Staton Installation

Accompanied by his wife, Catherine, Cecil Staton is sworn in March 24 as ECU’s 11th chancellor by N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin and UNC system President Margaret Spellings.

ECU Report

Members of the East Carolina University community, University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings, chancellors from other universities and hundreds of guests celebrated the installation of Cecil Staton as the university's 11th leader March 24.

Staton, who started at ECU on July 1, was formally installed in a ceremony at Wright Auditorium. The event followed a week of celebratory events on campus.
The Statons spoke and took pictures with students during Pirates Rock the Mall on March 21.
"I am at ECU today because I believe in the power of higher education to change the world," Staton said. "We are committed to the success of our students because we know their success leads to public impact and to personal and community transformation."

Before coming to ECU, Staton served as vice chancellor for extended education for the University System of Georgia, which included time as the interim president of Valdosta State University. Additionally, he was associate provost at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and served five terms as a Georgia state senator.

"Our public universities are fantastically diverse, vibrant places. They are some of the most innovative, dynamic and interconnected institutions in public life. And that means we expect an awful lot of the chancellors that lead them," said Spellings. "We have in Chancellor Staton not only someone with a rich academic background, but also a long history of public service in state government and a successful background in business."
Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, lectured on “Student Success in the 21st Century” at an installation week event.
The week's activities included a reception for international faculty, staff and students; a student festival called Pirates Rock the Mall; the Pirate Nation Gives Back day of service and philanthropy; the presentation of service awards; a ribbon-cutting for the Heath Sciences Student Center; a lecture by Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the installation ceremony and luncheon; and a black-tie gala.

During the installation ceremony, Staton emphasized the importance of student success and of providing students with an international perspective, and he reiterated his vision of ECU as "America's next great national university."

The ceremony also featured a musical composition by ECU student Christopher Short. His work was chosen following a commissioning competition among ECU student composers to write a piece to be performed by the ECU Chamber Singers at the installation. He adapted the lyrics from a poem by John Masefield, late British poet laureate, chosen by Staton.

Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor for engagement, innovation and economic development, said Staton has already started working on initiatives he announced when he was named chancellor in July.

"This is a day to celebrate the progress already achieved," Morris said. Staton joined students in the Pirate Nation Gives Back day of service and philanthropy.

The $34 million, three-story Health Sciences Student Center has a 20,000-square-foot recreation center and 2,000-square-foot event room. Additionally, a convenience store, three dining facilities and satellite offices for services such as parking and student health are inside. It is the first stand-alone student center on a medical campus in North Carolina and one of the few in the United States.

During Pirate Nation Gives Back, the Statons announced a $100,000 gift to endow the Cecil P. Staton and Catherine D. Staton Study Abroad fund, which will support international travel and educational opportunities for ECU students.

"I've always recognized my study abroad experience as an undergraduate as a defining point in my life," the chancellor said.

Altogether, Pirate Nation Gives Back raised $273,663.

Complete coverage of the week is at

 —ECU News Services

A recent donation to the College of Business has created the Student Pirate Investment Fund, giving students the chance to practice what they learn.

The $100,000 leadership gift by ECU trustee Bob Plybon '72, a graduate of the college, will be part of a graduate/undergraduate-level finance class where students will serve as investment advisors. They will construct, manage and monitor the fund using approaches employed by professional registered investment advisors.

"I think it's important that young people have some accountability for what they're learning," said Plybon of Greensboro. "If we can put something in place where our students can have a great learning opportunity and make a difference in other students' lives again and again, what a great legacy."

The class of 20 students meets twice a week with Scott Below, chair of the the Department of Finance. He said the students now can put what they've learned in the classroom into practice. According to Below, students will "act in a variety of investment management roles and will have full fiduciary responsibility, following the tenets of modern portfolio theory."

The Student Pirate Investment Fund will follow the same endowment rules set by the ECU Foundation board. The foundation's finance committee will provide additional oversight.

Graduate student Zach Bass and senior Mark Matulewicz understand the impact of the leadership gift. However, according to Matulewicz, several things need to happen before final investment decisions can be made.

"We're taking a lot of steps that include the necessary research and analysis," he said. "Then, we'll start investing that money." Bob Plyton

Though many will be eager to see how the group of assets performs, Bass pointed out the investment portfolio is a long-term endeavor.

"Hopefully, in years coming and with a longer period to generate more returns, we can start applying (these returns) to scholarships," Bass said.

Plybon understands the positive effects his gift will have on generations. This endowment will change the lives of current students and future students, he said.

"To the extent we can promote the college experience, it's transformational," said Plybon. "It's going to impact them (the students) economically, socially, their children and grandchildren."

He also said the fund will need to grow beyond his initial donation.

"We need to get this to be a million-dollar fund to have the impact that we should be having," said Plybon. "This is a great opportunity for not only individuals but foundations and corporations that want to have a long-term impact on the students coming out of ECU and the College of Business."

Proceeds from the endowment will also supplement student travel, allow for data and software purchases and support other enrichment opportunities.

"This is an investment in the future," said Plybon.

