May 2, 2017
This week more than 5,000 graduates will earn their degrees from East Carolina University, and each one will chart a unique course as they move into the next stage of their lives as newly minted members of Pirate Nation. Here are the stories of how just a few of ECU's 2017 graduates have made the most of their time on campus.
STEPPing to Success
By the end of June, soon-to-be hospitality management graduate Emily Bosak will be a Floridian working for JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. She was offered and accepted the position in December. That achievement is even more impressive considering that in high school, Bosak wasn't sure she'd be able to go to college.
"There was a point in time where I didn't, for sure," Bosak said. "I'm dyslexic. I mainly have problems with reading and writing. It was very tough as a (high school) student with a learning disability. I would work so hard, but I would fail the test."
Thanks to an internal determination, belief from her parents and ECU's STEPP program, Bosak has thrived in college. The Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships, or STEPP, program serves students who have identified learning disabilities. With the help of STEPP, Bosak realized that she was just as intelligent as other students, but her brain worked differently. She said STEPP helped her use that difference as an asset with her studies.
"STEPP showed me that I can be so successful," she said.
That success isn't just for her blossoming career, but impacts other young students with learning disabilities as well. As a freshman at ECU, Bosak created a program called Mind the Gap in which she would go into senior-level education classes at ECU and talk with future teachers about learning disabilities. The goal is to help future teachers better identify students with learning disabilities and help them succeed so they can go to college as well.
"She was able to have some great conversations about how to remove barriers and help students be ready for success in college," said Sarah Williams, STEPP program director. "It's been a terrific program."
Though Bosak is graduating, her program will live on as other STEPP students continue Mind the Gap.
Bosak is hoping this first job with Marriott will lead to bigger and better positions within the company and maybe even a few steps up the corporate ladder. For some, these goals could be lofty. But those who know Bosak best feel those goals are readily attainable.
"Realistically, I think there's no limit. I think Emily can do pretty much anything she wants," Williams said. "She usually makes anything she touches better."
"Graduating feels surreal. I don't know when it will hit me; maybe when I get the diploma," Bosak said. "I'm excited about it."
Alexandra "Grace" Perry will continue a family tradition when she graduates from ECU on May 5.
Perry, who is majoring in special education, will be the third generation in her Duplin County family to graduate with an education degree from ECU's College of Education.
Her mother, Sarah Farrior Perry, graduated in 1983 with a bachelor's in art education, while grandmother Grace Sanderson Farrior (her namesake) graduated in December 1952 from East Carolina College. Farrior also earned a master's degree in 1958. She taught fifth grade for 37 years, while Sarah Perry recently retired after 32 years in the classroom.
But the family teaching connection doesn't stop there. Grace Perry's great-grandmother was also a teacher in Duplin County in the early 1900s, but didn't receive a degree. Her great-great grandfather was a teacher in Sampson County.
"It is an honor to be a third-generation Pirate educator and to share a profession with two people that I look up to the most in this world," Grace Perry said. "I hope to one day be able to touch as many lives as they have through education."
She wants to teach children with special needs because they often are not given credit for their capabilities or recognized for their hard work because they perform below grade level, she said.
"I want to be the teacher that shows them how proud I am of them and show them that they are, in fact, smart," Grace Perry said. "Children with disabilities often struggle with having low self-esteem because they learn differently than their peers and at a different pace. I want to boost their self-esteem by showing them everything they are capable of accomplishing through hard work and determination."
The teachers in her life made a positive impact on her, Grace Perry said.
"I would not be going into education with such a passion if my elementary school teachers and parents had not worked so hard to help me succeed and prove to me that I was and am smart no matter how differently I learn," she said. "I can't wait to change children's lives in a positive way and bring out the best in them every day."
This year, Grace Perry has been a student teacher at West Greene Elementary School in Snow Hill, where she taught 13 second- and third-graders. She will graduate magna cum laude after being named to the chancellor's list the past two years and the dean's list her first and second year. She is a past member of Epsilon Sigma Alpha service sorority. She is a graduate of Harrells Christian Academy.
