Chancellor Steve Ballard talks with Allen Scott, an ECU graduate who now works at Spinrite, a yarn manufacturer in Washington.
New study shows economic value of ECU to the state and region
ECU generates billions of dollars for North Carolina and achieves significant regional transformation, according to the first-ever statewide analysis of higher education’s impact on the economy.
The study revealed that payroll and operations expenses at ECU—together with construction funding and spending by students, visitors and alumni—created a $2.8 billion impact for the state, equivalent to 42,798 jobs, during fiscal year 2012-13.
Leaders from ECU and local community colleges convened at an event on ECU’s campus March 24 to spotlight findings from the study, which was commissioned by the University of North Carolina system, the N.C. Community College System and the 36 campuses of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities in the state.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said the findings demonstrate that ECU is following through on its commitment to the region. Eastern North Carolina alone saw a $1.8 billion impact from the university during the same fiscal year, based on the study.
“We are very happy with this report, which provides further evidence that we are successful in our mission of regional transformation and economic prosperity for eastern North Carolina,” said Ballard.
The study also describes the return on investment to students, society and taxpayers. For every dollar society spent on education at ECU during the analysis year, North Carolina communities will receive a $10.40 value for as long as the 2012-13 students remain active in the state workforce. Students and taxpayers see a 12.6 and 12.3 percent return on investment, respectively.
Shared goals among neighboring institutions were another major theme for leaders at the event.
“The theme of regional economic development will only strengthen at ECU as we engage in new programs like the Center of Excellence for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and other private-public partnerships,” said ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson. “The size of our impact is well reflected in these numbers, and they help to validate our ongoing commitment to the region and to North Carolina.”
Locally, a $1.3 billion impact was observed in the eight-county proximity zone around ECU, which comprises Edgecombe, Wilson, Martin, Pitt, Beaufort, Greene, Lenoir and Craven counties.
Included in this zone with additional economic influence are Lenoir Community College, Martin Community College, Craven Community College, N.C. Wesleyan College, The University of Mount Olive, Barton College, Edgecombe Community College, Pitt Community College and Beaufort County Community College.
“Our area institutions are leaders in the state for offering students different pathways to education,” said John Chaffee, president of the NC East Alliance. “Moving students from high school to the community colleges to the university—ECU is a key part of that—offering more online programs than any other institution in the UNC system—and it really helps us leverage talent regionally.”
Allen Scott of Trent Woods spoke at the event about his experiences with higher education in the region. His story demonstrates how partnerships and education resources can impact individual lives and the workforce. He received an associate’s degree from Craven C.C. in 1985 then returned there in 2011 to prepare for an economic transition. After one semester, he transferred to ECU’s bachelor of science in industrial technology program and graduated in 2013. He is now a quality manager for Spinrite in Washington.
“ECU played a huge role in preparing me for the workforce,” said Scott. “Thanks to the ECU degree, I’m much more viable in the workplace and certainly less vulnerable to layoffs. I’ll always be grateful for this educational opportunity to improve my circumstances.”
Alumni such as Scott have made a substantial mark on the state. The study concludes the accumulated contribution of ECU alumni employed in North Carolina amounted to $2 billion in added income to the state economy, equivalent to creating 31,460 new jobs.
Approximately 78 percent of graduate and undergraduate students at ECU come to Greenville from outside the eight-county proximity zone. Their spending on things such as groceries, transportation and rent added about $141.4 million in income to the zone’s economy.
Conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the analysis was funded by the North Carolina Business Higher Ed Foundation, the NC Community Colleges Foundation, the UNC system (from non-state funds) and the 36 campuses of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.
The full text of the UNC-system report, along with statewide analysis, is online at northcarolina.edu/economic-impact-2015.
ECU named “Best Bang for the Buck” in the Southeast
ECU has been named the No. 1 “Best Bang for the Buck” among colleges and universities in the Southeast in a new report that ranks universities on outcomes and the degree of opportunity afforded students.
A Washington Monthly book, The Other College Guide: A Road Map to the Right School for You, gives ECU the top ranking in the Southeast region. It also ranks ECU 41st among all colleges and universities nationally and 20th among universities that offer all levels of degrees.
In addition, ECU ranked 14th nationally in a 2014 social mobility category, designed to measure the extent a university’s graduates earn more and obtain a better quality of life.
“Student success is the first commitment of our mission, so we are always pleased when rating systems measure the difference we make for our students and the return on their investment,” said Chancellor Steve Ballard.
The book is an outgrowth of college rankings that have been published annually by Washington Monthly since 2005. Those rankings take into consideration a school’s dedication to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research and service.
The guide’s rankings are different from others, its authors say, because it focuses on outcomes such as graduation rates, student loan default rates and the ability of graduates to land a good-paying job.
ECU leaders say those measures of effectiveness align well with the university’s mission, which focuses on student success, regional transformation and public service.