For more information, contact Paige Sammons, director of outreach for the College of Business, at

—Michael Rudd

Second-year graduate student and teaching assistant Rachel Clark turns glass while firstyear graduate student Ronson Schultz helps in ECU’s first glass-blowing class held during the spring semester at the GlasStation in FarmvilleFive students made history as the first enrolled in ECU’s glass-blowing class this spring in downtown Farmville. Hand-blown glass is a new curriculum area for ECU and the only one in the University of North Carolina system, said Chris Buddo, dean of the ECU College of Fine Arts and Communication.

The School of Art and Design class is being held in the “GlasStation,” a nod to the building’s former life as a gas station on West Wilson Street. Built in 1946, the building features exposed brick, large windows and industrial light fixtures with about 2,400 square feet of studio space.

ECU’s class in Farmville—about 15 miles west of Main Campus—is the result of a grassroots effort by The Farmville Group, a volunteer economic development association interested in growing the local economy through the arts.

The Allen and Stowe families donated the building to the DeVisconti Trust, which is leasing it to ECU for $14,000 a year plus utilities. ECU also purchased about $130,000 in equipment from North Carolina-based Wet Dog Glass. Community leaders contacted ECU in 2014 to talk about opening a studio or art gallery space as a way “to use art to breathe economic life into downtown,” Buddo said.

In response, ECU proposed a glass art facility that would not only serve as a classroom for students, but also become a destination for anyone interested in glass–blowing. Hand-blown glass eventually could become a new concentration in the art school, Buddo said.

That’s also the vision for teaching instructor Michael Tracy, a glass and graphite artist originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia. The art majors enrolled this semester are pursuing a mix of concentrations, from graphic and textile design to ceramics.

On a warm February afternoon, the electric furnace that heats glass over 2,000 degrees also helped heat up the studio space where the students worked to make their first drinking glasses.

Using a long-handled metal rod, ECU senior Qattera Brown constantly moved her glass object from the fire to a specially made bench where she rolled and cooled it before returning it to the fire. Another student blew into the end of the hollow rod, and the mix of air and heat helped to expand the glass on the other end.

The process was repeated many times—including the use of a block, paddle and jack, which resemble large tongs—to manipulate and prevent the glass from collapsing or becoming misshapen. “Ninety percent of glass-blowing is controlling the heat,” Tracy told the students. “If you control the heat, you control the shape.”

It’s a choreographed process of heat, movement and pressure. “You don’t want anything to start cracking so you need to keep everything above 1,000 degrees,” Tracy said.

Tracy commended Brown on her glass. “This looks great,” he said. “I can’t believe this is your first one.” Brown, a student in the graphic design concentration, said she’s never worked with glass before and didn’t know it was the first glass-blowing class at ECU before signing up.

While glass-blowing is coming to her easily, Brown said the hardest part was the constant rotation. “Because you have to try to keep rotating and you also have to maintain to make sure the glass doesn’t stay too hot and to make sure it’s not off balance, so to keep rotating to make sure all those things work perfectly is very difficult,” Brown said.

By the end of the semester, Brown said she wants to make something really nice for her mom—possibly a wine glass with a funky stem—and “make an A, of course.” Textile design student Kim Brown said she wanted to “try glass because it looks really interesting. I think it’s important to learn more things and have new skills.”

Ronson Schultz, a first-year graduate student in ceramics, said glass-blowing and ceramics have similar elements, but the steps to a finished product are jumbled. “I’m accustomed to the heat, and starting at the foot,” he said. “But we’re starting hot as opposed to ending hot.”

Because of the equipment and space needed, Tracy can teach up to eight students a semester. Another class will be offered in the summer and fall, with continuing education courses for the community beginning in late March.

—Crystal Baity

Glass is pushed in the electric furnace in the ‘GlasStation’ the home of ECU’s first glassblowing class in Farmville.

Kyle Summers and Paul DeVita

Two ECU faculty members were recognized for their career achievements in research, and several others were commended for recent accomplishments during the annual Research and Scholarship Awards Ceremony in February.

Professors Paul DeVita and Kyle Summers received the Lifetime Research and Creative Activity Award.

“This year, the committee narrowed the field down to two nominees and could not pick a clear winner, and when you see these individuals you will understand their dilemma,” said Michael Van Scott, interim vice chancellor for research, economic development and engagement.

DeVita is the LeRoy T. Walker Distinguished Professor and director of the biomechanics laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology. He has spent more than 30 years analyzing complex biomechanical processes and presenting them to audiences in an understandable way. He established the first National Biomechanics Day, which was celebrated by more than 2,000 elementary and high school students in 30 states across the nation in April 2016.

“Anyone who has worked with Paul knows that he is a talented scientist and teacher who combines wit and knowledge effortlessly, making science fun,” said Van Scott.

DeVita’s research has had significant impact on the understanding of age and disease on lower limb function and provided information for clinical trials designed to improve the quality of life in older adults.

“Biomechanics is a broad field, and I have been so wonderfully lucky to work in it,” said DeVita after accepting the award. “We are so happy that our science has helped other people and improved their quality of life, especially people with arthritis.”

Summers’ research on brightly colored tropical frogs are at the center of most of his work on evolutionary ecology and genetics.