"It is so special to me that I get to carry on this career and follow in similar footsteps as my grandmother and mom," Grace Perry said. "It is even more special that I have been able to attend East Carolina just like my grandmother and mom to obtain my degree in teaching."
Grace Perry said she has learned what makes a good teacher from her mother and grandmother, who both taught the majority of their careers at Wallace Elementary School.
"Teaching is a calling," Sarah Perry said. "It's not something you choose; it chooses you."
Sarah Perry has returned to teaching after retirement in a pre-school class at a private school, and Farrior didn't stop volunteering in the public schools until age 79, she said.
"They taught me that stability, organization, kindness and discipline go a long way in the classroom and it is what students need from you every day," Grace Perry said. "They have also taught me that this is a hard job that is physically and sometimes emotionally draining but that it is all worth it when the day is done. Every child deserves to learn and they never gave up on any of their students and neither will I. That's the most important lesson they taught me."
One of ECU's most accomplished undergraduates is certain to continue to make an impact after he graduates this spring. Jake Francisco, who will earn a bachelor of science in biology and a bachelor of arts in chemistry, said he chose those majors because he knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.
He credits ECU's Honors College as well as faculty, family and friends for helping get him this far. For his part, he has been highly involved in campus life, tutoring students at the Pirate Academic Success Center and serving as vice president of the ECU Chemistry Club and secretary of the club badminton team. He's also a member of the ODK National Leadership Honors Society.
As an undergraduate student, Francisco has already been published as a co-author of two scientific papers.
"During my sophomore year I wanted to gain more knowledge and experience with scientific research," he says.
After taking the initiative to research laboratories on ECU's main campus and at the Brody School of Medicine, he reached out to Dr. David Tulis in the physiology department at Brody, who took Francisco on as a volunteer in the lab.
"Under the guidance of Dr. Tulis and graduate students within the lab I began to learn procedures and basic research skills," Francisco says. "I would take the bus from main campus over to Brody almost every day after class. During the summer I would come in every morning and stay until the afternoon."
Eventually he earned more autonomy and the opportunity to participate in several ongoing studies focusing on cardiovascular physiology and pathology. His name is now on two published papers, and he says there are several more in the works.
Francisco, who grew up in Greenville, has applied to and hopes to attend medical school after graduation.
"Being a part of the Honors College here at ECU has provided me with numerous opportunities both academically and for personal growth," he says. "Faculty such as Dr. David Tulis, Dr. Tim Christensen, Dr. Todd Fraley and others have provided me not only with knowledge, but also with invaluable guidance and advice. My friends and family have been so instrumental in my success through their unwavering support."
Service and Studies
Bryan Brown will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in public health this spring and will also be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he will serve as an ordnance officer. A member of the U.S. Army Reserves since 2013, he chose ECU for the opportunity to further his education while simultaneously pursuing his military career.
Brown attended high school in Fayetteville and transferred to ECU as a sophomore after spending a semester at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He has completed three years in ECU's Army ROTC program and now serves as the cadet battalion commander, overseeing program operations, delegating tasks to approximately 120 cadets and acting as the liaison for cadet to cadre relations.
His time in the program has prepared him for both his coursework and the future, Brown said. "The leadership courses I was required to take in the ROTC program have given me a level of professional development that I could not have received (otherwise). The ECU Army ROTC program has helped me improve as an individual mentally, physically and emotionally."
In April, Brown and the ROTC program sponsored Play for Peace, a free concert presented as part of the #ECUnited movement and intended to use music to present a message of unity.
"In the military, I am taught to always support and defend my community," Brown said. "The Play for Peace concert allowed many different organizations on campus to join as one to support Pirate Nation and its success."
Brown said he has loved being a Pirate and will miss the campus atmosphere. "I've enjoyed different events from tailgating, football games, concerts, volunteering and most of all the Army ROTC programs," he said. "I cherish all the memories I shared with friends, and my time at ECU is definitely one for the record books."
(Crystal Baity, Rich Klindworth and Jules Norwood contributed to this report.)