The focus of the Washington Monthly report is similar to other systems that specifically measure the value added to the college experience, Ballard said, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment and the Educate to Careers report.
“We believe the Washington Monthly ranking gives an accurate picture of how students benefit from an East Carolina education,” Ballard said.
The report included in its ranking criteria the percentage of students receiving Pell grants, the cost of tuition after reductions for low family income, the percentage of applicants admitted, and ACT and SAT scores.
To be considered for the “Best Bang” list, schools had to combine better-than-expected graduation rates with an affordable price. Ranked schools had to have a student body with at least 20 percent receiving Pell Grants; have a graduation rate of at least 50 percent; and have a loan default rate among graduates of 10 percent or less.
Of all 1,540 colleges and universities in the U.S., the book considered only 386 worthy of inclusion in its “Best Bang” list.
UNC-system campuses account for 10 of the top 20 “Best Bang for the Buck” schools in the Southeast. N.C. State University was ranked second, UNC Pembroke was seventh, UNC Greensboro was eighth, Appalachian State was ninth, UNC Charlotte was 10th, Elizabeth City State was 17th, Fayetteville State was 18th and N.C. Central was 19th.
Written by Jane Sweetland, a former dean at California State University-Channel Islands, and Paul Glastris, the editor of Washington Monthly, the guide is aimed at affordability and outcomes in higher education. It was published by a nonprofit, The New Press, with support from the Kresge Foundation.
EC Scholar Mansi Trivedi presents to the UNC Board of Governors when the board met on campus in April 2015.
UNC Board of Governors meets on ECU campus
It was a purple-and-gold welcome for the University of North Carolina Board of Governors when it met on ECU’s campus in April for the first time since 2007.
The governing body of the UNC system was treated to a campus tour, featuring destinations such as the School of Dental Medicine at Ross Hall and a walk-through of the Jenkins Fine Arts Center.
In his comments during the full board meeting, Vice Chairman W. Louis Bissette Jr. of Asheville thanked Chancellor Steve Ballard and the entire campus community for the warm welcome.
“I think this is the friendliest part of the state, the most welcoming. You have a great university, and we look forward to seeing what you’ll do in the future, not only here but for the whole eastern region,” he said.
Bissette mentioned his family ties to nearby Nash County and how he spent several summers working on his uncle’s tobacco farm in Pitt County.
He also shared his love of eastern North Carolina-style barbecue. “It’s the greatest food ever invented,” he said.
Ballard used his address at the full board meeting to highlight the university’s commitment to student success, regional transformation and public service brought to life through a video produced by ECU staff members. (That video, “Beyond Tomorrow: Our Commitment to Excellence,” is available at ecu.edu/news/bogatecu.cfm.)
During the Educational Planning, Policies and Programs Committee meeting, three ECU students spoke about their undergraduate research experiences—ranging from studying seasonal rainfall variability in Hawaii to researching the way India’s traditional medical system has been adapted through contact with western biomedicine.
Those students were Tori Chapman, a sophomore from Webster and a nutrition major who traveled to Honduras to work and study; Mansi Trivedi, a senior EC Scholar from Cary and a double major in biology and religious studies; and Thomas Vaughan, a senior from Murfreesboro and an applied atmospheric science major.
Trivedi told the Board of Governors: “Through my course work at ECU, the time I have spent abroad and opportunities like my senior honors thesis, I have truly learned the importance of gaining a multidisciplinary education. The diverse experiences I have had have deeply influenced me and shaped my plans after I graduate.”
After the meeting adjourned, Chancellor Ballard said: “ECU is grateful that the Board of Governors came to Greenville and experienced this great university firsthand. The administration was very pleased with all four days and the related events. The governors heard and experienced our commitment to North Carolina, the excellence of our students and faculty, and the world-class quality of our Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival performers.”
—Jeannine Manning Hutson and Kathryn Kennedy
Ted Morris and Scott Buck tour the Haynie Building.
ECU’s millennial campus approved
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted April 10 to approve ECU’s request to designate four parcels of property it owns as a millennial campus—sites where the university can collaborate with private companies to commercialize research discoveries and offer advanced training to benefit the region’s high-tech industries.
Officials said the parcels would be known collectively as the East Carolina Research and Innovation Campus.
ECU officials said millennial campus activities would initially begin on a 22.3-acre site in Greenville’s warehouse district on 10th Street a few blocks west of Main Campus. The site, which ECU acquired several years ago, covers seven blocks and includes three tobacco warehouses listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the warehouses, the Export Tobacco Leaf factory known as the Haynie Building, is expected to be the initial focus of ECRIC once it is refurbished. Built in 1914, it fronts 10th Street and covers the entire block between Pitt and Greene streets three blocks west of Main Campus.
Millennial campuses are geographic areas where anchor institutions—usually research universities—join with education, industry, government, military and other partners to discover, invent and produce new commercial products.
