Five decades of leadership

The College of Nursing is East Carolina University's oldest professional school. It has marked 50 years with a series of events and celebrations that concluded April 9 with a gala at Rock Spring Center in Greenville. 

Nursing has grown from a tiny school training mostly rural nurses for eastern North Carolina to a college that graduates more new nurses than any school in North Carolina.  

Milestones mark that journey. From offering its first master's degree program in 1977 to enrolling doctoral students in 2002, the college's development mirrors the growth and complexity of the nursing profession itself. That 50-year journey and its themes — versatility, leadership, skill and innovation — are best seen through the experiences and accomplishments of graduates representing the five decades of the college's life.


The Future: Q&A with Dean Brown

"The challenge facing nursing is to integrate technological competency while focusing on the development of a meaningful therapeutic relationship with the patient and their family, which remains the heart of nursing." - Dean Sylvia Brown, more...

Donna Thigpen, change maker

Dr. Donna Thigpen’s first job was typical for a rural nursing graduate from East Carolina in the 1960s. She worked as a public health nurse in Pitt County....

Bill Vurnakes, non-traditionalist

The path that carried Bill Vurnakes to nurse anethesia is as non-traditional as it gets. Besides being male when he enrolled as a nursing student in the 1970s, he was .... Read more...

Donna Zekonis’ unexpected calling

Donna Zekonis transferred to ECU to play basketball and earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education. She emerged an emergency room nurse, and now, a family nurse practitioner. Read more...

Brenda Myrick, paying it forward

It took a number of years, but Brenda Myrick found out her grandmother was right. She should go to nursing school, Evelyn Boone, Myrick’s grandmother, told her when she first arrived at ECU in 1977.  Read more...

Ryan Lewis, Rookie of the Year

Ryan Lewis thought he wanted to be a doctor until he realized he was more interesting in the therapeutic aspects of medicine. Read more...



In honor of 50 years of nursing education at ECU, here are some milestones in the history of the college:

1960 First students admitted to ECU nursing.
1977 The master's of science in nursing program is established and the first graduate students enroll.
1987 The school of nursing joins the school of medicine and school of allied health sciences in the ECU health sciences division. (Both schools of nursing and allied health sciences were renamed colleges in 2007).
1998 The school offers its first online course, the beginning of a nationally recognized distance education program.
2001 The doctor of philosophy in nursing program is added and the first students enroll in 2002.
2007 Enrollment reaches 1,000 students in all nursing programs. (The college now has more than 1,100 students).
2009 Designated a Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing


Number of students enrolled in fall 1960
Number of students enrolled in fall 2010
Number of faculty in fall 1960 – including the dean
Number of faculty in fall 2010
Number of graduates in spring 1964 (all bachelor's of science degrees, all women)
Number of graduates in spring 2010 – (136 BS pre-licensure, 23 RN to BSN students, 43 master's students, 2 doctorates)

Did you know?

ECU ranks in the top 5 percent in size and programs out of 800 four-year nursing programs across the country.

ECU offers the state's only nurse midwifery concentration, part of the graduate program.

Eva Warren, first dean of nursing at ECU: There was intense opposition to the establishment of a nursing school at ECU...much like that to a four-year medical school and ... from the same sources.

Dr. Leo Warren Jenkins, who became president of then East Carolina College in 1960, said: “Historians who... tell the story will find that the secret of the transformation of a small neglected school into a major institution was, in fact, a very simple one.... the needs of the people.”


Newspaper Clippings

Download pdf copies of newspaper accounts from the early days of the College of Nursing.