ECU’s inaugural Honors College class among spring graduates.

Roman Rys: Social work grad encourages youth in foster care. Read more....
Nicholas Dube: Criminal justice grad overcomes obstacles to become a campus leader. Read more....
Lindsay Speros Robbins: Brody grad follows father into primary care. Read more....

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ECU’s inaugural Honors College class among spring graduates

May 5, 2014

ECU News Services

The academic achievements of East Carolina University students are always celebrated at commencement. But this year’s class includes an especially remarkable group.

The commencement ceremony will begin with a processional at 9 a.m. Friday, May 9 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. During the event, more than 3,800 students are expected to receive their degrees, including approximately 2,795 bachelor degree candidates and 1,067 graduate degree candidates, of which 79 will receive medical degrees from the Brody School of Medicine.

Among the graduates at ECU's 2014 spring commencement ceremony are more than 50 members of the inaugural class of the university’s Honors College.

The Honors College graduates have undergone four years of rigorous academic coursework, interdisciplinary seminars, intensive research, pre-professional internships, leadership development, immersive service-learning projects and study-abroad opportunities.

“Students who are also recruited for other top universities in North Carolina are now choosing ECU as a result of our unique Honors College model," said Dr. Marianna Walker, who became dean of the Honors College in July 2013. "These students will graduate having a sense of philanthropy and loyalty to the university. Their success is East Carolina University’s success. East Carolina University’s success is eastern North Carolina’s success.”

Dr. Marilyn Sheerer
Dr. Marilyn Sheerer, ECU’s outgoing provost, will deliver the spring 2014 commencement address. Sheerer helped transition the Honors College from a program to full college status.

As provost, Sheerer is ECU’s chief academic officer with oversight of academic programming, enrollment management, institutional planning and research, and equity and diversity. She plans to step down in August.

Since 2008, Sheerer has been provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.

She joined ECU in 1996 as chair of the Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education in the then School of Education. She was appointed dean of the renamed College of Education in 1998. In her eight years as dean, Sheerer emphasized collaborative partnerships with school systems and community colleges, made changes in the college’s organizational structure, increased grant and private funds in support of strategic priorities and built the largest distance education program in professional education in the UNC system.

During her tenure at the university, she has worked closely with the Chancellor’s Executive Council, the academic deans and department chairs, the Faculty Senate and individual faculty members across the campus.

A native of Pennsylvania, Sheerer holds a bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg State College, a master’s from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from Ohio University. She previously held faculty and administrative positions at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and Northern Illinois University.

Many colleges, schools and departments will hold unit recognition ceremonies during commencement weekend. A complete listing can be found at

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Photo by Cliff Hollis

Social work grad encourages youth in foster care

A childhood spent in foster care did not deter East Carolina University senior Roman Rys from the active pursuit of his goals. On May 9, he will graduate summa cum laude – with highest honors – with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the College of Human Ecology.

Rys plans to use his education and life experiences to help others who have also grown up in the foster care system, and he seems likely to succeed in his mission.

“Grab something that you are interested in and go with it,” Rys said. “Don’t let others sway your plan.”

A New Jersey native, Rys spent most of his life in North Carolina. He was placed in foster care frequently, yet he excelled as an active student at both New Bern and Pamlico high schools. He was a member of the wrestling team, stayed heavily involved with his church and actively participated in SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out), a statewide association of youth who are or have been in the foster care system. He now serves in a mentorship role for the organization as regional assistant.

His activities at ECU have included an internship with Project Supporting Youth in NC, where he works with social work professor Kerry Littlewood. He is working to develop a university-based system to support former foster youth and promote post-secondary education. “I was impressed by Roman’s capacity for self-awareness,” Littlewood said. “He truly wants to make a difference in the lives of former foster care youth.”

Rys also speaks out on behalf of other foster children throughout the state. He spoke recently to the N.C. State Legislature Committee on Omnibus Foster Care and Dependency. “I was nervous having never spoken like that to a group of legislators, but I had to tell my story,” he said.

Social work seemed like the perfect avenue of study for Rys because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of others who have experienced foster care. It had a tremendous impact on his life – a positive experience that he wants to share.

“I feel like I am more of an outlier. Most people struggle with moving from house to house. I was fortunate enough to have only two placements in my childhood,” he said.

After graduation, Rys hopes to continue his research on college students who have aged out of foster care. He hopes to pilot test an assessment tool this summer that he created to help identify resources available for that population. This fall, he plans to continue his studies by returning to ECU for a graduate degree in social work.

by Miller Orians, College of Human Ecology

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Photo by Cliff Hollis

Criminal justice grad overcomes obstacles to become a campus leader

East Carolina University senior Nicolas Dube has learned through experience that chasing after his dreams requires hard work, determination and perseverance.

