they escape from the terrarium.”
Fortunately for the students, Schreier was not a real patient. The experience was part of a 45-minute simulation for seniors in the ECU College of Nursing. The fake cockroaches and mice, empty wine bottles and bad habits of their mock patients were intended to convey the unique challenges associated with administering health care in a home setting.
Students encountered three different care scenarios—an adult patient on a small porch, Schreier in his mock apartment and a mother-and-child wellness visit in a mobile home. Each was conducted in the Rehabilitation Center at Vidant Medical Center.
Simulation coordinator Jane Miles, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, once worked as a home health nurse and knows firsthand how different a home visit can be from a clinical setting.
Nursing student Morgan Hampton
“You have to function very independently, be ready to respond to any situation,” Miles said. “The information that you get initially may be very different than what you see when you get there.”
She described how her first home health job in Hawaii was far from paradise. Miles encountered very poor living conditions, infestations, dogs and cats, and hostile or defensive patients and family members.
But as health care evolves, she said, it’s important that ECU nursing students have a grasp on many different models for delivering care.
“The trend and prediction as we try to save health care dollars is that we need more preventative care and to keep people out of the hospital,” Miles said. “Nurses who can do (home health visits) are in high demand.”
Home health and hospice nurses work exclusively in patient homes, but Miles said it is not unusual for nurses working in health departments or schools to make home visits, too.
Students emerging from their simulation lessons admitted to being distracted by some of the information provided by the actors and by the setting.
“I knew he would have issues and concerns, but the alcohol threw me off,” said Brittany Locklear after meeting with a mock patient who claimed he drank three bottles of whiskey the night before.
“I wish we could have talked more about (his alcohol consumption),” added Sarah Long, who was in the same simulation group as Locklear.
“I felt like we jumped around too much.”
But there are also advantages, students said, in seeing patients in their home environments.
“When (patients are) in the hospital, they’re under a lot of stress,” said Gabe Pantoja. “But when they get home…they’re more ready to learn. So you get to focus on education rather than acute care.”
ECU recognized for leadership in diversity, inclusion
ECU has been recognized with the HEED award for the third consecutive year for its efforts in diversity and inclusion.
The Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award is given by Insight Into Diversity magazine. It annually recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“ECU continues to be among the leaders of diversity and inclusion efforts and initiatives within higher education, and we’re being recognized for our efforts,” said LaKesha Alston, associate provost for equity and diversity.
Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of Insight Into Diversity, said, “We hope the HEED award serves as a way to honor those institutions of higher education that recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion as part of their everyday campus culture.”
This recognition also aligns with the university’s new strategic plan, Beyond Tomorrow, which includes continuing the commitment to diversity and inclusion and increasing opportunity as two of the seven guiding principles.
“The Office for Equity and Diversity will be collaborating with partners across campus to develop the institution’s diversity plan for the next five years in alignment with the university’s strategic plan,” said Alston.
Working to provide students with a globally diverse and inclusive environment and curriculum is important for success, Alston said. Providing employees with a diverse and inclusive workplace is equally important and both remain a priority in groups at the university, such as the Chancellor’s Diversity Leadership Cabinet.
Also recognized from North Carolina were Elon University and North Carolina State University.
Jody Baumgartner, left, and Jonathan Morris
Professors publish book on political humor
“Earlier today, George W. Bush said he has one goal for these debates. He wants to show the American people that he’s presidentiamable.” —David Letterman
“And in a town meeting in Rhode Island, Bill Clinton said there are ‘powerful forces’ threatening to bring down his administration. I think they’re called ‘hormones.’” —Jay Leno
These are just two of the political jokes listed in Politics is a Joke!: How TV Comedians Are Remaking Political Life, a new book written by two ECU professors, which explains how late-night talk shows have influenced the success of politicians.
Written over the course of two years by Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris of ECU’s political science department and S. Robert Lichter, professor of communication at George Mason University, the book was published in July.
