Students Haley Smith and Deryn Smith are instructed by Bob Ebendorf, center, who is the winner of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity during ECU’s Research and Creative Achievement Week. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


Annual events recognize student, faculty excellence

By University Communication

Approximately 360 undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral scholars are scheduled to present their research and creative work April 4-8 to fellow students, colleagues, faculty and the community at East Carolina University’s Mendenhall Student Center.

It is the 10th 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.

Tom McConnell, associate dean of the Graduate School at ECU and co-chair of this year’s RCAW events, said the experience benefits participating students for years to come. "They learn how to write abstracts, how to think critically, how to communicate, and experience answering questions about a topic or area that is likely to be a long-term investment in their lives,” he said.

Other special events this week include the Intersection: Arts@Science, the International Scholars Symposium, the Honors College Research Poster Showcase and the Global Issues Virtual Conference. Activities run through Friday.

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. More information about the week’s events is online at http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/rcaw/.

Additionally, faculty recipients of ECU’s annual Achievement for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity awards are recognized this week for the originality and importance 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 during Founders Day–University Awards Day April 27 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.

This year’s recipients are profiled below. 


Robert W. Ebendorf, Professor
School of Art and Design
College of Fine Arts & Communication

Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity

A student in Bob Ebendorf’s art honors seminar this semester said his professor’s reminder to “change your perspective” can apply to all aspects of life. 

Ebendorf, a pioneering artist and professor emeritus of metal design, is being recognized with East Carolina University’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity.

Ebendorf is an internationally known master metalsmith and jewelry designer who incorporates cast-off objects into his works, pairing unusual items from broken glass to bottle tops in his one-of-a-kind designs. 

In his nomination letter, School of Art and Design Director Michael Drought listed Ebendorf’s many accomplishments, noting the balance he has achieved between teaching and exhibiting. 

Other letters of support called Ebendorf an “influential ambassador to ECU,” noting his “willingness to share and commitment to teaching” and “reshaping our understanding of adornment.”

Throughout his career, Ebendorf has challenged students to find balance in their lives, to question, to be playful and mindful. 

“There’s no set way to solve problems,” he said. “I want them to be the conductor of their orchestra.”

Recently, students sorted through scrap pieces of wood to assemble a sculpture. “You learn how to look at things differently,” said freshman Matt Chilton of China Grove, a double major in biology and chemistry. He’s used permanent markers, correction fluid, glitter, duct tape, even candle wax to color his creations. “Here, it’s just you and the things you interact with.”

Ebendorf will retire at the end of the semester, and he and his wife Aleta Braun plan to relocate to the southwestern United States. 

He often finds inspiration and materials for his artwork walking to ECU’s Jenkins Fine Arts Center from his home on Library Street. His home studio is filled to the brim. “The discards I find important,” he said. “I’m working with tin cans and broken trash.”

Ebendorf is teaching his last class - the Honors College seminar with 18 students, many of whom have never taken an art class at the university. “We have a time to think openly and abstractly rather than use our brain logically,” said Kara Grubbs, an intended nursing major from New Kent, Virginia who has a lot of science classes this semester. “It’s a really good way to have an open mind.” 

Ebendorf said his teaching is unorthodox, more focused on dreaming, thinking and problem solving instead of how long a paper or PowerPoint presentation should be. “It’s about craftsmanship and understanding the tools you work with,” he said. “I’m really proud to have been an educator.”

Ebendorf has taught undergraduate and graduate students for the past 19 years at ECU. He’s also helped raise funds for art scholarships at ECU; there is an endowed scholarship in his name. He was named the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Art in 1999. 

Before joining East Carolina, Ebendorf taught at the University of Georgia and State University of New York at New Paltz.

“I’ve been locked in this time warp of youth and energy,” Ebendorf said. “The gift that has been given to me is monumental: the youth, the juice, exploring mistakes or losing a loved one. My world is locked into that world of reference; what therapy that has been.”  

Examples of Ebendorf’s work are in 29 museums around the world, including the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Through the years, he has completed large commissions for corporations, temples, churches and private clientele. 

In 1995, Ebendorf was awarded the American Craft Council Fellowship for his achievement in craft and commitment to the craft movement. He received the 2010 North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor. 

And in 2014, Ebendorf received the Society of North American Goldsmiths Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the society to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of contemporary jewelry and metalsmithing throughout their careers. 

Last year, the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art began cataloguing Ebendorf’s papers, photographs, sketches and letters to be permanently housed there. In 2003 the Smithsonian held a 40-year retrospective exhibition of Ebendorf’s work. And in 2004, he was identified as one of 100 significant American artists and interviewed extensively for their Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America oral history project.