“My research was inspired by my fascination with nature, especially tropical forests and amphibians. For reasons that are not clear to me, I’ve always been fascinated by frogs since I was very young, and that led me into my career,” said Summers.

He was the first to demonstrate Müllerian mimicry in frogs and to use modern comparative methods to demonstrate an evolutionary correlation between toxicity and bright coloration in any animal. Additionally, Summers has conducted innovative research on the application of evolutionary approaches to the study of heart disease, cancer and psychopathology.

“Kyle is respected across Central and South America and across Europe. His work is frequently reported on in popular media including National Geographic, The New York Times and Scientific American,” said Van Scott.

Also recognized during the ceremony were associate English professor Amanda Ann Klein and associate sociology professor A.J. Jacobs, who each received the Five-Year Research and Creative Activity Award. This award is presented to faculty members whose work over five years at ECU had an exceptional impact on their field of study.

Jennifer McKinnon, an associate professor of history in maritime studies, received the Scholarship of Engagement Award for her commitment to community engagement that impacts the region and promotes academic scholarship.

The Coastal Scholar Award was presented to Ariane Legaspi Peralta, an assistant biology professor in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences.

Juvencio Rocha Peralta Jr., executive director of AMEXCAN, received the Academy of Community Engaged Scholars award for his influence helping ECU faculty and students understand ethnic, cultural and linguistic issues in community engagement.

Van Scott also recognized ECU faculty and a doctoral student who secured a U.S. patent titled “J-Series Protaglandin-Enthanolamides as Novel Therapeutics.” The following from ECU will be inducted into the National Academy of Inventors:

Colin S. Burns, faculty member in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Allison S. Danell, faculty member in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Daniel Ladin, doctoral student at the Brody School of Medicine

Rukiyah T. Van Dross, faculty member in the Brody School of Medicine

Nine faculty members who excel at integrating scholarship and teaching received Scholar-Teacher Awards, and another 68 faculty members were named University Scholars, a new program established to acknowledge the diversity in scholarship and excellence in different disciplines across ECU. 

-Jamie Smith

The generosity of two former ECU faculty members will soon provide $1.2 million for student scholarships.

The gift comes from the estate of Eleanor and Paul Toll, who taught at ECU between 1937 and 1978.

The funds will provide scholarships for students in the School of Music, where Eleanor Toll taught piano, and the sociology department, where Paul Toll was a faculty member.

“I really and truly think that she would love to help somebody that had financial troubles trying to get through school, because she had to struggle through the (Great) Depression,” said Fonda Sanderlin ’64, a former student. “(She) knew what it was like to work and go to school and for her family to sacrifice to go to school.”

Eleanor Toll died in April 2016 at the age of 103, but she took steps 30 years ago to make the gift to ECU.

Eleanor Toll’s faculty photo from the 1966 Buccaneer, left, and a more recent portrait

According to her will, the school and department each will receive $600,000 to establish scholarship endowments in the names of Paul A. Toll and Eleanor Etheridge Toll for students demonstrating financial need and scholastic ability.

“Generations of students will be helped through her generosity,” said Chris Ulffers, director of the School of Music. The Department of Sociology is looking at a unique approach for its share of the scholarship funding—boosting its graduate program.

Bob Edwards, sociology chair, said the gift alone could increase the number of sociology graduate students by 25 percent. There are 16 graduate students.

“Six thousand dollars a year from the Toll fund, for four different students, for an example, could be the difference between four people being able to go to grad school to get a degree or not,” Edwards said.

According to ECU archives, the Tolls met after Paul “Pat” Toll began teaching in the ECU sociology department in 1937 and Eleanor Toll joined the music faculty in 1942. They married in 1946, and Eleanor Toll left ECU to teach private piano lessons at home before returning to the School of Music in 1952. They didn’t have children.

Both retired after 30 years at ECU. Pat Toll died in 1984.

Those who knew the Tolls say they were kind, unassuming teachers at ECU. However, their dedication to the university and their students ran deep.

In the summer of 1960, Sanderlin was about to start freshman orientation, and her future husband, also a music major, suggested she meet Eleanor Toll. She found the Tolls’ address in the phonebook and showed up on their Eighth Street doorstep; it was the first encounter of a relationship that would grow for the next 56 years. Not only would Toll become Sanderlin’s piano teacher, but she also was her advisor.

“She was very calm, patient and encouraging, but she also set pretty strict standards, and she could tell if you practiced or not,” Sanderlin said. “You had (such) respect for her, so you made sure you got the work done.”

Sanderlin was a public school music teacher for 34 years. After Sanderlin’s mother died, Toll became her surrogate mother. “We kind of adopted each other. That was the way we felt for each other.”

As Toll’s health deteriorated, she eventually moved into a rest home, but Sanderlin continued to visit weekly.

After Toll’s death, Sanderlin received the contents of Toll’s home and her 1904 Steinway piano—something she uses all the time.

“I usually go in and sit down and play a little bit most every day, but the sentimental value of that piano, money just cannot buy—really and truly,” Sanderlin said. “It is a piece of furniture probably to a lot of people, but to me, it’s my connection to her.”