His dream of graduating college with a criminal justice degree – and to ultimately serve an agency such as the FBI – almost ended before it started.

Dube’s first roadblock was financial. “That first semester I could only take seven credit hours as a part-time student,” said Dube. He was driving three hours each day to and from Raleigh just to stay in school. “There are many obstacles in life and goals don’t reach themselves,” he said. “I knew I just had to try harder and overcome.”

In January 2011, Dube secured the funding he needed and moved into Jones Hall on College Hill. But moving into a residence hall mid-year delivered a new set of challenges.

“Everyone built these great friendships during the fall and I found myself on the outside looking in,” he said. “I tried very hard to fit in and make as many friends as I could.” His attention to making friends took time away from studies and Dube saw his GPA plummet from a 3.5 to 1.6 in one semester. He ended up on academic probation.

“I took a very hard look in the mirror and realized I needed to re-focus on my dreams to be a success and bring pride to my family,” Dube recalled.

He began to study more and work harder, always selecting a seat in the first two or three rows of class. He joined the ECU Club Boxing team and learned about discipline, determination and humility. His hard work paid off and his grades improved. He gained admission into Alpha Phi Sigma, the criminal justice honor society, and earned an internship with the State Bureau of Investigations.

Dube became a residence advisor his senior year, hoping to learn about being an effective leader. “I was good at following the letter of the rules, but leadership is about people and relationships and making connections,” he said.

Following graduation May 9, Dube will begin work on his master’s degree in international studies, with a focus on national security. He will work at The Province apartments as a graduate assistant for Campus Living in charge of program development and residence advisor supervision. In 2015, he plans to travel to Shanghai, China, to continue his studies and learn to speak Mandarin.

With a rocky road behind him, Dube isn’t about to stop now.

By Chris Stansbury, Student Affairs

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Photo by Cliff Hollis

Brody grad follows father into primary care

Lindsay Speros Robbins embarked on several new adventures as a medical student at East Carolina University – marriage and motherhood among them. But the Brody School of Medicine was always something well known to the 2014 graduate.

Her father, Dr. Thomas L. Speros, was a member of the first group of ECU medical students to enroll more than 40 years ago. He and 19 others joined a one-year program that became the foundation for the medical school.

“I enjoyed being a part of building something brand new,” Speros recalled in a recent interview. “I felt like a pioneer, like my grandfather who came over from Greece with $18 in his pocket and not speaking a word of English. I always felt that this region needed a first-class tertiary care center, and I knew it would mean more to the region than people could imagine.”

Speros was at his daughter’s side during Match Day, when she learned she would spend her next several years in residency at UNC-Chapel Hill. He wasn’t surprised that Robbins chose medicine and was delighted at her decision. Though he never encouraged or discouraged that path, Robbins said his actions were influential.
Robbins stands with her father, Dr. Thomas L. Speros, during Match Day at ECU. Speros was a member of the first group of medical students to enroll at ECU. (Contributed photo)
“His career was another member of our family,” Robbins said. “It played such a big part in our day-to-day existence. And he was so fulfilled by what he did, it was hard to think of doing anything else.”

Like many Brody graduates, Speros became a champion for primary care, serving eastern North Carolina as a family physician and, for a time, as president of the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians. Robbins recalls many occasions when her father was called on to examine stubbed toes or broken bones in their neighborhood.

“He’d be the one first on the scene,” Robbins recalled. “I was always right there watching.”

Still, it took her some time to figure out she was certain about a career in medicine – to really consider what had been a foregone conclusion, she said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s in biology from UNC-Chapel Hill, she moved to New York City – and away from medicine – for a couple years. While there, she volunteered with a local emergency department. That experience prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University.

“You really see the failures of the health care system at large in an inner city setting,” she said. “I finally saw firsthand what (Dad) had been fighting for.”

She imagined a role in health management, but the pull to work with patients proved too great. So she returned to eastern North Carolina, and to Brody.

“It just felt like time to come home,” Robbins said. “And the mission really resonated with me.”

“We have such strong role models in primary care (at Brody),” she continued. “They’re so committed and passionate and fulfilled by it. Just like my dad.”

For those coming up behind her, Robbins has some advice: Soak in as much as possible from those faculty role models and choose your specialty carefully.

“Pick something that’s worth the sacrifice,” she said, as she feels she did by choosing obstetrics and gynecology. Robbins realizes that her profession may mean holidays spent in the hospital instead of at home. And she’s grateful to her husband, Henry Robbins, and her family for their constant support.

“When I worry (about leaving her son on holidays), Henry reminds me, ‘He’ll understand that you’re helping people. There’s a reason you’re not here and it’s a good reason.’”

By Kathryn Kennedy, ECU News Services

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