Ebendorf received his bachelor of fine arts in 1960 and a master of fine arts in 1962 from the University of Kansas, and was awarded a Fulbright.  

Winning ECU’s Lifetime Achievement Award is humbling, Ebendorf said. “My time here has been special,” he said. “Many of the faculty have been such a joy to work with. I’m blessed with many rich memories and treasures of working here at East Carolina.”

- By Crystal Baity


Shouquan Huo, Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry
Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences

Five-year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity

Dr. Shouquan Huo, an associate professor of inorganic and organic chemistry, is one of this year’s recipients of the university’s Five-Year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity.

“It’s a great honor to receive one of ECU’s most prestigious awards, and I am very thankful for my research being valued by my colleagues and peers,” said Huo. “Being a recipient of this award is wonderful, but to a greater extent, I feel strongly encouraged to continue my research activities and make contributions to my field.”

Dr. Andrew Morehead, chair of the Department of Chemistry, said, “Professor Huo has been a model within the department for his ability to vertically integrate his research group.”

While in his lab, Huo’s research focuses on selectivity in organometallic C-H bond activation, the use of phosphorescent materials and organometallic anticancer agents.

Huo has designed, synthesized and characterized a number of highly, efficient phosphorescent platinum complexes. Through structural engineering of the complexes, emissions covering the entire visible spectrum from blue to red is achieved. This research focuses on the structure-property relationship of phosphorescent materials and synthesis of tailor-made materials for optoelectronic and biological applications.

Along with his colleague Dr. Yan-Hua Chen, from the Brody School of Medicine, Huo has screened a series of phosphorescent platinum compounds for their anticancer activities.

A significant finding is that one isomeric platinum complex (N^C^N)PtCl demonstrates higher toxicity against a series of human lung and prostate cancer cells, which has led Huo and Chen to investigate NCN-complexes as anticancer agents.

Huo received his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Nanjing University, China in 1994 and his Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in chemistry from Zhengzhou University, China in 1991 and ’88 respectively. 

After serving in roles as a postdoctoral fellow, postdoctoral research associate, visiting scientist, visiting associate professor, and most recently, as principal scientist for the Eastman Kodak Company, Huo came to ECU in 2007 as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry. He became an associate professor in 2013.

Since arriving at ECU, Huo has directed 25 undergraduate students, eight graduate students and one visiting undergraduate student. Presently, he serves on the personnel committee, is chair of the MS thesis committee in the Department of Chemistry and is chair of the ECU graduate committee. In the classroom, he teaches organic and inorganic chemistry courses and labs.

“His 1-2-3 model for undergraduates, in which his students gain skills and expand their lab presence over three semesters with successively expanding roles, has resulted in a great group dynamic and work ethic,” said Morehead. “His graduate students are similarly productive and have gone on to outstanding graduate programs and medical schools. This high level of research productivity has generated international renown for his research program.” 

Within his field, Huo is the author of more than 40 original, peer-reviewed research articles, has given more than 35 invited talks and is the owner of 13 U.S. patents, with two patents pending. He is a member of the Chemical Society of Japan; American Chemical Society; Sigma Xi, the scientific research society; and he is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists.

- By Lacey Gray


S. Raza Shaikh, Associate Professor
East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute
Brody School of Medicine

Five-year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity

Dr. S. Raza “Raz” Shaikh, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a member of the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute (ECDOI) at the Brody School of Medicine, is one of this year’s recipients of the Five-Year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity.

An expert in lipid biochemistry, nutritional immunology and membrane biophysics, Shaikh earned a Ph.D. in medical biophysics from Indiana University in 2004 and completed his postdoctoral training in immunology at Johns Hopkins University in 2008. Since then, he has been establishing himself as a leader in several fields of research.

Since joining ECU, Shaikh, a specialist in the function of lipids, has received continuous extramural funding from the National Institutes of Health as well as from industry groups including pharmaceutical and dietary supplement companies. 

In 2012 he received the Early Career Award from the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids. His first – and perhaps most often-cited – published work demonstrated the underlying mechanisms by which dietary omega-3 fatty acids target the molecular organization of lymphocyte lipid membranes to modulate inflammatory responses.

In collaboration with ECU physiology faculty member Dr. David Brown, Shaikh received a $1,250,000 grant from NIH in 2014 to investigate new ways to protect the heart during a heart attack.

During many pathological states – such as diabetes or following a heart attack – mitochondria (the “engines” of the cell) don’t “breathe” as well as they do in the healthy state, which causes lasting damage to the cells and increases the likelihood of subsequent incidents. 