“The primary late-night talk show hosts that we’re talking about are Jay Leno, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. We didn’t set out to restrict ourselves to them, but for the past decade, they have been the major players,” said Baumgartner.
The data for the book has been collected since 1988 from the Center for Media Public Affairs, which Lichter directs.
“(The CMPA) has been collecting jokes from late-night comedy programs and classifying them by whom the joke was targeted at or who said the joke. We used that information, which was over 100,000 jokes,” said Morris.
Baumgartner, who read through the 100,000 jokes, was responsible for selecting which ones to put into the book. “It was tough,” he said, but he managed to narrow them down to about 200.
“We weren’t looking for any kind of bias in the jokes, but we clearly found a tendency for late-night comics to joke about Republicans more than Democrats,” said Morris. This was no surprise to Morris or Baumgartner, who have been studying humor and politics for the past 10 years.
“Presidents are the most frequent targets of late-night comedians. Again, no surprise, but the data shows this,” said Baumgartner. Morris added that former President Bill Clinton is, by far, the most-joked about politician within the past two decades.
“More than one late-night talk show host has said something to this effect: If there was a hall of fame for late-night comedy, Clinton would be the founding guy that they put in because he made their job easier,” said Baumgartner.
Writing a book about political jokes wasn’t intentional, Baumgartner said. “We just stumbled upon a topic that happened to be really popular,” he added.
Morris and Baumgartner came up with the idea to research humor and politics while they were driving to a conference together in 2004. “We have been studying it ever since,” said Morris.
Baumgartner’s latest books include Conventional Wisdom and American Elections” and Laughing Matters: Humor and American Politics in the Media Age, which he co-edited with Morris.
Whereas Laughing Matters was academically oriented, Baumgartner said Politics is a Joke! could be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in political humor.
“We’re hoping to reach a more general audience with this book, but also have it accessible to our colleagues who study political humor to use it as reference,” said Morris. “People who have read the book keep saying that they skip through our analysis and go straight to the jokes.”
College of Business named a top business school for 2015
For the eighth straight year, the ECU College of Business ranks among the best in the nation by The Princeton Review.
The education services company features ECU in the 2015 edition of The Best 296 Business Schools.
“The College of Business is proud to be honored once again as one of the nation’s most outstanding business schools,” said Stan Eakins, dean of the college. “Through all that we do, we strive to prepare and challenge our students with the necessary skills to think, act and lead in today’s business world.”
In the guide, the college is featured in a two-page profile highlighting academics, career and placement, student life and admissions information. The profile says “ECU has an intimate feel.…Professors know students’ names, and the campus has a friendly atmosphere.” The MBA program “provides students with lots of individual attention and allows them to tailor the program to their needs.”
The Princeton Review compiled the information based on its 80-question survey asking 21,600 students to rate their schools on several topics and report on their experiences. Some school-reported data also was used.
Fall brings record number of undergraduates
ECU welcomed its largest number of undergraduate students to campus with the start of the fall semester.
The university enrolled 22,252 undergraduates, which is 744 more than last fall and the largest number in university history, said John Fletcher, associate provost for enrollment services. Enrollment figures are considered preliminary until reviewed and approved by the University of North Carolina General Administration.
The enrollment numbers for ECU reflect a national trend, Fletcher said. Undergraduate enrollment remains strong, while there is a small decrease in the number of graduate students.
Total enrollment is 27,511, which is 624 more than last year and the fourth-largest enrollment in ECU history. In the graduate school, enrollment stands at 4,740, which is 162 less than last year.
The number of new freshmen enrolled—4,226—is the third-largest in ECU history.
Also up is the number of new transfer students—1,779—which is 451 more than last year. This year’s number of transfer students is the largest in school history, Fletcher said.
“The increase in overall enrollment at ECU represents an acknowledgement from students new and continuing, from North Carolina and outside the state, who recognize the quality of our faculty, the rich culture and traditions of the Pirate Nation and the value for their education dollar,” Fletcher said.
