East magazine Winter 2009
University Life

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More than 750 East Carolina faculty and staff packed food for shipment overseas during the Million Meals event.

Town and Gown = Hand in Glove

By Bethany Bradsher

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axine Ford is in the sixth grade now but she vividly remembers how nervous she was about a social studies test last year—the one that required her to know details about each of the 50 states. But she aced it because each afternoon leading up to the test she sat at a table at the Building Hope Community Life Center (right) reviewing each point with her friend and tutor, Laura Edwards.

“We were doing the 50 states and she helped me with that,” Maxine says. “We made index cards and she helped me study and I got a 100. Well, actually a 150 because I knew all the state nicknames, too.”

Maxine’s outstanding score reflects the diligence of Edwards, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. Edwards is one of at least a half dozen ECU faculty and staff members who help make Building Hope’s after school and community enhancement programs successful for the 300 kids it serves.

Building Hope director Robert Lee, whose board of directors includes Mark L’Esperance (Education) and Lee Workman (Athletics), says he can’t imagine how the seven-year-old center would survive without the expertise and dedication of friends with ECU connections. “It’s huge,” he says, pointing to the invaluable help he gets from faculty and a recurring cycle of ECU interns who volunteer 300 hours a semester. “We couldn’t do it without ECU, because not only do they provide volunteers but they provide the resources to have a research based program. They keep us on the cutting edge of our evaluations and our techniques.”

Building Hope, housed in an old store building on Ninth Street in Greenville, is but one of dozens of causes and initiatives that East Carolina people are supporting with their time and talent to make a difference in the region around the university. It’s ever dynamic, this town-gown relationship, because there always will be new students and new local officials. And it is not without tension, as evidenced by Greenville residents who confront noise and trash from student neighbors. But there is consensus among Greenville and ECU leaders that the two are coexisting more peacefully and productively than they have in decades.

“This is the fourth university I’ve worked at, and at no other place I’ve worked has the relationship between the university and the town been so intertwined with each other,” says Paul Clifford, the president of the East Carolina Alumni Association. “The relationship needs to be strong because both need each other.”

Once every quarter, officials from four entities get together for refreshments, information sharing and problem solving. As a reminder that no one party has the upper hand, the hosting duties of these Town-Gown Commission meetings rotate among the city of Greenville, Pitt County, the Chamber of Commerce and East Carolina.

The commission discusses topics like crime prevention downtown, transportation issues and diversity. According to Greenville Mayor Pat Dunn ’58, the city’s potential can only be maximized when ECU interests figure prominently into decisions.
“I think what we’ve seen as the university enrollment has grown dramatically is that it plays a greater role in our resident population,” Dunn says. “It’s in the interest of all of us that we work together, because the students are not going to go away and the city is not going to go away.”

Like any relationship, this one has varying dynamics, and most of the notable town and gown collaboration follows one of three trends: The community reaching out to the ECU students and faculty, the university reaching out to the community, or the university and community joining in an equal partnership.

A few ways that ECU helps
In every college and department at East Carolina, there are students and professors sharing their gifts and passions with the community. An informal poll of each college turned up an impressive assortment of outreach efforts. Space allows us to cite only a small fraction of the efforts we heard about, including these:

Barbara Memory, the music therapy director in the School of Music, partners with Greenville Recreation and Parks to offer three choirs for children with special needs. Children as young as 6 can participate in the choirs, which provide a positive social environment in which kids can develop vocal and rhythmic skills.

Faculty and students in the School of Music tutor elementary school kids who are learning stringed instruments. Using a Dana Foundation grant, the kids are bused to campus twice a week for intensive lessons beyond what’s available at most local schools.

World Affairs Council, a group of ECU faculty and staff and local citizens committed to promoting understanding of international events, offers the Great Decision speaker series, free and open to the public, which come to campus eight weekends in a row. Locals often say hearing the speakers is like a college education.

The School of Music Jazz Studies Program and the Hilton Greenville Hotel will partner starting this fall to host the six-week-long Jazz at Night series, a new highlight of the local cultural calendar. The evenings will feature performances by guest artists as well as students and faculty.

Dr. John Harer, an assistant professor in the Department of Library Science and Instructional Technology, has started two sports leagues for kids with disabilities in Pitt County. Challenger Little League, an adapted form of Little League, opened in Greenville three years ago, and last year Harer initiated the formation of TOPSoccer, an adapted soccer league that is the only one of its kind in North Carolina.

