ECU biology professor Jinling Huang, right, is one of three East Carolina University faculty members to be recognized for excellence during Research and Creative Achievement Week. He will be honored for five-year achievement along with management information systems professor Huigang Liang. John Shearin, School of Theatre and Dance, will be recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Annual Research and Creative Achievement Week spotlights excellence

March 23, 2015

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Approximately 375 undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral scholars are expected to present their research and creative work this week to fellow students, colleagues, faculty and the community at East Carolina University’s Mendenhall Student Center.
Click on the RCAW image above to download the week's schedule of activities in PDF format. For additional information, visit https://blog.ecu.edu/sites/rcaw/. (Submitted image).

It is the ninth annual installment of ECU's Research & Creative Achievement Week, a forum to display discovery in biomedical sciences, business, education, engineering, the fine and performing arts, human health, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, technology and computer science, and visual art and design.

Other special events this week include the Intersection: Arts@Science, the International Scholars Symposium, the Honors College Research Poster Showcase and the Scholar-Teacher Symposium.

Activities run through Friday.

“We are very excited this year to have the largest, best-ever set of student creative activity and research presentations with the theme of ‘Networking Ideas,’” said Tom McConnell, associate dean of the Graduate School at ECU and chair of the this year’s RCAW events.

The best among the student research projects and the Faculty Mentor Award recipients will be recognized during a Friday luncheon in the Mendenhall Great Rooms.

Additionally, faculty recipients of ECU’s annual Achievement for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity awards are recognized this week for the originality and excellence of their work.

Recipients were nominated by their peers and recommended by the Faculty Senate Academic Awards Committee. Each recipient receives a cash award, and all will be honored at a lecture and reception April 29 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.

This year’s recipients are described below.

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

John D. Shearin III
Professor & Director,
School of Theatre and Dance
College of Fine Arts & Communication
John Shearin

John Shearin:  'Creative Force'

John Shearin is the chief administrator in the School of Theatre and Dance, but remains a teacher and director at heart.

In his 25 years at ECU, Shearin has kept a full schedule for each of those callings, overseeing more than 120 theatre and dance productions, directing more than 45 plays and acting in about a dozen. Being the chairman of a department requires meetings, paperwork and desk time, but he has insisted on teaching and directing as well because that’s what he loves.

For his outstanding leadership, Shearin has been awarded ECU’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity, one of the most prestigious awards given by the university. .

“There are some tremendously creative and high-achieving people on this campus, and to be thought of as one of them is humbling and a great honor,” Shearin said.

“Those of us who have experienced John’s work know that he is a powerful creative force,” said Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts & Communication. “He always brings a fresh perspective and interpretation. His energy, skill and dedication are boundless, and this award is well-deserved.”

It’s not unusual for Shearin to arrive at his Messick office early in the morning and leave late at night following a rehearsal. Long hours accompany an acting career, and students should be prepared for it, he said.

“We instill in them an understanding of the work ethic it takes to be successful in these endeavors,” Shearin said. “When our students leave here, they know how to work as professionals.”

ECU alumni “to a person thank us for that very thing. It’s all about the work ethic and the professional discipline they learn here,” Shearin said. “You want to be the one who is not only talented, but who knows how to work.”

A favorite Shearin saying “if you’re on time, you’re late” speaks to the discipline and preparation expected in the field.

“If you have an 8 o’clock rehearsal, you don’t show up at 8 o’clock,” Shearin said. “If you show up at 8, you’re wasting our time until you get warmed up. Time is too precious to waste any of it.”

As a director, he arrives at least a half hour early “to get my head in the game.” He expects an absolute minimum of 10 minutes for students before rehearsal.

“We try to set the tone,” Shearin said. “There’s a lot of tough love around here because we’re aware of what it takes to succeed. Talent is a part of it, but only a part of it. We constantly remind our students: focus, focus, focus.”

He tells his class “you’re the CEO of Myself, Incorporated,” Shearin said. “You can’t be a hobbyist and be a successful actor. It’s all about the work. It’s our constant refrain.”

Shearin joined ECU following a successful 18-year career as a working actor and director. He is only the second chairman of the department. The first was Ed Loessin, one of the founders of the department in 1963.

Shearin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre from the College of William and Mary and received his master’s of fine arts from Penn State University, where he worked with the touring and resident graduate company.

He appeared in network television shows including “Matlock,” “Designing Women,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Hunter,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “American Gothic” and “Bret Maverick.” Even as a working TV actor, he stayed involved in theater 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. “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.”

Shearin started looking at education-based theater and called Loessin after seeing an ad for a teaching job at ECU. It was the same Ed Loessin who had been the stage manager of the North Carolina outdoor drama “Unto these Hills,” where Shearin’s father once acted.

The teaching position was temporary, and Shearin didn’t want to uproot his family for a one-year appointment. But Shearin called Loessin again after seeing a posting weeks later for the chairman of the department.

Shearin, who spent time as a kid on his grandparent’s farm in nearby Edgecombe County, received a warm welcome in 1990. “It was easy to see there was a very good foundation here, but I could see there were things we could do differently to advance the program,” Shearin said. “The foundation was so good and the possibilities for building the program were so strong.”