—Jeannine Manning Hutson
Tonya Zeczycki and Lance Bridges
Research networks gain ground at ECU
Most enzymes spend their lives breaking down proteins to benefit their host organisms, so East Carolina University biochemist Lance Bridges has an apt description for one he’s investigating that apparently does nothing.
“The Walking Dead—that’s the best way I can put it,” Bridges, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, says, referring to the popular TV series about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world. “You have a whole family, or class, and then an oddball sticking out. It doesn’t make sense why your body would take the time and energy to make an inactive enzyme.
“They’re in the cells; they’re there for a reason, but no one really knows,” he adds.
He’s in the office of Tonya Zeczycki, another assistant professor of biochemistry. Despite similar job titles, their roles are different. Bridges is a protein expert. Zeczycki is a physical biochemist/enzymologist who specializes in, as she says, “how this little machine works and moves.”
And that’s why their presence together is significant. If Bridges’ protease actually does something, Zeczycki will figure out what gets it into action.
This type of scientific collaboration has taken hold in research labs around the world and across ECU. Called research networks, they are helping scientists solve more complex problems and gain research funding by bringing together experts in disparate fields who work together to answer specific questions.
“Not only is organizing and developing research networks across campus is an institutional priority, research and graduate studies in partnership with other state agencies as well as campus colleges and schools are proactively supporting, promoting, hosting and, in some cases, sponsoring the development of research networks,” says Ernest Marshburn, director of the Office of Research Development at ECU. Those efforts include STEM@Starlight, Research Mingle and research meetings at the Tipsy Teapot cafe.
According to Jason Owen-Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who studies network theory, networks are a concrete pattern of relationships. Hubs, or key players, form branches to others. Networks serve as resource and information channels, they can signal that a researcher has status and they can influence other researchers, according to Owen-Smith.
More angles yield fuller answers
Research networks aim to bring together people who have an interest in studying a particular condition or population. They might be local, national or international.
“They have no hesitation of contacting scientists all over the country,” Phil Pekala, chair of the biochemistry department at the Brody School of Medicine, says of his faculty members. “In these days of tight funding…gone are the days of the individual who does everything by himself.”
Part of the reason scientists who study various aspects of metabolism at ECU are getting together is because of the “laboratory without walls” setting on the fourth floor of the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, where they work.
“Two people working in very different parts of biochemistry—kinetics and proteins—we’ve never had that proximity of talent before,” Pekala says. “That sort of open laboratory is supposed to promote collaboration and interest among people.”
Scientists working together isn’t new. But what used to be dividing the work or sharing research samples is now people with diverse skills working on a problem from different angles.
“You still collaborated. There was never a time when I wasn’t reaching out to find someone to work with,” says Pekala, who joined ECU in 1981 after completing postdoctoral studies. “The collaborations are more dynamic now than they were then. Now these people are co-investigators with each other. They write grant applications together.”
Anne Spuches, an associate professor of chemistry, is an inorganic chemist specializing in ways metals are “trafficked” within cells. Some metals, such as magnesium, are vital to human health. Others are toxic. Even healthful metals can cause problems when there’s too much or too little of them.
For example, calcium plays a role in regulating heartbeat. Last year, Spuches, Joe Chalovich, a biochemist at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU and a heart muscle specialist, ECU chemist Yumin Li and others published a study that looked at calcium binding within heart muscle.
She’s also working with Dr. Walter Pories, ECU’s gastric-bypass surgery pioneer, to better understand if people who get the surgery are absorbing enough nutrients from their meals, and Marty Roop, a microbiologist specializing in the infectious bacteria Brucella. She and Bridges plan to start working together.
“The more angles you know…the more of a complete story you’ll obtain,” Spuches says. “That is the trend I’ve been seeing several years now.”
In the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, scientists worked together to secure a $281,393 National Science Foundation grant to buy an ocean-going robot for coastal and fisheries research. It’s part of research by biologist and fish ecology expert Joe Luczkovich, biologist and fisheries expert Roger Rulifson, physicist and acoustics expert Mark Sprague and geologist J.P. Walsh to study sounds fish make, how those sounds travel through sediment and how that can determine where they are, how many there are and what they’re communicating.
