ECU News Services

youtube twitter facebook rss feed

Class of 2009 has outstanding graduates

(May 1, 2009)   —   All of the nearly 3,400 students eligible for spring commencement at East Carolina University experienced unique and remarkable journeys on their way to graduation day.

From students who made their mark in research or performing arts, to those embarking on prestigious internships, to non-traditional students who overcame great challenges to succeed in their studies, all graduates can take pride in their accomplishments.

What follows are profiles of eight outstanding graduates who will receive diplomas May 8. Their successes represent just a small sample of achievements made by the Class of 2009.  

One area of emphasis at ECU is on student research, and several soon-to-be graduates made full use of the research opportunities available to them here.   

For medical student Heath Jones, research helped pave the way to a top medical residency, which is the additional training doctors receive after medical school.

Jones worked as a research technician in the lab of Dr. Phillip Pekala, a biochemist at ECU, before entering medical school. As a medical student, he kept working on research projects with Pekala, and that work gave him a leg up when he interviewed for a residency position in pathology at Vanderbilt University.

“I really had a really good feeling about Vanderbilt,” said Jones, who grew up in Burgaw and received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University. Those feelings proved correct on National Residency Match Day. When Jones opened his letter, Vanderbilt, his top choice, had selected him.

“Everything came out exactly like I wanted, like I was hoping for it to,” Jones said. He will head to Nashville, Tenn., in mid-June and begin his four-year residency July 1. And he plans to continue his research.

Jenna Bone, a senior biochemistry major and native of Sandy Cross, carried out impressive research in the field of biophysics while at ECU.

Her research, performed with Dr. Mary Farwell, professor of biology, and Dr. Xin-Hua Hu, professor of physics, pioneered a new way to kill cancer cells. Bone plans to attend graduate school to obtain her Ph.D.  

Some ECU graduates will further develop their skills through graduate school or internships before embarking on a career. Success at ECU propelled these students on to exciting opportunities.  

Korie Amberger, a native of Kinston, will graduate with a B.S. in economics and a minor in mathematics and will attend Ohio State University on a fellowship.

While at ECU, Amberger spent a year in Finland studying linguistic drift, received an internship to work in the international trade division of North Carolina, created and ran the ECU badminton club and was awarded “Senior of the Year” by Phi Kappa Phi. He is also the outstanding graduate of the Economics Department this year, by vote of the Economics faculty.

Corinne Gretler, a native of Switzerland who majored in Communication with a concentration in print journalism at ECU, will be traveling to Rome, Italy, to intern with the Associated Press after graduation.

Gretler speaks five languages fluently, is learning a sixth, and came to ECU to develop her journalism skills. She received the 2008-2009 Outstanding Journalism Student Award.

Aaron Brooks, a music composition major and native of Greenville, distinguished himself as a composer while at ECU.

He wrote music for visiting artists and maintained a grade point average above 3.8, while working part-time and performing in an instrumental rock band, Blue Destroy. His senior recital included performances by ECU woodwind faculty members, student performers, staff accompanists and a rock/chamber group from Durham called Pulsoptional.

After graduation, Brooks will pursue master’s/doctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh.

Some students at ECU must balance the responsibilities of parenthood and family with those of being a student. These graduates met the challenge.

Tiffany Brassard, a 30-year-old mother of two from Goldsboro, will graduate with a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics. Brassard, whose spouse is active duty Air Force, completed her degree while caring for a son who has autism and a daughter who has ADHD.

She commuted to Greenville while her children were in school, working around their therapy/school schedules and doing homework late into the night. She also dealt with two deployments of her spouse.

“I have never allowed my life’s circumstances to get in the way of achieving my degree or setting a positive example for my children. The road to graduation has been long and arduous, but I know the rewards will be great,” she said.

Easter Lewis, 48, of Goldsboro, had a long journey in pursuit of her bachelor’s degree in Social Work.

Lewis was the first of her mother’s 10 children to graduate from high school in 1979, and will be the first to receive a college degree 30 years later. She faced many challenges, including medical difficulties, in reaching her goal, which will become a reality May 8.  

Maria Trull McDonald, 31, juggled the demands of being an honors student, mom and wife while pursuing bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and sociology.

McDonald, who has three children under the age of 9, left ECU in 1999 to start a family and begin a career. She returned in 2006, commuting an hour and a half each day to class. She balanced family challenges with a busy school schedule and also overcame dyslexia, which she names as one of her greatest achievements.

McDonald earned several honors at ECU, including being voted Outstanding Student by the Sociology Department. “My family has made many sacrifices so that I could be in school, but it has been worth it,” she said.



Contact: Christine Neff | 252-328-1159