Above, Sears in the classroom at the Brody School of Medicine. Below, Sears talks about his research and his patients.
An East Carolina University professor has received the highest faculty honor bestowed by the University of North Carolina for his work to improve quality of life in heart patients. The UNC Board of Governors named Dr. Samuel F. Sears, director of the doctoral program in health psychology, as the winner of the 2013 O. Max Gardner Award.
Sears Wins UNC system's top award
The honor pays tribute to one faculty member within the UNC system who, during the current academic year, made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race. Sears accepted the award at the Board of Governors’ April meeting at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Sears received a standing ovation from the 150 people in attendance, including his parents, wife and sons, fellow ECU faculty members and Chancellor Steve Ballard.
“I have referred to this award as the academic Heisman for North Carolina,” Sears said.“The recognition of this award allows me to magnify the challenges of the future. Universities like ours have to respond.”
Sears earned the award as the world's leading expert on the psychological implications for patients living with life-saving heart devices.
The implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can deliver a shock as strong as a mule's kick when it detects potentially life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Sears works with patients to alleviate fear and anxiety in anticipation of shocks and to improve their overall quality of life.
Sears serves as a psychologist, patient advocate, researcher, and professor. One day, he might be mentoring students in a lab at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. The next, he could be jetting to Europe to address patients with recently placed implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). His ultimate goals are to provide the latest information on coping strategies and to prepare tomorrow’s health psychologists to reach more patients.
“ICDs save lives,” he said, “but it depends on patients being able to accept the technology and manage the disease. A little coaching along the way can be very helpful.”
Approximately one million Americans currently live with ICDs. Many live in fear of shock and change their habits and lifestyles to avoid it. Sears is the most prolific author on living with ICDs and has published more than 100 articles in medical journals on the psychological aspects of cardiology.
He founded ICD Coach to produce mobile-phone applications and multimedia patient-education materials for ICD patients and families."I hear from patients frequently that the coping strategies I present are all new news," Sears said.
Practitioners from across the globe supported his nomination for the O. Max Gardner Award, mirroring the impact of his work on individuals’ lives – locally and around the world. "Dr. Sears is truly deserving of this statewide recognition," said Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., senior associate vice chancellor for health sciences and professor of cardiovascular sciences.
"His work with patients who have major heart-rhythm disturbances is extremely important. He represents ECU's best. I am very proud that he is a member of the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU."
Chitwood won the O. Max Gardner Award in 2004 for his pioneering work in minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery. -- Spaine Stephens
Leona Cox Dexter
She's the fourth generation
of her family with an ECU degree
Leona Cox ended up on the front row when the 48 seniors in East Carolina Teacher Training School’s Class of 1915 gathered on the steps of Old Austin for their graduation photo.
“There she is in the middle,” said her great-granddaughter, senior Mary Highsmith, as she points to the now 98-year-old photo.
“What I am really hoping to do is to get accepted to graduate school here,” Highsmith said, “because that would mean I get my masters degree in 2015, exactly 100 years after the first one of our family.”
Highsmith, who received her bachelor’s degree in health and human performance at spring graduation exercises, was accepted into the master’s degree program in speech-language pathology offered by the College of Allied Health Sciences.
She is the fourth generation of her family to graduate from East Carolina, a fact that the university historian said is rare.
The East Carolina tradition that Leona Cox Dexter started in 1915 was continued by herdaughter, Catherine Dexter Highsmith, who got her bachelor’s here in 1949 and a master’s in1958. She was followed here by her daughter, Janet Blackburn, who got her bachelor’s in 1978 and a master’s in 1985. Pupils in Pender County and Burgaw were taught by those three generations of East Carolina graduates.
Highsmith says the tradition that her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother won’t end with her. “One of my children will be the fifth generation,” she said matter-of-factly.
Highsmith said she initially thought of going somewhere else. “In high school I first applied to go to UNC Wilmington because it was close to home,” she said.“My mother and grandmother didn’t lobby me to come to East Carolina,” Highsmith added. “They just said they thought it would be a good fit. And they were right. I am so glad I came here for lots of reasons, and one is what this means to my family.”
It’s a bond made all the more tangible by the mementoes passed down to her. Highsmith enjoys looking at her great-grandmother’s 1915 ECTTS graduation program, pictures of her grandmother as an East Carolina Teachers College student in the 1940s, and pictures of her mother as an East Carolina University student in the 1970s.