The school has grown significantly in quantity and quality, with more students and more majors offered. A much-needed dance studio is expected to open next year. “People don’t find a difference in the professional and student-populated productions,” Shearin said. “We’re in essence the regional theater east of I-95.”

--Crystal Baity


Five-Year Achievement Award Winners

Jinling Huang
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences
Jinling Huang

Jinling Huang: Gene Guru

Jinling Huang, an expert in comparative and evolutionary genomics, computational biology and bioinformatics, is one of this year’s recipients of East Carolina University’s Five-Year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity.

An associate professor in the Department of Biology, Huang studies the role of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of eukaryotes — organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and other organelles enclosed within membranes. Fungi are a simple form of eukaryotes.

HGT is the process of genetic changes across the boundaries of species or genomes and has been recognized as an important force in the evolution of prokaryotes and unicellular eukaryotes. HGT also can cause some bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, which is becoming a major problem in medicine.

“We are currently performing genome analyses to identify transferred genes in eukaryotes and to understand the impact of HGT on the evolution of recipient organisms,” Huang said.

A native of China, Huang received an undergraduate degree in forestry from Henan Agricultural University in Zhenghou, China, in 1984 and a master’s degree in botany from Kunming Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming, China, in 1989.

After immigrating to the United States, he received a doctorate in plant biology from the University of Georgia in 2000 and a master’s degree in computer science there in 2002.

He was a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia from 2002 to 2004. He came to ECU as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in 2005 and became an associate professor in 2011.

Alone or with colleagues, Huang has published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals in the past decade. His most recent published research appeared this year in New Phytologist. One of his forthcoming journal articles explores the value of domestication genes in crop breeding improvements in corn.

Much of his research is conducted through computational analysis, which allows him to quickly crunch huge reams of data. He has developed four software programs that allow him to reconstruct physical maps based on evolutionary programming, genetic algorithms, genetic algorithms and the Large Steps Markov Chains model.

Huang, 50, teaches courses in bioinformatics, evolution of microbial pathogens, plant biology, taxonomy of vascular plants, and the evolution of genes and genomes. His students mostly are juniors, seniors and graduate students.

He received a $5,000 research grant earlier this year from ECU’s Thomas Harriott College of Arts and Sciences and recently completed a collaborative grant of $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation.

Huang is thesis advisor to doctoral student Dingliang Chen. “He makes me think that my work is interesting instead of pushing me to do something I don't like,” Chen said. “He is very strict with his work and does not allow any mistakes. I think that is why he can publish so many papers on high-level journals.”

-- Steve Tuttle
Huigang Liang
Professor, Department of
Management Information Systems
College of Business
Huigang Liang

Huigang Liang: 'An Impressive Record'

Huigang Liang, an expert in how people and organizations use information technology, has received a Five-Year Achievement Award from East Carolina University recognizing the originality and excellence of his research.

Liang teaches in the Department of Management Information Systems in the College of Business. He holds the Robert Dillard Teer Jr. Endowed Chair in Research and is director of the Center for Healthcare Management Systems.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized by colleagues from a variety of disciplines from across the university,” he said of receiving the award.

Liang joined the ECU faculty in 2008. His research focuses on social and behavioral issues related to the use of information technology use, such as why computer users don’t take precautions against cybersecurity threats, how organizations can use information systems to improve their agility and gain competitive advantages, and more.

He has worked as co-investigator on a National Institutes of Health grant to study Cherokee adolescents’ substance abuse and on a Health Resources and Services Administration grant to investigate tele-health home monitoring devices in patient homes. He is principal investigator of two ongoing projects, one of which is to evaluate the implementation outcomes of a regional health information exchange network in North Carolina.

Liang graduated from China Pharmaceutical University then came to the United States to further his education in pharmaceutical systems. During his doctoral studies at Auburn University, he worked on a computer-based decision tool to help keep patients using a certain medicine to treat their multiple sclerosis.

Seeing he needed more computer knowledge, he enrolled in Auburn’s software engineering master’s program and completed that degree alongside his doctorate.

“It was a lot of work because I didn’t have any software engineering experience,” he said. “Fortunately, all those sleepless nights turned out to be worthwhile.”

Since 2008, Liang has published 20 articles in refereed journals and been involved with grants of nearly $2.2 million from a variety of international, federal and nonfederal agencies. He has active grants totaling $640,000.

He has published six articles in the two top information systems journals, MIS Quarterly and Information Systems Research, since 2007. According to a ranking endorsed by the Association for Information Systems, Liang was among the top 10 information systems researchers from 2007-2009 and ranked as the world’s 22nd leading information systems researcher during 2007 to 2013. According to Google Scholar, his overall citation count exceeds 3,400.

Liang serves as an associate editor for MISQ and on the editorial boards of four other journals. He is an ad hoc reviewer for 23 journals, six conferences and multiple funding agencies.

“Dr. Liang’s spontaneous interest in helping and sharing multiplied by his extensive research expertise have made him a great asset for the information systems community,” Richard Hauser, MIS department chair, wrote in his nomination letter for Liang. “(He) is a remarkably talented young researcher who has established an impressive record that signifies an exemplary career.”

In addition to his research, Liang teaches undergraduate programming courses in the College of Business and has served or is serving on advising committees for four doctoral students.

“It’s very refreshing and inspiring to interact with students,” he said.

-- Doug Boyd