Health Sciences Campus

Nursing, allied health students celebrate graduation

Nursing graduates celebrate in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium May 8. Photo by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.  (May 11, 2009)  —  Bachelor's, master's and doctoral graduates from the East Carolina University College of Nursing and College of Allied Health Sciences celebrated their accomplishments Saturday.

Dr. Stephen Thomas, dean and longtime faculty member in the College of Allied Health Sciences, received a thunderous, collective cheer when he asked, "How does it feel to be a graduate?" during convocation Saturday morning at Minges Coliseum.

The college graduated 214 students. Of those, 123 received bachelor's degrees, 58 received master's degrees, 30 received doctorates in physical therapy and three received audiology doctoral degrees. Students in two programs, occupational therapy and physician assistant studies, will graduate in December.

Kristin Markel of Williamston graduated summa cum laude in speech and hearing sciences. She will enter graduate school at ECU in the same department this fall. "I'm just so proud of her, as hard as she has worked," said her mother, Janice Markel.

Courtney Rosemond, originally from Laurinburg, received a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and substance abuse counseling. He is specializing in substance abuse treatment and works at Walter B. Jones Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center.

"He is an awesome person," said friend Latasha Green, who is a licensed clinical addiction specialist and ECU graduate. "He's very compassionate. Now with his degree, he has the knowledge to go along with the skills he already possessed. He will advocate for his clients."

Guest speaker Alisa Debnam, executive director of the Council for Allied Health in North Carolina and an ECU alumna, told graduates to take a breath and enjoy the day. "This is your right of passage," she said. "It's important to learn and grow throughout life's journey. Embrace your challenges with the wonderful education that ECU has presented to you."

There will be challenges, Debnam said, while the country is in recession, the nation's health care system is in disarray and there are too many underinsured and uninsured patients who need care. She asked graduates to be ambassadors in their field. "I encourage you to go where there is no path and lead a trail," Debnam said.

Outstanding senior awards went to Katie Elizabeth Maloney in communication sciences and disorders, Rhonda Nicole Lofton in health information management, Sharry Leigh Daniel in health services management and Jessica Glynn Tate in rehabilitation studies. Candice Julia Canavan received the outstanding graduate student award, and Kelly Michelle Taylor was recognized as the first graduate in the clinical scholars program, both in communication sciences and disorders. In clinical laboratory science, Gregory James May received the 2009 Susan Smith Award for Professionalism, and LaTisha Darsha Patterson received a national laboratory award.

Dr. Paul Alston, chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Studies and an ECU alumnus, announced he would retire in July after 39 years. There were nine students in the department when he began as the second faculty member. The first graduating class had three students. This year, a total of 48 bachelor's and master's degree students graduated.

"We are among the most respected programs in the country," Alston said, noting their consistent rank in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report. "It's been fun to be a part of this department for so long."

Jordan Duke, a master's degree graduate in rehabilitation studies, gave the farewell address for graduates. "We're now on our own," she said. "As we begin to look back, we know our education will never end."

The largest undergraduate class in the history of the College of Nursing celebrated convocation Saturday afternoon at Wright Auditorium.

A total of 149 received bachelor's degrees (133 in the undergraduate class and 16 in the RN to BSN program). Another 39 received master's degrees, two received post-master's certificates and one received a doctorate.

"It is a day we can celebrate the accomplishments of these graduates," said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor of health sciences and former nursing school dean. "May the spirit I heard yesterday at the ceremony remain with you throughout your lives."

It was the first year that the university's graduation was held Friday and departmental ceremonies were held Saturday.

Caitlin Biggerstaff of Greenville received a bachelor's degree and will go to work in June at the East Carolina Heart Institute at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

"I'm very proud of her. She worked so hard. It's an amazingly difficult discipline," said her mother, Chandra Biggerstaff, who just completed her own nursing degree in December and will be working at the heart institute as well. "It's been an interesting journey. I know how hard she's worked because I've been through it too," she said. Husband and father, Dr. Michael Biggerstaff, is an anesthesiologist at PCMH.

Cheryl Dobson of Mount Olive, a nurse more than 20 years, received a master's degree in nursing leadership. She works on the surgical unit at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Goldsboro. "I'm waiting on the Lord to send me a dream job on a surgical unit," said Dobson, who plans to keep working at Wayne Memorial. She graduated from ECU's RN to BSN program in 2001.

Dean Sylvia Brown said the class is the first to graduate since the college was designated a national Center of Excellence, one of only 17 schools across the country with the distinction. The college also has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the largest in the country in distance education.

Several special awards were given including outstanding undergraduate student, Erika Weaver Best of Goldsboro.

Speakers included Malinda Elizabeth "Beth" Pauley Langley of Fayetteville, who received a doctorate in nursing. Langley became a registered nurse in the 1980s and worked many years at the bedside. After her children graduated high school, she decided to return to college in 2000. She completed the RN to BSN program and her master's degree in nursing education, a good fit since she had served as a preceptor or clinical educator for nursing students for years.

Just when she thought she was finished, faculty member Dr. Lou Everett talked to her about getting a doctorate. She chose a clinically-focused dissertation on pain management after cardiac surgery. Today's typical heart surgery patients are discharged in three to five days, which makes pain management very important, Langley said.

Now a grandmother, Langley recognized her family, friends and faculty that helped her along the way. "Each of you have inspired me in ways I can't describe," she said.

Lydia Apollo of Florence, S.C., was chosen outstanding graduate in the nurse-midwifery master's concentration. At 7, Apollo was diagnosed with an infected tibia. She spent months recuperating in the hospital, often separated from her family. "I joined a new family," she said. "It was nurses who read my bedtime stories and tucked me in at night."

The experience led her to nursing. During nursing school, she witnessed her first birth. "As a student nurse, I became part of the family," she said. Now a midwife, she wants to make a difference in returning birth and pregnancy to its natural roots. "This is not the end of the journey, but the embarkation of a new beginning," she said.

Meagan Wallace, president of the class of 2009, encouraged her fellow undergraduates to hold themselves to high standards and be a leader and advocate for their patients. "Nursing is fundamentally about relationships," she said. "You need to let each patients know they matter to you."

Class Treasurer Nitaya Reyes of Wendell, who was also voted outstanding peer, presented the class gift of $1,500 to Brown for the college's emergency needs fund. The fund was established in 2007 to help nursing students with financial crises.

Brown noted that longtime faculty member and director of student services Karen Krupa will be retiring along with Judy Williams.
A graduate enjoys the ceremonies. Photo by Cliff Hollis
A graduate enjoys the ceremonies. Photo by Cliff Hollis

Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764