Sanderlin still remembers the lessons Toll taught her.

“There were just some things that were automatic when you sat down at the keyboard that she taught you that you thought about when you played the piece,” Sanderlin said. “Make sure the dynamics are strong enough so that the audience will know the difference between soft and loud, make sure you exaggerate enough so that they can hear it, make sure you bring the melody out with your right hand, and make sure that you go down deep into the keys when you play.”

Gladys Howell, an associate professor emeritus of sociology, remembers Paul Toll as a kind and learned man.

“I think he would be really honored that the sociology department was significantly included in the legacy that (Eleanor) gave,” Howell said.

-Rich Klindworth

ECU, N.C. State collaboration supports farm sustainabilityECU and N.C. State kicked off a series of workshops this spring designed to help North Carolina’s sweet potato and tobacco farmers maintain and improve sustainability.    

Instructors from the ECU College of Business joined event organizer N.C. State University in developing and delivering content to help large family farmers strengthen their business-management skills, meet the demands of the global market and gain a competitive advantage. Key topics during the five-day workshops included strategic planning, succession planning, human resources and labor management, financial management and risk management.    

Curriculum for the sessions came out of a series of focus groups that included eastern North Carolina farmers.    

The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission helped fund the program.    

A. Blake Brown of N.C. State started the program after receiving feedback from local farmers who attended similar programs out of state. Following the support from N.C. State leadership, Brown developed this pilot program to focus on the “specialized needs of large commercial farms in the southeast.”    

“Southeastern agriculture is very diverse, and farms grow many specialty crops, most of which are labor- and management-intensive,” said Brown.    

“Our goal was to bring farmers together,” said Sharon Justice, an instructor with ECU’s business leadership and professional development program. “The program wants to provide the tactical tools and resources so our farmers can compete, be sustainable and grow their business.” David Mayo, an instructor with ECU’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship, joined Justice as a representative from the university.    

Steven Archie Griffin, chief operations officer for Griffin Farms of Washington attended the program because he wanted to gain insight into how other farms operate. Griffin has already put these new lessons to work.    

“We have been able to properly take a much deeper look into how our company is performing from a financial standpoint, our financial solvency and how we stand compared to others of a similar scale,” said Griffin, who is an MBA student in the College of Business.    

Pattie Mills, co-owner of J.P. Davenport & Son of Greenville, said she wanted to sharpen her business skills in finance, accounting, human resources and economics as well as to learn about issues and changes in the local agricultural industry.    

“I immediately came back to the office…and began to benchmark our company financials against the data that was provided about the agricultural industry,” said Mills. “I have started to reevaluate several of our H.R. programs and document them to make sure we are compliant in various areas.”    

Justice says organizers of the program, as well as farmers statewide, recognize that strengthening farming business skills will strengthen the area’s economy. All involved agree that maintaining and improving the economic sustainability of these farms is critical for North Carolina’s rural areas.    

The program will continue with a series of webinars and meetings, and a second five-day workshop is being planned for November. 

-Michael Rudd

A surgery developed at ECU that can put an end to insulin shots for patients with diabetes has been recognized as a "standard of care" for some patients with the chronic disease.

More than 20 years ago, Dr. Walter Pories published evidence that a type of bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery led to a long-term remission of diabetes symptoms. Now, the journal of the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Care, has said the operation should be considered a way to treat type 2 diabetes in patients who are obese.

Dr. Walter Pories talks with patient Glenda Williams in this July 2000 file photo.

"The thought was always that diabetes was an incurable, progressive disease, but with a fairly simple operation that takes about an hour, you can cure it," said Pories, the founding chair of the Department of Surgery at ECU's Brody School of Medicine. "We found that diabetes disappears completely between two to four days after surgery."

Type 2 diabetes is a long-term metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar, insulin resistance and a relative lack of insulin. Long-term complications include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and poor circulation, which can result in limb amputation. It generally occurs as a result of obesity and not enough exercise, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the World Health Organization.

In eastern North Carolina, 11 percent of the population suffers from diabetes, surpassing state and national averages. According to the ADA, 1.4 million people in the United States are diagnosed with diabetes every year.

"It's an epidemic here, and it's my belief that we have one of the highest diabetes rates in the United States," Pories said in a January interview with Public Radio East.

It affects African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the state's population, at a rate 1.7 times greater than non-Hispanic whites, according to the ADA. And a quarter of all people with diabetes don't know they have it, says the National Institutes of Health.

But two decades ago, Pories found his work with a type of weight-loss surgery that creates a small stomach pouch and reroutes the small intestine to it pointed to a remission of diabetes.

Gastric bypass is now established as an effective and safe therapy for morbid obesity and its associated conditions. And no other therapy has produced such durable and complete control of diabetes mellitus.

Pories, 87, is still on the faculty at ECU's Brody School of Medicine, where he is involved in diabetes research and serves as a professor of surgery, biochemistry and kinesiology. He was recently honored as an "Icon in American Surgery" by the American College of Surgeons for his work. Pories is the first North Carolina surgeon to receive this honor.

-Doug Boyd

Kristen Turner conducts research in Joseph Houmard’s lab.