Several ECU faculty and staff, including Abbie Brown and Larry White of the Department of Library Science and Instructional Technology and Joyner librarian Emily Blankenship, participate in pet therapy through the Delta Society. They visit nursing homes and adult-care facilities in Greenville with animals trained to show love for the residents.

The Volunteer and Service-Learning Center, which usually acts as a liaison to other town-gown partnerships, started one of its own last year with the Fairytale Boutique. Gently used prom and special occasion dresses are donated to the center. Girls from area high schools who are unable to afford a new prom dress “shop” at the boutique for a dress and accessories. The boutique is entirely managed by ECU students.

Faculty from the Teaching Resources Center in the Department of Library Science serve as judges and score­keepers for the Pitt County Battle of the Books and Quiz Bowl. Numerous members of the faculty and staff also volunteer at and help coordinate the annual Sheppard Memorial Library book sale.

Dr. Christy Walcott, assistant professor of psychology, led the planning team for the Washington/Beaufort County CROP Hunger Walk last October. Her team raised over $6,000 to fight hunger at home and throughout the world.

Dr. Melissa Matchett, postdoctoral fellow in psychology, co-developed “The Privateer Organization,” which encourages ECU Health Psychology doctoral students to give back to the community. Their first project was a Pirate carnival they organized for patients at the Pitt County Memorial Hospital Children’s Hospital.

Psychology professor Dr. Marion Eppler has been tutoring students at Belvoir Elementary for the past two years. That led she and her colleague Dr. Marsha Ironsmith to develop a tutoring program at Belvoir for undergraduate psychology majors.

East Carolina’s 33 Greek fraternities and sororities raised more than $50,000 for charitable causes and donated more than 25,000 hours of community service in the 2007–08 school year, according to Greek Life director Keith Tingley. —Bethany Bradsher
First Move: Greenville

When the city takes the initiative, students get educated about city ordinances, which leads to neighborhoods where permanent residents and students live together in harmony. One of the more comprehensive city-led efforts, the Take Heed program, literally brings Greenville to students’ doors each fall. On a Wednesday in September, more than 20 volunteers distributed some 1,500 brochures to students who live off campus.

The information covers topics like parking rules and other city ordinances, as well as services for students on and off campus. Also covered are Greenville recycling and trash schedules and emergency information. The program is spearheaded by the city but it dovetails with the university’s objective of teaching students how to be good citizens for a lifetime, says Lucia Brannon with the ECU Center for Off-Campus Living.

Brannon’s office offers coupons for reduced apartment rentals to any student who watches a “Take Heed” video. The center hosts monthly luncheons at Mendenhall covering topics like student legal issues and public safety, she adds. She is an advocate for the students who live off campus; Greenville City Councilman Larry Spell ’99 ’01 fills a similar role for residents of the neighborhoods between Fifth Street and the Tar River. He lives there himself, and the desire to see the area remain vibrant was one thing that drove him to run for office.

“The university helping us to make sure our community standards are met makes a difference,” says Spell, who notices that students are more careful to toe the line when the university gets involved and threatens consequences for city code violations. “We don’t want people to hear about a rule when they get caught.”

Spell took office in a time when the trust between town and gown was on the rise. Relations weren’t so good a few years ago when the university tore down some buildings for parking lots and threatened other eminent domain actions. The current administration has proved neighborly and collaborative, Spell says, and his constituents are less guarded now.

Other examples of strong town and gown relations are events like Freeboot Friday, which is organized by Uptown Greenville but is designed as a type of community pep rally for ECU home football games. Another example is the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center, housed in a former church building in West Greenville that was purchased by the city but is controlled by the university and used for student community outreach and internships for programs like the School of Social Work.

Providing the organizational muscle behind much of East Carolina’s community spirit is the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center on campus. Its staff of six professionals and a dozen or more student coordinators put life into numerous community partnerships. Community members in need of help can go to the center’s web site to submit requests for student volunteers to help with their project.