“If we can figure out the mechanism by which cell death occurs, we can come up with therapies to prevent cell death,” Shaikh explained. 

Shaikh and Brown have collaborated often to write grants, publish papers and obtain industry funding. The pair has presented at international symposiums in 10 different countries. 

Shaikh said he greatly appreciates the East Carolina award but his focus remains on solving complex problems related to obesity, immunity and diet. 

His lab is currently focused on the ways in which obesity disrupts the immune system and how certain fatty acids can help the body fend off viral infections. And he is overseeing a clinical study to test the effectiveness of a specific fatty acid supplement in obese patients.

Another of Shaikh’s projects aims to establish the role that the dietary supplement SAMe plays in chronic inflammation and how that links to the supplement’s recognized ability to slow the progression of depression.

Shaikh relies heavily on social media to market the East Carolina Diabetes & Obesity Institute knowledge base and capabilities, and to establish contacts with fellow research institutions and private businesses across the state and nationwide. Those efforts have resulted in several collaborative grants with other schools including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and University of Melbourne in Australia.  Based on his collaborations, he received another NIH grant of $1,125,000 as principal investigator in 2015 for his research on dietary fatty acids, obesity, and infection.

As part of the multidisciplinary, collaborative culture at institute, Shaikh values the daily exposure he gets to a variety of disciplines. “It broadens your skill set and pushes you out of your comfort zone, which makes you more competitive,” Shaikh says. “You learn from different ways of thinking.”

- By Amy Adams Ellis


Paige P. Viren, Associate Professor
Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies
College of Health & Human Performance

Scholarship of Engagement Award

Paige Viren’s passion for travel and meeting people is part of her DNA. If you spend a few minutes with her, this fact becomes apparent. She has traveled to six continents and hopes to add another stamp to her passport with a visit to Antarctica on her bucket list. 

“I am always eager to share my experiences with others to help them appreciate the many amazing people and places out there, especially my Southern home in eastern North Carolina,” said Viren. “I want others to be excited about adventures even in their own backyard.”

Viren extends this passion to the classroom and community. She believes that the best way to learn is by doing, so she teaches students the significance of developing community partnerships and how they benefit rural communities in eastern North Carolina.  

And this work has earned her the 2016 ECU Scholarship of Engagement Award.

Viren’s scholarship focus is on the development of sustainable community-based tourism. Applying previous experience as a travel agent, Viren’s efforts to support economic development, protect and enhance natural and cultural resources in towns along the Roanoke River began in 2010. 

Meeting with town officials and community members, Viren helped bring together key stakeholders from the Roanoke Rivers Mayors Association participating towns – Hamilton, Jamesville, Windsor, Scotland Neck, Hobgood, Bear Grass, Halifax, Weldon, Williamston, Hassell, Plymouth and Oak City.  An inventory of assets was developed and studies were conducted to survey business opportunities. In the past five years, new businesses including a museum, an ice cream store and campsites have been created in these municipalities

“Dr. Viren plays an important role in developing a mutual relationship that benefits the community, her engaged research and her students,” said Dr. Matt Mahar, chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. 

“Community members with whom she works have indicated that Dr. Viren makes it easier for all constituents to see that working together can elevate them to places they could not attain on their own.”

Viren and her students crafted marketing plans and supported grants to secure funding for a handicap accessible kayak launch and boat access in Windsor. The latest project is the construction of two treehouses and a “treeZebo,” or observation deck connected by an elevated walkway on the banks of the Cashie River, which are intended to provide additional accommodations in Windsor.  

“A sense of place is important to sustainable tourism,” said Viren. “That connection to the river offers people a sense of belonging. The more people are connected to rural areas the more likely they are to protect them.

Accepting the invitation to serve on the leadership team for eastern North Carolina’s Land of Water initiative, Viren provides expertise in sustainable tourism and coastal ecosystems to their mission of stimulating economic growth of the Inner and Outer Banks.

Viren also collaborated with Pitt, Pamlico, Craven and Carteret counties to develop master plans with strategies to increase recreational access in these communities.

“Her work has and can continue to have a significant impact on the economy of eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Glen Gilbert, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance. “She is a reflection of a faculty member who inspires students by combining her many teaching, research and outreach talents.”  

Viren joined the ECU faculty in 2008 and has served as an affiliate faculty with the Center for Sustainable Tourism. She received her bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure studies and a master’s in leisure and tourism studies from Bowling Green State University, and a doctorate in park recreation and tourism resources from Michigan State University.

- By Kathy Muse