“Adding a physicist with a background in acoustics to that made all the sense in the world,” says Luczkovich, an associate professor of biology. “It’s not strictly a biology question. It’s a physics question as well as a biology question.”
According to Doug Edgeton, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which, among other roles, funds scientists in universities and private industry, intensive collaboration is vital today.
“In general, most of the life-science problems we’re dealing with today don’t lend themselves to one disciplinary approach anymore,” says Edgeton. That’s why in the last 20 years or so, he says, centers and core research facilities such as the heart institute at ECU and the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University that he helped found have sprouted. They bring people with a depth of expertise in various fields together to tackle cancer, heart disease, obesity and other problems, he says.
Collaboration doesn’t end with the publication of the research article, however. “After you solve the problem, now how do you produce this for the marketplace?” Edgeton says. That brings in engineers, businesspeople, marketers and more.
Technology has changed how scientists work together
As science is always evolving, so, too, is the technology that allows collaboration and networking. ECU biochemist Saame Raza Shaikh uses the social media platform LinkedIn to make contacts with researchers and companies.
“That led to meeting people at conferences,” says Shaikh, an associate professor of biochemisty and molecular biology. “Bottom line is right now I’m negotiating a clinical study. The broader concept is that networking is critical for establishing a research track and establishing credibility. Then they start getting interested and talking with you. It’s a good way to market and advertise.”
He said using modern communications technology to build networks is easier than what his predecessors had to do to build relationships. This year, Shaikh has published articles with scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, WFU and Michigan State University.
“Collaborations are much easier to come by because you can communicate much faster online,” Shaikh says. “Science today is more integrated. They fund research teams. They don’t fund single individuals anymore.”
Networks yield dollars
Collaborative projects are drawing favor from funding agencies. Criteria for awarding research grants at the National Institutes of Health include the following question: “If the project is collaborative…do the investigators have complementary and integrated expertise; are their leadership approach, governance and organizational structure appropriate for the project?”
“These are the ‘big money’ grants that are awarded to investigators whose science is expected to make a significant, paradigm-shifting impact on the field or health and disease research as a whole,” says Zeczycki. “There has been a push to come at a single project from several different aspects, (such as) from a mechanistic and more translational approach—the ‘from-lab-bench-to-bedside’ mentality. Collaborations where a problem is addressed from several different yet complementary research areas seem to do better with the NIH.
“It is one of those things that we hear from program officers and NIH study section members—collaborative grants are more competitive when it comes to funding,” she says.
Barbara Gray, who directs the Office of Sponsored Programs at ECU, agrees.
“Funders, particularly federal government agencies and large private foundations, are increasingly focusing their funding programs on addressing major human or societal problems or on programs that will yield some significant economic benefit,” she says. “The problems are multifaceted, requiring experts from many disciplines to work together to develop and test possible solutions. So we are seeing more complex collaborative proposals with researchers from different disciplines and with researchers from other institutions participating.
“Collaboration between basic and clinical scientists is also an area of current funding emphasis; such collaboration speeds up the translation of new discoveries to practice,” she adds.
Shaikh and ECU physiology faculty member David Brown recently received a $366,744 NIH grant to investigate new ways to protect the heart during a heart attack. Zeczycki has been a co-author with other scientists including Shaikh and Brown on two research articles published this year. Bridges and Shaikh were among the authors on a fish oil study published last year.
Luczkovich just finished working with colleagues to submit another grant proposal to the NSF’s “Physics and Living Systems” program.
Networks extend to students as well. Two doctoral programs, one in biological sciences and the other in coastal resource management, bring together faculty from departments ranging from chemistry to recreation and leisure studies to give students an interdisciplinary education and experience in forming their own networks.
“We all need each other’s help in one way or another, especially in this funding climate,” Spuches says. “Sometimes, the best ideas come from just having a chat with somebody.”
Everett Pesci, left, and Jim Coleman
Researchers receive grant to study how pathogens ‘talk’
Two researchers at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue the work they began years ago on one of the world’s most common bacterial pathogens.