ECU researchers will help lead a groundbreaking national study to better understand the body’s response to exercise.    

ECU will receive about $1.5 million over the next six years as part of $170 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund. The grants are part of the NIH Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans Program.    

The funding will support clinical research sites in analyzing how physical activity changes the chemical molecules within the body, which could lead to more targeted types of exercise.      

ECU has teamed up with scientists at Duke University and Wake Forest University to form a joint clinical research site in North Carolina—one of seven across the country. It will be one of six sites that will focus on adults, while another will be dedicated to children, said Joseph Houmard, principal investigator of the ECU grant and director of the Human Performance Laboratory and the LeRoy T. Walker Distinguished Professor in kinesiology.    

“We all know exercise is good for your health, but we don’t know why,” Houmard said.    

The study—which will target 3,000 people nationwide—will help develop a comprehensive map of the molecular changes that occur in response to exercise. Researchers not only want to investigate the mechanisms of exercise, but also hope to figure out why some people respond better than others to physical activity, Houmard said.    

The findings will allow for personalized medicine, prevention and treatment plans, and can better help those who are unable to exercise, he said.    

ECU researchers expect to evaluate about 140 people in Greenville beginning this year, Houmard said. Findings from testing before, during and after exercise and muscle fat biopsies will contribute to the national study.    

ECU’s multidisciplinary research team will include faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Kinesiology, the Brody School of Medicine and the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute.    

Houmard looks forward to working with colleagues at Duke, Wake Forest and across the country. “It’s good on a national and state level,” said Houmard, who has been funded by the NIH since about 1992 to study exercise on a broad scale. “It’s a seminal study and it’s great for ECU to be a part of it.”    

The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans Program is managed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute of Aging and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

-Crystal Baity

Michael Brewer and Keith Keene

Strokes are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States and the top cause of serious long-term disability, and two ECU biology professors are working to identify genetic markers that indicate greater risk of recurrent stroke.    

Work by Keith Keene and Michael Brewer could provide insight into personalized risk assessment, targeted prevention and response to treatment, helping to reduce the health impact of strokes. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant of almost $450,000 to fund the project, which will also expose students to the research process.   

Using DNA from a clinical trial conducted in the 1990s, Keene and Brewer are examining two regions of the human genome that have been identified in previous research as potentially having markers that could indicate a higher risk of recurrent stroke. The sample represents a mix of ethnicities, which Keene said is important because different ethnicities have different likelihoods for suffering a stroke.   

“Instead of sequencing the entire genomes of these people, we’re going to capture these two regions of the genome through DNA hybridization. We’re going to make probes that grab these two sequences of the genome so that we can sequence a lot of individuals for those smaller regions,” Brewer said. “It’s more cost-effective than sequencing the full genome.”   

The goal is to better understand the factors that contribute to stroke risk in order to tailor prevention and treatment efforts to each individual, a concept known as precision medicine.   

The study could potentially help explain why African-Americans have nearly twice the likelihood of having a stroke, are more likely to have a stroke at a younger age and are more likely to die from a stroke.   

As with all NIH R15 grants, exposing students to research is an important component of the project.   

“We hope that we can teach the students the entire process of DNA sequencing and the analysis associated with it,” Keene said. “Not only do they get hands-on laboratory experience, but they also get bioinformatics and computational experience.”

-Jules Norwood

The project focuses on two regions of the human genome thought to be associated with stroke risk.

John ShearinJohn D. Shearin III, professor and director of the School of Theatre and Dance at East Carolina University, died April 9. He was 72.

In addition to leading the school for 27 years, Shearin taught student actors and produced and directed productions for ECU.

Last year, Shearin announced his decision to step back from the chair position to concentrate solely on teaching beginning this fall.    

“John has been the guiding light of our theatre and dance program for the better part of three decades,” said Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. “John’s leadership was so effective because he always kept a sharp focus on the mission of the school and the good of the students.”    

Shearin produced more than 195 plays and musicals for the ECU/Loessin Playhouse and Summer Theatre. He directed 72 productions and acted in about a dozen, several of which he significantly reconstructed or adapted for ECU’s facilities and students.    

In 2015, Shearin received ECU’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity, one of the most prestigious awards given by the university.    

A Vietnam War veteran, Shearin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre from the College of William and Mary and received his master of fine arts degree from Penn State University.    

He appeared in network television shows including Matlock, Designing Women, Dawson’s Creek, Hunter, Little House on the Prairie, American Gothic and Bret Maverick. He stayed involved in theatre including stints on and off Broadway and in several Los Angeles area theatres, the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.    

He was a founding member and associate director of the Playhouse West School of Acting in Los Angeles before deciding on a move for his young, growing family.    

“I discovered I liked working with young people,” Shearin said in a 2015 interview when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award. “I enjoyed that mentoring, of working with young actors to help their development as actors and performers. Teaching was something I always wanted to do.”    

After 18 years as a working actor, he became chairman of the ECU theatre department in 1990.    