University historian John Tucker said “it’s rare, even very rare” to have ECU graduates in four generations of one family. This case is all the more unusual, Tucker said, because the bond between Highsmith’s family and East Carolina date all the way back to the school’s earliest incarnation as a teacher training school. ECTTS was just starting its third year when Highsmith’s great-grandmother arrived.
“That person has family roots that date all the way back to the institution as it began,” he said. -- Steve Tuttle
Three alumni named
to Board of Governors
East Carolina University lost one alumni on the UNC Board of Governors but gained four others during elections conducted by the N.C General Assembly. That’s believed to be the most ECU alumni ever to serve simultaneously on the policy-making board for the 17-campus university system.
Elected were Henry W. Hinton ’76 of Greenville, president and general manager of Inner Banks Media; Robert Sterling Rippy ‘75 ’96 of Wilmington, owner and president of Jungle Rapids fun park; and Harry Leo Smith Jr. ’72 of Greenville, chief executive officer of Flanders Corp. Also elected was John Craig Souza ’71 of Raleigh, president and CEO of the N.C. Health Care Facilities Association. Souza previously served on the board of governors and was its vice chair.
Philip Dixon ’71 of Greenville, an attorney who had served two terms on the board, was not re-elected by the legislature. Also leaving the board was Dudley Flood ’69, who received his master’s at ECU.
“It was a total honor and a privilege to serve on the Board of Governors,” Dixon said. “I think with these other graduates serving now, East Carolina will be in good hands.”
Of the 16 newly elected members, 13 are registered Republicans, two are unaffiliated and one is a Democrat. The new members will join the board July 1 and serve four years.
Lucas completes term as
Board of Trustees chair
ECU Board of Trustees outgoing chair Bob Lucas '74 was presented with a certificate of appreciation for his two years of service as chairman and eight years on the board.
Lucas is an attorney with Lucas, Denning & Ellerbe PA of Selma. He also served on the Board of Trustees when he was SGA president in 1974-75 (photo at right).
Lucas said he was an example of how this university changes people’s lives for the better. “I came here scared to death. I was scared that I would have to go back and tell my parents that I couldn’t make it,” he said. “It was so big, and there was so much freedom.”
Through a scholarship, he studied in Europe for a year and came back to campus and was elected SGA president.
“To come from that scared 18-year-old to be SGA president and then be chairman of the board, what a unique experience. What a ride, it’s been. ECU does transform lives.”
Student centers planned
East Carolina University is moving forward with plans to build two new student centers – one on main campus and one on the health sciences campus – to provide socializing space for a larger student body and to better meet student organization needs.
Hendrix Theatre and the bowling alley will continue operations in Mendenhall when the new student center is opened.
“We've outgrown the current facility,” said Dr. Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
A 208,757-square-foot building, accompanied by a 700-car parking garage, is proposed for Main Campus. It would occupy space currently used as a parking lot south of Mendenhall Student Center.
A 67,788-square-foot building is proposed for the Health Sciences Campus, to be situated between the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU and Laupus Library.
Estimated project costs total $162 million, to be paid for primarily with student fees. An estimated $30 million will be covered by contributions from internal partners including Campus Dining, the Dowdy Student Store and Parking Services.
“We are going to phase this fee over time,” said Dr. Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance. “Those students who are going to use the building are going to be the ones who pay for the building.”
Construction could begin as early as fall 2014.
|White Hall modernization begins
East Carolina University will undertake construction projects costing nearly $10 million over the summer to improve two residence halls, several sidewalks and a space inside Joyner Library, according to university plans approved recently by the UNC Board of Governors.
A $6.2 million project at White Residence Hall on the west end of Main Campus will modernize all 201 bedrooms in the 10-story, 45-year-old building. Work will include demolishing all built-in furniture, removing asbestos and updating interior finishes. Bill Bagnell of the ECU Campus Operations staff said the project will be paid for from housing receipts and should be completed in August.
Fletcher Residence Hall will see its heating and cooling systems upgraded in a $1.5 million project. Work also will include improvements to walkways between Fletcher and nearby Garrett Residence Hall along Dowell Way to increase accessibility and improve pedestrian circulation. The project, funded with housing receipts, should be completed by August, Bagnell said.