Everett Pesci and Jim Coleman, professors in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, received a four-year grant of nearly $1.5 million to continue studying the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which Pesci said “is everywhere.”
“It’s commonly found on flowers, vegetables and things like that,” he said. “We eat it all the time, but healthy bodies can fight it off.” Pesci said the bug is opportunistic, meaning it infects people whose immune systems are compromised in some way due to illness.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is responsible for about 10 percent of all hospital-acquired infections, causing ailments such as pneumonia and urinary tract and surgical wound infections.
It also infects most cystic fibrosis patients at a very early age and causes a chronic pneumonia that is very difficult to cure. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease in which patients produce an unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs their lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections.
“Pseudomonas infections are difficult to treat because there aren’t a lot of antibiotics that will kill these organisms,” said Pesci. “But scientists are starting to believe that maybe you don’t need to kill them—you just need to interfere with their communication.”
Pesci said he and Coleman are studying the communication system that pathogens use to control their virulence, or ability to cause disease. In particular, they will focus on one chemical intracellular communication signal they discovered when they began collaborating in 1998. They call it the Pseudomonas quinolone signal, or PQS.
“Basically the bacteria use this signal to talk to each other and to tell the whole bacterial population to delay expressing virulence factors until enough bacteria are present to overcome the host’s immune response,” Pesci said. “Once enough of them are gathered, and the environment is ideal, the bacteria will send the signal out that says, ‘Now’s the time to turn it on and get the job done.’”
“If we can figure out how to mess with those signals so they can’t talk to each other, it could lay some groundwork for the development of a therapeutic treatment for Pseudomonas infections,” Coleman said. “That could have a great impact for cystic fibrosis patients, for patients who are on respirators and for burn patients.”
—Amy Adams Ellis
Pictured are the morphs of "R. imitator" that are the focus of the "Nature Communications" paper. At top is the striped "R. imitator" and at the bottom is the Varadero morph.
Mimicry in frogs can cause new species to arise
Researchers at ECU have found that certain populations of a South American frog species have changed their appearance to avoid predators through mimicry of other species, and this change has caused the populations to diverge, possibly to the point of evolving into two different species.
Their findings, published in August in the journal Nature Communications, could signal a major advance in evolutionary biology.
“The species that we study (Ranitomeya imitator, the Peruvian mimic poison frog) is unusual in that different populations of this one species have evolved to resemble (mimic) four distinct ‘model’ species in different geographic regions in northern Peru,” said Kyle Summers, a biology professor and expert in evolution at ECU.
“The different mimetic morphs are very different in appearance, having striped, banded, spotted or ‘Varadero’ color patterns,” said Summers. Varadero is the village near where researchers discovered the frogs.
Summers said the work involved long-term, intensive research on multiple aspects of the species, including morphology, behavior, acoustics, ecology, biogeography, population genetics and evolution. During the past five years, graduate student Evan Twomey, who is lead author on the research article, spent many months in Peru overcoming numerous challenges to gather and analyze data.
“Specifically, the collecting done for this project was difficult simply because the main study site was so remote,” Twomey said. “It could only be reached by river, and it was normally a six-to-eight-hour ride in a motorized dugout canoe. I feel like it’s really a testament to the biodiversity of the region that we’re able to make discoveries such as this.”
The results of this research provide “strong evidence” that mimicry is driving population divergence and new speciation between two populations of the Peruvian poison frog, Summers said. The frogs have evolved to mimic two different model species that are distinct from each other in color and pattern.
“This connection between mimicry and speciation has only been demonstrated in one other group of organisms—Heliconius butterflies—and never in a vertebrate,” said Summers. “Hence, the results of this study represent a major advance in evolutionary biology.”
Summers said the next step in the research is to determine exactly what genes have changed and what impact those changes have.
In addition to funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, the research was supported by the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at ECU.
The research article is online at www.nature.com.
—Doug Boyd and Lacey Gray