/Users/stevetuttle/Desktop/Web art/towngowncellECU takes the lead

On the two-way street that runs through the ideal town-gown relationship, the university is finding its own ways to be a good citizen by frequently leaving the ivory tower to serve the community. Doing that comes naturally at East Carolina, whose motto is Servire, “to serve.” Each year, the Servire Society recognizes faculty, staff and students who contribute at least 100 hours of volunteer service to the community in the previous year. Fifty-seven faculty and staff members were so honored this year, representing thousands of hours of community service.

East Carolina is active well beyond Greenville and Pitt County. Several divisions of the university are engaged in Washington County, where the Windows on the World program is providing improved educational opportunities for public school students and better job opportunities for their parents. In Swan Quarter, Plymouth, Columbia and Grifton, ECU’s Office of Economic Development is running the N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program (NC-STEP) to help those towns find economic niches and develop plans to capitalize on them.

In Halifax County, the Tillery Wellness Program operated by the colleges of Allied Health Sciences, Health and Human Performance, and Nursing and the Brody School of Medicine are employing a holistic perspective to improve the quality of life and address issues of social and environmental justice. Many of those same ECU departments provide volunteers for the Bernstein Center, which provides primary health care, dental care and pharmacy services for low-income people in Pitt and surrounding counties. Several community colleges and 65 other regional organizations and industries in eastern North Carolina are benefiting from training and resources provided by the College of Technology and Computer Science. The East Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership mobilizes nurses and nursing students to become effective leaders in creating healthier communities east of I-95.

The Wounded Warrior East program run by the College of Health and Human Performance provides rehabilitation services to reduce posttraumatic stress and increase physical activity for soldiers returning to homes across the region.

Equal partners

The third type of interaction between ECU and its environs is the true alliance where each entity chips in time, effort or money and each reaps the benefit. One example of such an association is the Tenth Street Connector, an N.C. Department of Transportation project that will create a less congested and more direct route into the city and to campus from Highway 264. Shared belief in the project prompted ECU, the city of Greenville and Pitt County each to contribute $2 million to hasten the completion of the planned new road.

Many of the latest town-gown developments grew out of a 2006 intercity visit to Athens, Ga., a city with similar demographics and a comparable university population to Greenville. One of the partnerships that arose from the Athens trip was a Greenville-ECU joint task force to combat underage drinking.

Two recommendations came from the group: The city would purchase machines that would read and validate the bar codes on the back of student drivers’ licenses, and the university was charged with creating a non-alcoholic venue downtown where students can congregate.

“There are at least a half a dozen significant things that happened because of our trip to Athens,” says Susanne Sartelle, director of the Pitt County Chamber of Commerce which was, incidentally, founded in 1906 for the express purpose of helping attract the East Carolina Teachers Training School to Greenville.

Another partnership that was inspired by the Athens trip, this one between the chamber and the East Carolina Alumni Association, is the Painted Pirate Project. While in Athens, the group noticed colorfully painted University of Georgia bulldogs all over the city, and they came home motivated to do something similar.

Local businesses donated $2,500 each to adopt one of the pirates, which were painted by artists from all over the East Carolina community. The life-size fiberglass statues, which were unveiled last April, will be auctioned off next April to raise funds for the two groups. Above all, the 16 pirates stationed across Greenville are a reminder of the close bond between the university and the local private sector. It’s a connection that Clifford highlights when he seeks sponsors for alumni events like football tailgates or the annual golf tournament, he says.

Clifford, who has also worked at universities in Connecticut, New York and Virginia, thinks he knows why East Carolina and Greenville have such a strong bond. He believes that they each have an underdog mentality that stirs greatness. “The mission of this institution is doing things that nobody thought we could do. And I think that’s a little bit true of the city of Greenville, too.”

East Carolina applies for Carnegie Foundation honor
East Carolina hopes to be recognized in December as an engaged university, a new classification created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The application submitted by ECU details extensive examples of community-engagement activities under way in Pitt County and throughout eastern North Carolina. East Carolina officials expect to learn in December if it won.

The new Carnegie classification was developed as part of a multiyear effort to overhaul the way the foundation categorizes institutions of higher education. In 2005 the foundation unveiled five new classifications that categorized institutions according to undergraduate and graduate instructional programs, overall enrollment, size and setting, and some characteristics of the undergraduate student body.

Nearly 90 institutions have applied for the new designation. Carnegie has recognized N.C. State University for its community engagement, the only other school in the Carolinas or Virginia to win the honor.