Shearin, who spent time as a child on his grandparents’ farm in nearby Edgecombe County, recognized the potential for growing the arts in eastern North Carolina. Under his leadership, the school grew in enrollment and majors, drawing thousands of patrons to student productions each year in Messick and McGinnis theatres and Wright Auditorium. A recent project has been the development of a much-needed dance studio.    

Shearin is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and three children.    

A scholarship fund is being established in his memory. For more information, contact Mary Jane Gaddis in the College of Fine Arts and Communication at 252-328-1268 or

- Crystal Baity

Dan Neil

Traditional liberal arts degrees are sometimes overlooked with the focus on science, technology, engineering and math fields. But students continue to find degrees such as English help build skills that are employers are looking for.

“Four of the top five traits employers are looking for are teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude and strong oral communications,” said John Stowe, career development counselor for ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “These are skills acquired in a traditional liberal-arts education. Companies are hiring humanities and social science degree holders for long-term employment due to the skill set they have developed through their liberal arts programs.”

It often makes more sense, Stowe said, to hire employees who can write well and then teach them the specific skills they need, rather than hiring specialists in the hopes that they can become strong writers.

ECU English department chair Marianne Montgomery said the department has seen its students go to work for law firms, pharmaceutical companies, data and software companies, and nonprofits.

Job titles for recent graduates include community outreach coordinator for a nonprofit, content marketing writer, multimedia designer, social media coordinator and research analyst, as well as more traditional positions such as fiction writer, technical writer and journalist.

“People call writing and critical-thinking skills ‘soft skills,’ but they’re really the hardest things to learn and are highly valued by employers in a wide range of fields,” said Montgomery.

As English majors, she said, students not only learn those skills but also learn how to talk about them in resumes, cover letters and graduate school applications.

Bridget Todd ’07 said the opportunity to try varied projects and activities at ECU helped prepare her for the twists and turns of her career. She wrote for The East Carolinian and Expressions, ECU’s minority representative magazine. She also interned with the North Carolina Literary Review, submitted to Rebel Magazine and was an announcer for WZMB.

Since graduating, Todd has taught classes at Howard University and worked for a political consulting firm and for MSNBC. Today, she is a political outreach editor at Medium, a blogging platform where she writes about politics and works with lawmakers and activists to “amplify their own writing on our platform,” she said.

Though her career is different from the life in academia that she originally envisioned, she is happy to be making her way as a writer in her own way.

“ECU offered a lot of outlets for budding creatives,” Todd said. “Juggling different things has been a hallmark of my career success, and I think I learned that at ECU. Even with my current full-time job, I write on the side, talk about politics on TV shows, speak at colleges and universities, and volunteer for local causes.”

Automotive writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Neil ’82 also credits the diverse field of studies at ECU for helping prepare him for his career.

“The single biggest event that made me become a writer about design and automobiles was an art history class at East Carolina,” he said during a presentation in November for ECU’s College of Business. “This job spans…culture, history, business and corporate structure. The universe of automobiles is vast.”

Neil, now an automobile writer for The Wall Street Journal, focuses his writing on energy efficiency, electric vehicles and the future of the automobile industry, as well as its impact on society as a whole.

“Occasionally I take time out to drive fast cars,” he said. “I have the greatest job in the world, driving new cars and writing about it. …After 20 years, sometimes I still have to pinch myself.”

Neil encouraged students to take advantage of the opportunity to expand their horizons by taking classes outside of their major. While he was an English major at ECU, he said one of the classes that had the most impact on him was a sculpture class.

“Always take 18 hours or more,” he added. “You don’t have time to do anything else, so it goes by fast.” Another English alumna using her degree to make a difference is Megan Oteri, who earned her master’s in English in 2012. She had been teaching language arts for 15 years and wanted to study creative writing to become a better teacher and develop her writing skills. Today, she is helping children learn by using Legos® through her own company, Brick Scholars.

“We believe all children can learn,” she said. “Creativity and fun are the focus; learning is the outcome.”

Oteri said ECU prepared her to process and synthesize complex ideas and concepts as well as formulate and articulate her opinion, ideas and thoughts. Communicating effectively is essential to her work with schools, businesses and students, from public relations and marketing to working with students and their parents.

“Ideas are great, but they can remain stagnant without the fuel of the written word,” she said. “Ideas need to be expressed, developed and polished, and this happens through written and verbal communication. It is an essential skill to be successful.”

Oteri said an English degree provides an advantage in any profession because everything is based in language.

“[Language] is our tool as humans,” she said. “English degree-holders are not only fluent using that tool, they know how to make the tool do tricks. Critical thinking, processing and synthesizing complex ideas and concepts are essential skills in any career.”

Todd encouraged prospective English majors to keep an open mind about what success looks like.

“For a long time I thought being a ‘successful’ English graduate looked like writing for a newspaper or being a full professor at a university,” she said. “But success can be having your own blog or working at a nonprofit or (if you’re me) writing about politics for a Silicon Valley tech company. …English majors are everywhere, from Sally Ride to Mitt Romney. Anyone who says an English degree will limit you is wrong. An English degree can take you wherever you want to go.”

-Jules Norwood

ECU’s online graduate programs in business, criminal justice, education and nursing as well as the online bachelor’s degrees are listed in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Online Programs announced Jan. 10.    