Under state law, the millennial campus designation gives ECU regulatory flexibility to finance repairs to the historic buildings and leeway to collaborate in business ventures with industry partners.
ECU has received eligibility certification to apply the N.C. Historic Mill Rehabilitation Tax Credit toward the cost of renovating the warehouses, according to Scott Buck, ECU associate vice chancellor for business services. Buck said those tax credits could defray 40 percent or more of the cost of the renovations.
The focus of the millennial campus will be creating partnerships with private companies that will foster economic growth in the region and create jobs attractive to ECU graduates, said Ted Morris, ECU associate vice chancellor for innovation and economic development.
“ECU’s commitment to economic development and regional transformation is predicated on the right spaces and the business freedoms needed to interact creatively with the private sector,” said Provost Ron Mitchelson. “I couldn’t be more pleased and thankful for the trust and the support shown by the UNC Board of Governors.”
It’s anticipated that ECRIC will lease space in the Haynie Building to one or more partner companies, angel investors and some business start-ups, Mitchelson said.
In addition to the warehouse district property, the Board of Governors granted millennial campus status to three other ECU parcels:
- The university’s uptown properties—19 acres that lie on both sides of Reade Street from Fifth Street to First Street and the riverfront park.
- The Health Sciences Campus.
- The Stratford Arms and Blount Fields properties across Charles Boulevard from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Bonds for new student center approved
The UNC Board of Governors approved ECU’s request to issue special obligation bonds to pay for a new student services building on the Health Sciences Campus.
Meeting in Greenville on April 9 and 10, the board gave the go-ahead for ECU to issue $80 million in special obligation bonds. Of that, ECU will use $30.1 million to pay for construction of the student services building and $49.9 million to refinance outstanding debt from previous campus projects at lower interest rates.
The board and the N.C. General Assembly previously approved ECU’s plan to build student centers for Main Campus and the Health Sciences Campus.
The student services building for the Health Sciences Campus is the first phase of a two-phase project. A financing plan for the second phase—a new student center for Main Campus—is expected to be presented to the Board of Governors this fall.
Special obligation bonds give UNC campuses more leeway to finance construction projects than other bonds. Special obligation bonds generally can be repaid from any campus revenue source excluding tuition, state appropriations and restricted funds.
ECU has above-average credit ratings and is expected to retain those ratings after issuing the $80 million in bonds.
In other actions, the board did the following:
- Authorized ECU to spend $2.5 million to plan a major renovation to Clement Residence Hall. Officials said the 10-story dorm, built in 1969, is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The renovation is estimated to cost more than $20 million and will be funded from housing receipts. During the renovation, interior living spaces, bathrooms and study areas will be redone, and the building exterior will be replaced. ECU is in the process of renovating four residence halls.
- Approved ECU’s $550,000 acquisition of a roughly half-acre tract in uptown Greenville. The property, at 119 S. Cotanche St., is a former Pitt County ABC store. With the acquisition of the property, ECU now owns the entire block bounded by East First, East Second, Reade and Cotanche streets. ECU will use auxiliary overhead receipts to buy the property.
- Approved ECU’s request to spend $498,000 to repair and renovate space inside the Brody Medical Sciences Building. The renovated space will become offices for the medical school’s Department of Risk Management. Officials said the project, which will be paid for with carry-forward funds, will begin in July and should be completed by October.
Provost Ron Mitchelson
Mitchelson named provost
Ron Mitchelson has been named provost at ECU after serving in the role on an interim basis since last year.
ECU trustees made Mitchelson’s position permanent at their February meeting. After a national search, Chancellor Steve Ballard selected Mitchelson from what he described as “an excellent pool of candidates.”
After the board’s unanimous vote to approve Mitchelson for the position, the decision was greeted with a round of applause from the audience. Asked if he had any further comments on Mitchelson’s appointment, Ballard said, “I believe the applause speaks for itself.”
A geographer, Mitchelson has been at ECU since 1999. He chaired the geography department and served as interim chair of the English department. In 2011 he was appointed to chair ECU’s Program Prioritization Committee, which evaluated programs campuswide and examined the university’s academic structure.
Mitchelson also spent two years as interim associate vice chancellor for research and chief research officer in the Division of Research and Graduate Studies.
“Ron Mitchelson has proven himself as department chair, associate vice chancellor and now interim vice chancellor,” said Ballard. “He has excellent experience with the Program Prioritization Committee and the Committee on Fiscal Sustainability. He has earned the respect of his colleagues. We had a competitive national search, and Ron was easily the choice, in large part because of his proven leadership qualities and values.”
As provost, Mitchelson will serve as ECU’s chief academic officer with oversight of academic programming, enrollment management, institutional planning and research, and equity and diversity.