Similarly, the walkways and patios around Todd Dining Hall on College Hill will be upgraded in a $943,000 project that officials said should be completed by September. The project will improve access to the dining hall from six nearby residence halls as well as increase pedestrian safety along College Hill Drive. Bagnell said costs of the project will be split between housing and dining receipts.
In a separate $800,000 project, part of the roof on Todd Dining Hall will be replaced as well as some windows in the large cupula over the main dining room. Bagnell said the project should be completed by October and will be paid for from dining receipts,
Inside Joyner Library, a $364,000 project will renovate about 4,000 square feet of space around the circulation desk. Officials said the project includes relocating the Java City coffee shop to reduce noise in the library. Some rest rooms in that area of the library also will be expanded. Bagnell said the project will be paid for with funds from the ECU Langford Endowment and should be completed by August.
Bagnell said ECU is finalizing plans to build a new, free-standing dance studio. He said estimates are the 16,000-square-foot facility will cost $1.9 million. An exact location for the studio has not yet been determined, he said.
Plans call for the studio to include three 2,500-square-foot dance studios, faculty and staff offices, shower and dressing rooms and storage space. Officials said the facility is necessary for the program, which is within the School of Theatre and Dance, to become fully accredited.
A completion date of August 2015 is planned. -- Steve Tuttle
ECU starts master's in network technology
A new East Carolina University graduate program capitalizing on continued growth in the information technology sector will begin accepting students this fall.
A master of science in network technology was approved in February by the UNC Board of Governors. It will be offered through the College of Technology and Computer Science’s Department of Technology Systems and will be available online to students worldwide through remotely accessible labs.
The network technology degree will meet two specific needs, according to Dr. T.J. Mohammed, chair of the department. First, it will be a degree graduates can easily market to potential employers because of the recognizable name. This differs from the existing master’s in technology systems degree, Mohammed said, which will continue to accept students.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also identifies information technology jobs, network analyst and network administrator positions as “key growth” areas over the next decade.
“This field is going to be in demand,” Mohammed said. “It’s a really hot area…an area of high need.”
The new program encompasses several existing concentrations within Technology Systems – digital communication, computer and network management, information security – and adds a newly-created concentration in web technology.
Earning a master’s degree in this field will enable ECU students to more easily pursue management positions at major IT corporations, Mohammed said, as well as give them the ability to teach courses in the discipline either at a community college or university.
The program will be created and taught with existing resources, but also with the support of technology, open source and cloud computing industries including Red Hat, Cisco, EMC, HP and VMware.
“We’ll be able to prepare people to help North Carolina’s economy,” Mohammed said. “By collaborating closely with these industries, we get to be in step (with the latest technology).
“This degree…will provide global exposure for ECU.” -- Kathryn Kennedy
|As part of activities marking the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Nooherooka, Neil Patterson Sr. of the Tuscarora Nation (left) presents ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer a wampum belt for the people of the state. Wampum belts have varicolored beads arranged in patterns and are used as a history record or for ceremonies such as the ratification of a treaty. “The last person who had this done was a guy by the name ofGeorge Washington,” Patterson said. Photo by Cliff Hollis
Southern Bank funds EC Scholars award
The Southern Bank Foundation has established an endowment to fund an EC Scholars award at East Carolina University in the amount of $400,000.
The four-year merit scholarships are awarded annually and recognize outstanding academic performance, commitment to community engagement and strong leadership skills. Recipients receive a scholarship for four years, along with a stipend for study abroad, for a total value of approximately $45,000.
“This partnership with Southern Bank is especially important to our efforts to provide exceptional educational opportunities to East Carolina University’s best and brightest students,” said Dr. Richard Eakin, interim dean of the Honors College.
The EC Scholars Program was established in 1998 and, today, is housed within the Honors College at ECU. To date, 70 endowments have been established to support the scholarships.
“Southern Bank’s support of the Honors College demonstrates our commitment to the University as well as to the markets we serve,” said Wayne Murphy '82, senior vice president for Southern Bank’s central region.
“We understand that growth in eastern North Carolina can only come through a better educated workforce. After meeting a few of the Honors students and hearing more about the seminars and focus on community embedded in the program, we are pleased to see that commitment to community and market is a shared vision by the university.”