ECU’s online criminal justice graduate program placed the highest in North Carolina and tied for 15th out of 55 schools ranked.    

William Bloss, professor and chair of the criminal justice department, said enrollment in the master’s program has more than doubled since 2014.    

The College of Education’s online graduate education programs tied for 16th out of 262 schools and were the highest ranked in the UNC system. 

A total of 273 students were enrolled in the following online education programs during the 2016-2017 year: adult education, business education, elementary education, instructional technology, science education, reading education, special education and middle grades education.    

College of Nursing programs were ranked 35th out of 140 schools. This fall, 325 students were enrolled in the college’s six online graduate options: adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist, neonatal clinical nurse specialist, neonatal nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing leadership and nurse midwifery.    

ECU’s online master of business administration program has been recognized by U.S. News since it began ranking graduate-level business distance education programs. The MBA program tied at 86th out of 239 schools in the country.    

Last fall, 700 out of 797 total students in the ECU MBA program enrolled online.    

Also this year, ECU’s online bachelor’s degree programs placed 156th out of 308 schools ranked. ECU—the leading provider of distance education in the UNC system—offers online degree-completion programs in various disciplines at the undergraduate level for students who can’t take classes on campus due to work and family obligations or geographical barriers.    

Last fall, approximately 3,300 ECU undergraduate students—more than 10 percent of the student body—took only online courses, according to data from ECU Institutional Planning, Assessment and Research.    

To develop the rankings, U.S. News evaluated a combination of areas such as student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, peer reputation and admissions selectivity.

-Crystal Baity

The ECU College of Education has launched a program—the only one of its kind—where educators can earn their doctorate in educational leadership online in just three years, including dissertation.

Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of educators complete their doctoral degree within seven years. The new online educational doctorate at ECU allows participants to shorten that time by combining their current jobs, research and dissertation, according to program founder Matthew Militello, ECU’s Wells Fargo distinguished professor in educational leadership. It also features individualized help from an ECU faculty mentor and travel opportunities.Matthew Militello

“We are the only program in the UNC system that has a three-year online Ed.D,” Militello said. “I say online, but it is really a hybrid since we meet face-to-face each summer, and there is personal dissertation coaching. And, when taking in all these features, we are unique in the world.”

The first group—consisting of 16 educators from across the United States, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore—started in June with a meeting at the Thai-Chinese International School in Bangkok. Participants got right to work with their mentors on dissertation preparation. 

A lot of programs claim to be three years, but that often does not include the dissertation, Militello said. “We’ve embedded the dissertation throughout the coursework. This feature is distinct. Our focus is on training practitioner researchers and to balance inquiry with action.”

Too often, programs just do research, Militello said. “There has always been a huge disconnect between K-12 schools and higher education, he said. “What universities are researching is not always what K-12 teachers are doing. This is an attempt to bridge the gap.”

The next group will begin in 2018, which will allow Militello and other faculty time to focus on their goal of a 100-percent success rate for the first group. The program is self-funded but could get state funding as it continues to grow. The program costs a bit more than standard tuition but is competitive with other education doctorates.

ECU is part of the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate, a consortium of more than 80 schools of education in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, housed at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. In addition to gaining international recognition, ECU is helping to improve the doctor of education degree and the field of education itself by providing a model other institutions could emulate, Militello said. 

“The Ed.D. is focused on the preparation of current and future educational leaders,” Militello said. “The new educational doctorate has a single focus: to build capacity for school, district and community leaders that our educators, parents and students deserve. To do so, we have reimagined the Ed.D.”

—Jackie Drake


ECU continues to lead the state in the percentage of medical graduates training in or practicing primary care five years after completing school, according to a report presented in December to the state university system.

Of the 65 students who graduated from the Brody School of Medicine in 2010 who were practicing medicine or in residency or fellowship training in 2015, 36—or 55 percent—were in a primary care field, according to the report compiled by the N.C. Area Health Education Centers and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. Vontrelle Roundtree is an ECU medical graduate, completed residency training in family medicine at ECU and now practices in Wayne County.

The report defines primary care as family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN and internal medicine-pediatrics. It comes at a time when ECU wants expand by as many as 120 students.

According to the report, 34 percent of a total of 420 N.C. 2010 medical graduates were still in training or practice in a primary care field in 2015. In addition to ECU’s 55 percent, 38 percent of UNC-Chapel Hill’s 136 graduates in 2010 were in primary care five years later as were 30 percent of Wake Forest University’s 115 graduates and 21 percent of Duke University’s 99 graduates. Those numbers do not include graduates who are no longer in training or practice.

In addition, the report says 146 of the total number of the graduates were practicing or training in North Carolina in 2015. ECU led the way in this category, too, with 62 percent of its 2010 graduates still in the state five years later. Thirty-five percent of Chapel Hill graduates, 29 percent of Wake Forest and 25 percent of Duke graduates were still in training or practice in North Carolina in 2015.

ECU also had more of its 2010 graduates training or practicing in rural areas of North Carolina as of 2015 than the other schools.