During his six months as interim provost, Mitchelson guided the development of ECU’s new strategic plan, which sets the course for the university for the next five years. He said he’s “honored and will work tirelessly” to achieve the school’s mission and the priorities set out in the strategic plan, primarily student success, regional transformation and public service.
The time as interim provost has provided valuable training, he said.
“I think I’ve learned a lot more about some of the parts and pieces of the university I was less familiar with,” he said. “Those experiences really have helped me come to a deeper understanding of ECU and the university system as a whole.”
Mitchelson graduated from the State University of New York in Buffalo in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in geography. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in geography from The Ohio State University. Before coming to ECU, he held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Georgia and Morehead State University in Kentucky.
Jeff Shinpaugh and Regina DeWitt, faculty members in the physics department who received external research funding in 2013, are shown in the ECU accelerator laboratory in the Howell Science Complex.
ECU shows growth in research funding
Following three years of significant growth in research dollars, ECU now ranks third among the state’s public universities in research funding.
From 2011-2014, ECU averaged a 17 percent annual growth rate in external research dollars, hitting $38.3 million in 2013, according to the National Science Foundation’s annual Higher Education Research and Development Survey. That placed ECU behind only the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University among the schools in the UNC system.
ECU’s growth rate outpaces the average rate of 3 percent among the university’s peer institutions nationwide, according to Michael Van Scott, ECU interim associate vice chancellor for research and chief research officer. He presented the research figures to the ECU Board of Trustees last month.
“It takes a concerted effort over many years to grow a research program,” said Van Scott. During the last decade, ECU improved research facilities, recruited research-active faculty members and accelerated acquisition of external, or extramural, funding. The investment in support of new faculty amounts to $2.7 million annually, he said, and it’s paying dividends.
“Even with the cuts in state appropriations, the university has continued to invest funds to seed research by promising faculty members,” Van Scott said. “A portion of the indirect costs recovered each year on extramural grants is distributed to the faculty and units where the research was conducted. These funds are used to further invest in the research enterprise. This amounts to about $2 million that seeds future research grants.
“We also invest about $300,000 to $500,000 each year to support new investigative teams that have ideas for projects that can be competitive for extramural funding and to provide time for faculty members to write competitive grant proposals,” he added.
One example is Ben Fraser, who joined ECU last July as a professor of Hispanic studies and chair of foreign languages and literatures. ECU’s support is helping him create an interdisciplinary team focusing on innovative digital projects.
“The internal start-up grant I received for (academic year) 2015-16 is helping me in setting up a digital humanities lab,” he said, in partnership with several faculty members from his and other departments.
In addition, the ECU Division of Research and Graduate Studies is offering $30,000 for a one-time competitive faculty grant program this summer to support digital projects that link disciplines, target national grants and engage community partnerships.
Van Scott credited academic departments at ECU for managing faculty workloads to make the most of research opportunities. Some tenure-track faculty members and non-tenure track faculty take on greater teaching loads to free up research-active faculty who can compete for external funds.
“The faculty members that are taking on more teaching are doing a great job, as indicated by national benchmarks for the value added to students attending ECU,” he said. “Faculty that have been freed up to develop research programs are being accountable for the time they are provided. To see increases in research expenditures in this environment reflects a lot of hard work by the faculty as a whole within a team environment.”
Of the $38.3 million ECU received in 2013, 80 percent came from external sources—73 percent of that from competitive grants and contracts awarded to faculty members and the remainder from foundations. Nationally, only 77 percent of these funds come from external sources, with 71 percent of that from competitive grants and contracts, according to NSF statistics.
ECU’s recent performance comes at a time when total funding for research at universities, adjusted for inflation, has been flat, and federal funding has decreased, according to NSF statistics.
For several reasons, Van Scott expects research expenditures for the next two years to be similar to 2012 levels of about $32 million before growing again. The recent tuition increase ECU trustees approved “should provide much-needed salary support for our faculty that are productive in research as well as teaching,” he said.
Trustee Danny Scott listens during a Feb. 20 Board of Trustees meeting.
Aycock legacy will transition to Heritage Hall
The ECU Board of Trustees voted Feb. 20 to transition the name of Charles B. Aycock from a residence hall to a new space where the building’s namesake and others will be recognized.
Trustees called for the creation of a “heritage hall,” which will be a permanent place where people of historical significance to the university are acknowledged in an “authentic and comprehensive context.” The Aycock name will be transferred to the hall as soon as it’s developed. There was no discussion on a possible new name for the residence hall.
“We believe that Aycock’s legacy to education and his role in the history of ECU will be better recognized and understood in Heritage Hall,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Brinkley.
Chancellor Steve Ballard, the Student Government Association, ECU’s faculty and staff senates and the ad-hoc naming committee recommended renaming the residence hall, which opened in 1960 and honors Aycock—a former governor, lawyer, federal prosecutor and school superintendent who served as a spokesperson for white supremacy campaigns at the turn of the century.
The board’s decision comes after months of feedback, including two public forums and an informal online survey about renaming the residence hall that received more than 2,500 responses. Earlier this week, a panel of faculty members hosted an information session on Aycock’s legacy that was attended by more than 50 people despite wintry weather that closed classes early.
The board vote capped a week of advocacy organized by students called “Judgment Week” that included a sit-in at the residence hall and students lining the steps to Mendenhall Student Center’s Great Room, where trustees held their bi-monthly meeting.
Tyler Morrison, president of the Black Student Union, said the week had given students a way to express their views. “With the length of the process, it discouraged some students,” Morrison said. “We just wanted to make sure we got that student opinion out there.”
Morrison wiped away tears and hugged other students after the board vote. “There is a high sense of accomplishment,” Morrison said. “It affirms our faith in our university that our student voice, opinion and culture really matters to the trustees and administrators on campus.”
Requests to revisit the naming were first heard from alumni and the university community early last year.
Jake Srednicki, ECU’s Student Government Association president who was sworn in at the start of the meeting, said Judgment Week reflected the leadership of students taking a peaceful stand. He said renaming the residence hall is supported by a majority of ECU’s 27,589 students, many of whom wrote letters to trustees, participated in discussion boards and attended forums to learn more about the issue.
“The board is proud in particular of every student who expressed his or her views on both sides of this issue,” Brinkley said. “Your contributions were very important in reaching this decision. We respect how you handled yourselves throughout the process and encourage you to continue to be engaged in the university’s business.”
Trustees directed the chancellor, Brinkley and the board’s Athletics and Advancement Committee to develop a plan for the creation of Heritage Hall.
University Advancement will seek private donations to pay for the hall, and the Athletics and Advancement Committee will recommend its location.
Also, the board’s University Affairs Committee was asked to study the implementation of a mandatory curriculum on the university’s history and the times of its founding. The committee will evaluate the chancellor’s proposal on a Center for Racial Diversity, its content, objectives and cost, and ways to demonstrate ECU’s commitment to minority recruitment.
ECU becomes the first state-supported university in North Carolina to make a decision regarding buildings named for Aycock and his contemporaries. Several UNC-system schools are considering name changes. Duke University voted last year to rename a dorm that previously honored Aycock.
“As trustees, we are often asked to respond to issues that are difficult. This was one in which there were no easy answers,” Brinkley said. “But we believe we arrived at the right decision for East Carolina University, one that was based on significant research and input from many constituencies. We believe the decision supports the university’s mission, vision and values.”
—Crystal Baity and Kelly Setzer
ECU biology professor Marcel Ardon, foreground, and graduate student Tori Goehrig gather date for research on the intrusion of saltwater into freshwater sources along North Carolina's coastal plain.
Scientists receive funding to study, protect N.C.’s inner banks
A new grant will allow ECU and partner institutions to address a saltwater issue affecting the ecosystems and economy of eastern North Carolina.
Saltwater from the ocean is making its way into freshwater sources along the coastal plain, causing a myriad of problems. By joining forces with N.C. State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, ECU researchers plan to examine these problems through a multidisciplinary lens.
Marcelo Ardón, assistant professor in ECU’s biology department, is the university’s principal investigator for the five-year project. He is overseeing $354,775 of the total $1.5 million awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Coastal Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program.
“Primarily we’re looking to understand the consequences to agriculture and to natural ecosystems when you have increasing salinity in the inner banks,” Ardón said. Their research focuses on the peninsula surrounded by the Albemarle, Pamlico and Croatan sounds.
Researchers already have good projections about the impact of sea level rise in the next 100 years, but this group wants to study exactly what to expect just 10 or 20 years down the road.
“We won’t simply wake up one day and find (the peninsula) permanently inundated by saltwater,” said Ryan Emanuel, the project’s lead investigator and assistant professor of hydrology at N.C. State. “Rather, the complex interactions between humans and nature will determine when, where and how saltwater will invade this region over the next several decades.”
This saltwater intrusion—the landward movement of salinity from the coast onto the coastal plain—has major consequences to the lives of residents in the area and the economy of eastern North Carolina; timber companies and agricultural corporations own a majority of land on the sounds.
“When you have increasing salinity (in freshwater), it leads to several issues: It causes plant mortality, which is very bad for agriculture, and it can decrease water quality by causing soils to release too many nutrients,” Ardón said. It’s also a problem for drinking water, which can be expensive to desalinate, he added.
The project team will study the natural and human causes of saltwater intrusion, which Ardón explained is most likely to improve or worsen based on how people change their behaviors.
“A lot of it will have to do with the decisions that people make: whether or not to use pump stations (in ditches and canals), whether or not to build more or fewer canals in agricultural fields, when to pump and how much to pump,” he said.