The report noted, however, that North Carolina’s rural areas continue to have a higher supply of physicians than comparable rural areas elsewhere in the country, largely due to the work of the medical schools, the N.C. AHEC program, the N.C. Office of Rural Health and other programs. Report authors nevertheless called for continued work to increase the supply of providers and better distribute them.

While all four medical schools have programs encouraging students to aim for a career in primary medicine, other factors such as pay and workload make the job more difficult.

The report also noted that community psychiatry, general OB/GYN and general surgery are also vital for rural and underserved communities, and future reports will look at those figures over a certain time period. 

A 1993 state law addressing North Carolina’s chronic shortage of primary care doctors said ECU should aim for 60 percent of its graduates choosing residencies in primary care. Since 2011, the percentage of ECU medical graduates matching into primary care residencies has averaged 62.5 percent, according to university figures.

—Doug Boyd


ECU swimmers and divers sent coach Rick Kobe out a winner, taking their third consecutive American Athletic Conference Men’s Swimming and Diving Championship in February at the University of Houston.

In addition, 18 ECU swimmers and divers earned all-conference accolades following their performances at the conference championships.

Kobe retires as the winningest coach in program history and one of only six coaches in NCAA history with 500 dual meet victories. He was named The American Men’s Coach of the Year for the third consecutive year. He ranks fourth on the NCAA all-time wins list.

“My 37 years at East Carolina were filled with so many great moments,” Kobe said in December. “I want to thank all our wonderful student-athletes that made my tenure so much fun and extremely successful. I was very fortunate to have had many outstanding assistant coaches over the years. Every student-athlete and coach shares with me all the great accomplishments that were achieved during my 35 years as head coach.”

Kobe has directed the men and women’s program since 1982 and has compiled a record of 538-191-1 with numerous accolades earned during his tenure. He has been named coach of the year a total of 10 times in four different leagues (Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, East Coast Athletic Conference, American Athletic Conference).

The Pirates have won 11 conference championships under his direction, winning at least two championships in each of the past four decades.Kobe 2

The ECU men’s swimming and diving team has posted a dual meet record of .500 or better for 33 consecutive years, while the women’s team has recorded 24 consecutive winning dual meet campaigns.

Kobe has helped the Pirates set 349 varsity records and capture 164 individual/event conference titles during his 35 years overseeing the program. He has coached four NCAA All-Americans, two ECU Athletics Hall of Fame inductees, one Olympic participant and 227 all-conference performers. More than 100 of his student-athletes have made their NCAA “A” or “B” cut and participated in seven NCAA Division I Championship meets.

Kobe has also coached some of the top academic performers at ECU, including three Academic All-Americans.

Kobe came to ECU in the summer of 1980 to serve as an assistant coach under Ray Scharf and was named head coach March 15, 1982, following Scharf’s retirement.

-ECU Athletics


David White has been named dean of the ECU Honors College. White has served six years as dean of the ECU College of Engineering and Technology and as interim dean of the Honors College since January 2016. He will continue as dean of CET on an interim basis until the search for a permanent replacement is complete. He has been at ECU for 35 years and spent most of his career within the university’s College of Health and Human Performance, where he served as associate dean and department chair for health education and promotion. He also is an adjunct professor with the Brody School of Medicine. As dean, White will oversee an expansion of the Honors College that will double enrollment to 800 students during the next four years.

goldenJay Golden has been named vice chancellor of research, economic development and engagement at ECU. His appointment is effective June 30. Golden comes to ECU from Duke University, where he has been director of the Center for Sustainability and Commerce. He is an associate professor in the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty chair of the Business and Environment Program at Duke. He previously served in the role of associate vice provost for research and corporate relations. As vice chancellor of the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, Golden will be responsible for directing the promotion of research and creative activity at the university. He has a doctorate in engineering from the University of Cambridge and a master’s degree in environmental engineering and sustainable development through a joint program between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge. He also has a professional certification in management and leadership in higher education from Harvard University and holds a bachelor’s degree in management.


Position: Founder,  One Source Communications, Greenville
Degree: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration
Hometown: Roanoke Rapids

Mike Aman has built a successful business career since graduating from ECU. In college, he and his wife, Page, were cheerleaders, and Aman was the first Pee Dee. He also was a diver on the swim team.  He stays involved with ECU as a speaker at the College of Business Leadership Conference and in classes and as a Pirate Club member. 

“(My job is) providing leadership that puts our company in the best position to meet and serve the needs of our clients. To lead and serve my team by providing opportunities for their professional, personal and spiritual growth that honors God, achieves strategic goals and objectives and rewards individual and overall company performance.

“Statistics with Maggie Capen in undergraduate and Financial Management II with James Buck in graduate school (taught me) how important it was to understand and utilize data in making decisions. They both stressed developing the ability to analyze and understand what’s behind the data and why.

“To be successful, you must be trustworthy when building and maintaining relationships, always work as a team and look to serve others in a way that best positions them for success. People say that it’s who you know that makes you successful, others say it’s what you know. I’ve learned that it’s what you do with both of these that really matters in life and business. “We love and support our Pirates!”

We want to hear stories from alumni about how their experiences at ECU shaped them today and how they pass those lessons to others. Send us an email at