An important piece of the study will be interacting with residents who live in the area. As the social scientist on the project, Todd BenDor, associate professor of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill, will coordinate these stakeholder meetings.
“Very few assessments of sea level rise really look at how people who own or manage land will actually react to changes in the landscape,” BenDor said. “They take it as a given that landowners will eventually flee the coast as saltwater starts to inundate their properties. However, we know that this process will take time and that in the interim, a lot of efforts will be made to change the way land is managed.”
Working with government and private entities in the region, the team will communicate possible consequences based on their saltwater monitoring data. They are planning to host at least one stakeholder meeting for each year of the grant, where they will share updates in an easy-to-understand and relevant way.
“The first set of workshops is mostly for us to collect information and, at the same time, we’ll be collecting the field data,” said Ardón. “In subsequent years, we’ll present the results and use different scenarios to illustrate what is most likely to occur, and most importantly, give them a toolkit that they can use to make better decisions.”
Also working on the project are Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright, who are ecologists at Duke University. Ardón is excited to have a diverse group of researchers with various areas of expertise and from different schools.
“It’s pretty unique to have experts from these four large universities working together,” Ardón said. “It doesn’t actually happen that often. So that’s very exciting.”
ECU holds topping-out ceremony for new College Hill residence hall
Heavy downpours didn’t dampen the celebration of a construction milestone for Gateway Residence Hall at ECU on Jan. 12.
At a rainy topping-out ceremony, representatives from ECU and construction contractors signed a beam that will be added to a truss on the roof of the new building.
Slated to open in August, Gateway will house 720 students and will include study spaces, meeting rooms, music practice rooms, lounges, outdoor courtyards, a sand volleyball court and a basketball court. It is the first new residence hall to open on campus in almost 10 years.
“We’re in the homestretch with this project,” said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs at ECU. “This really will be the crown jewel and capstone for College Hill.”
As its name describes, the hall will serve as a gateway from the campus’s College Hill area—bounded by 10th and 14th streets—to ECU athletic complexes across 14th Street. It replaces Belk Residence Hall, which was demolished last year.
Gateway will be home to several university living-learning communities, where students with the same major or interests live in the same hall, including biology and the Honors College.
“We have a lot to be proud of here,” said Aaron Lucier, director of housing operations at ECU. “This is an amazing addition to College Hill. It truly will be a core part of campus.”
The Gateway East and Gateway West towers will be connected by an enclosed aerial bridge on the second floor, said Gina Shoemaker, the project manager and assistant director of facilities and architectural services at ECU.
If certified, it will be the first residence hall at ECU with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification for building sustainability. “We do have other buildings on campus with that status but no residence halls,” Shoemaker said.
The $58 million building was designed by Davis Kane Architects of Raleigh. Barnhill Contracting Company of Rocky Mount and Raleigh is the construction manager. Contractors include Cooper Electrical Construction Company of Morrisville, Kirlin Mechanical Services of Raleigh, Southern Piping Company of Wilson and Manning Masonry of Williamston.
Approximately 250 people work every day at the site, which has a “construction cam” available at oxblue.com/open/ECUBelk to view progress online.
Gateway will be the first residence hall to open at ECU since College Hill Suites in 2006. Before that, no other newly constructed residence hall had opened since the 1960s, although many have had extensive renovations, Shoemaker said.
Rendering of Gateway East and Gateway West towers, connected by an enclosed aerial bridge, at the top of College Hill.
From left, N.C. Sen. Louis Pate, Chancellor Steve Ballard, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos, and N.C. Rep. Brian Brown, far right, listen as Gov. Pat McCrory speaks during a visit to the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.
McCrory budget supports Brody School of Medicine
Gov. Pat McCrory announced during his March 2 visit to the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU that his budget will allocate $16 million over the next two years to stabilize the financial challenges at the Brody School of Medicine.
“With those funds, my goal is for all of us to use the next two years to develop a long-term plan for a sustainable economic model that will allow the school to continue producing the doctors North Carolina needs for generations to come,” said McCrory.
Following a private meeting with ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rick Niswander and Brody administrators, the governor toured the heart center’s Robotics Lab and tried his hand at a robotic surgery simulation.
Also in attendance were Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, N.C. Sen. Louis Pate and N.C. Rep. Brian Brown.
At a news conference following the tour, the governor said, “The Brody School has continued to deliver on the mission our state Legislature set forth for it. Now we need to find a way to build upon those successes and expand them.
“I don’t see ECU as being only for eastern North Carolina. I see it as being for all of North Carolina,” he added.
Wos said: “It’s critical that we continue to fulfill the promise of 1974—to provide access to care for the citizens of this region. The only way to do that is to have a viable medical community here that’s training the next generation of providers. The majority of physicians who train here stay here. And I want to thank Brody for that.”
Ballard told McCrory, “I assure you that ECU will do our part. We’ll continue to spruce up the long-term plan we’ve been working on. It focuses on increasing efficiencies and continuing the excellent relationship we have with Vidant Medical Center, who is instrumental to our long-term plan.
“This funding means a flagship program of ours will be sustained,” he said, “and we’ll be able to continue impacting health care and economic development in the East.”
—Amy Adams Ellis
Susan Pitts of the registrar's office moves boxes into the Fifth Street building.
Registrar’s office moves downtown
ECU’s Office of the Registrar celebrated its re-opening less than a block from campus Feb. 12.
The office moved from the Whichard Building to a leased 8,062-square-foot space at 207 E. Fifth St. Formerly a nightclub, the renovated building features large windows, reclaimed hardwood floors and exposed brick walls.
“The entire uptown community has been very welcoming,” said Angela Anderson, university registrar.
The office is the first of several the university plans to move downtown, said Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance. A few, including financial services and information technology, are already off campus.
“This is the first step in a multi-step process,” he said. In the next two years, the cashier’s office, financial aid, admissions and related student services are expected to move downtown to free up space on Main Campus, Niswander said. “The concept is it’s a one-stop shop.”
Twenty-nine staff members in the registrar’s office are responsible for student records, class registration for students, assigning classroom space, issuing grades and transcripts, certifying degree requirements, mailing diplomas to graduates and maintaining a student database.
Students, prospective students and parents will be able to park near the building or take an ECU Transit bus that has a stop nearby. Most functions can be handled electronically, which eliminates the long lines of students that used to wrap around the Whichard Building during registration, Anderson said.
“They can do many things online but a lot of students still want to come in and see somebody,” Anderson said. “The fact that we’re adjacent to campus is a very good thing.”
The office is in the process of digitizing all records dating back to the first students who enrolled in 1909. “Those were done in pencil and on very thin paper,” Anderson said.
Officials are planning uses for the vacated space in the Whichard Building, Niswander said.
More information is online at ecu.edu/registrar, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 252-328-6524.
Pictured at the announcement of the Golden LEAF Foundation grant are, from left, Maria Pharr, N.C. Community College BioNetwork executive director; Thomas Gould, vice president of academic affairs at Pitt Community College; Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation; Provost Ron Mitchelson; and Associate Vice Chancellor Ted Morris.
ECU to develop unique training network for pharmaceutical industry
ECU is teaming up with Pitt Community College to develop a premier laboratory-based education and training network for the pharmaceutical industry thanks to new funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
The foundation’s largest grant of its type this year, totaling $1.75 million, will be awarded to establish the Biopharmaceutical Work Force Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence. The grant was announced March 2 in downtown Greenville.
With a goal of transforming eastern North Carolina’s economy, the funds will be dispersed as $1.1 million to ECU and $650,000 to PCC. The two schools will work closely with companies including Patheon, Hospira, Mayne Pharma and others to ensure the development of technically skilled and creative students to support the region’s employment goals.
“ECU’s Department of Chemistry has partnered with industry scientists for many years to offer our graduates a leg up when looking for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Keith Holmes, grant project manager, Department of Chemistry teaching instructor and retired pharmaceutical executive. “We are proud that our work has culminated in this exciting grant and partnership, which will expand our laboratory and personnel to develop a true capstone course for scientists from many disciplines.”
Regional employers are focused on expanding their expertise and operations in the form of pharmaceutical development services such as drug design and discovery; sterile formulation, packaging, development and manufacturing; analytical development and quality control/assurance; and other supporting services.
This expansion is anticipated to make Patheon’s Greenville location the company’s flagship facility and part of the world’s largest contract development and manufacturing organization. The latest expansion brings significant jobs and investment to the region.
“ECU continues to play a leading role in the growth of North Carolina’s advanced manufacturing industries and workforce,” said Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor, head of ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development and co-principal investigator on the project.
The Pitt County Development Commission reports that more than 8,000 people are directly employed in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Johnson, Wilson, Nash and Pitt counties.
“The partnership we have developed between the Department of Chemistry and ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development is such an effective way to meet the needs of industry,” said Allison Danell. She is the Department of Chemistry’s interim chair as well as grant director and lead principal investigator on the project. “We are excited to have such significant support from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which will benefit so many ECU students and workers in the region.”
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Jeff Zyburt wears virtual reality goggles while steering a vehicle at ECU's Center for Applied Psychophysiology.
Center to help military personnel recover from PTSD, related conditions
Jeff Zyburt’s virtual reality goggles helped him experience the sensation of steering a military vehicle down a dusty road in a combat zone.
Zyburt tried to avoid enemy fire while testing the device March 20 at the grand opening of ECU’s Center for Applied Psychophysiology. Housed in the College of Health and Human Performance, the center uses a combination of gaming technology and biofeedback techniques to help returning U.S. military personnel recover from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“You can see where someone who had been through it would be ducking,” said Zyburt, who operates a nonprofit for veterans and their families with his daughter, Tonia Zyburt, who earned a master’s in recreational therapy and trained with Carmen Russoniello, director of the center.
Researchers at ECU have found video games, virtual reality and biofeedback can reduce the symptoms of PTSD and other psychological conditions that interfere with quality of life. ECU was the first accredited university to offer a graduate certificate in biofeedback.
ECU serves as a teaching hub for clinicians in addictions and rehabilitation studies, recreational therapy, counseling, medicine, nursing and other disciplines how to use the different therapies, to measure and monitor patient progress and improve well-being.
Creating partnerships has been at the core of the interdisciplinary center, more than 15 years in the making, said Russoniello, a former Marine machine gunner and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who directs a biofeedback program for Wounded Warrior Marines at Camp Lejeune.
Doctoral students work with Marines two days a week in Jacksonville and also see clients in Greenville.
The virtual reality room features a big screen where clients strap on a headset and handheld device used to navigate different simulated scenarios. The floor beneath them will start vibrating, and a scent machine can create the aroma of motor oil, burning rubber, weapons fire, garbage—even body odor.
“We find scientifically that smell goes directly to the hypothalamus, to the brain,” Russoniello said. “It’s very powerful. We learn an awful lot about each other through smell.”
Participants become completely immersed in the setting. “That’s where we start to see people get really emotional,” he said, remembering a colonel who had been deployed seven times. “To him, it brought back all the fear. That’s what we want to deal with—employing some techniques to control those emotions.”
Bill Butler served in the Marine Corps for 30 years. He now works at the veterans center in Greenville. “We use this technology with combat vets,” Butler said about a game that resembles Bejeweled, a tile-matching puzzle video game.
An ear clip measures heart rate as a person plays the game. Resulting “stress” scores are saved to measure progress.
“A big benefit here is that if you ask someone what stresses them, each one will give you a different response,” said ECU doctoral student Christine Brown-Bochicchio. “But in doing something like this, we’ll see a very objective measurement.”
Butler said the therapy helps veterans work through feelings of self-doubt, anger and isolation. “We get in the weeds with them,” Butler said.
The center recently received a Department of Defense grant to study the efficacy of the heart rate variability biofeedback training program. The center also is developing and testing a mobile neurocognitive assessment and training system for the defense department.
Russoniello and his staff have helped analyze data for the Zyburts, who operate the Florida-based Warrior Institute, which offers a combination of recreational therapy and biofeedback training.
“Every veteran is different. Some respond to canoeing or open water,” Zyburt said. “We are giving them more tools to manage their stress. You can see and feel that it’s good for them.”
More information about ECU’s program is online at www.ecu.edu/biofeedback.
Theater professor finds magic in children’s book
In writing about the enchanting adventures of a 12-year-old boy in 19th century London, an ECU theater professor has discovered a magical world of his own.
Gregory Funaro is earning glowing reviews for his whimsical story Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, published in January by Disney.
“It’s a book about family. It’s a book about friendship, and ultimately—it sounds corny, but—it’s about how love conquers all,” Funaro said.
Trained in theater, Funaro began channeling excess creativity into composing screenplays and books as a hobby while part of an acting troupe nearly 15 years ago.
“I didn’t exactly plan on being a writer; it just happened,” he said. “I wish I had a revelatory moment where I was inspired to do it, but it was a fun time-killer for me initially.”
It was this casual pastime that led him to explore the inventive and otherworldly plot of Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, the first in a planned series.
After an orphan named Grubb, the central character and narrator, is whisked away to a strange world called the Odditorium, he is allowed to stay as an apprentice as long as he doesn’t share any secrets about his new home with the public.
“The Odditorium is powered by a mysterious glowing blue energy called ‘animus,’ but the animus has to stay within the walls of the Odditorium,” Funaro said. Through a series of events, Grubb accidentally lets some of the animus escape, which sets off a heroic adventure of discovery.
Amazon.com editors quickly selected Funaro’s Odditorium for their Best Book of the Month list during January, while Bookish.com chose it for their Winter’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books list. It’s rated with 4.5 stars on Amazon and 3.93 on GoodReads and has received positive features on websites such as Hypable and the Publishers Weekly Review.
“I’m thrilled that it’s getting such positive reviews, but what means the most to me is that kids love it,” Funaro said. “I get notes about it from kids, and then parents tell me ‘my child doesn’t like to read but couldn’t put your book down.’ All the reviews in the world don’t compare to that.”
Funaro said he has found his niche, although his earlier writings were part of a darker genre. His first two published books were thrillers featuring characters different from young Grubb and Mr. Grim. The birth of his daughter led him to shift focus.
“You spend so much time doing research, getting into the minds of horrible characters (as a thriller writer)—and then you have to turn that off and play with your new child,” he said. “It just felt uncomfortable.”
His second book in the series, Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, is scheduled for release in spring 2016.