ECU Speech Communication Center helps ease fear of public speaking

The only thing some people dread more than public speaking is death.

That’s according to Dr. Pamela Hopkins, director of East Carolina University’s Speech Communication Center, where students, faculty, staff and community members learn to overcome anxiety to make effective presentations.

“We work across campus – any major, any year,” Hopkins said. “You don’t have to love it (public speaking) but you can learn to do it well. Gaining confidence is key.”

Housed in a former radio studio on the second floor of the School of Communication, the center has a lecture room where people can practice speaking in front of a small group. There are also two offices for confidential feedback.

Hopkins and three graduate students – Alyssa Gutierrez, Katherine Hyatt Hawkins and Kelsey Rhodes – offer one-on-one consultations or group workshops on researching, writing, organizing and delivering an effective speech or presentation; working effectively in a group; acing a job interview; or learning to speak in a more professional manner.

The center offers topics on communication anxiety, organizing an effective presentation, dynamic delivery, professional communication and speaking etiquette.

“There is no career field or profession where you can excel without being an effective communicator,” Hopkins said. “It’s what will separate one student from another in a job opportunity.”

Dr. Wade Dudley, ECU professor of history and advisor to the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, asked Hopkins to lead a seminar on effective presentations this spring. About 75 undergraduate and graduate students attended and offered positive reviews.

“I had the privilege of observing and evaluating presentations by most of the participating students,” Dudley said. “Without fail, they did fine jobs. Better yet, those who graduated in May are now gainfully employed or attending graduate school.”

As a result, Phi Alpha Theta has scheduled another seminar this fall and Dudley hopes to hold one each semester.

“I frequently stress to students that presentation of self via speaking and writing is the cornerstone of achieving good grades and employment after graduation,” Dudley said. “Knowing this, it seems fairly silly not to take advantage of the communications center. Professor Hopkins and the center are assets that all students should use.”

Tai-Yu “Terry” Huang, an ECU doctoral student in bioenergetics and exercise science, visited Hopkins because he is required to teach a class. Originally from Taiwan, he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to teach effectively because students might not be able to understand him.

James Coker, ECU associate director of admissions, said a workshop held for admissions personnel will help them better communicate with campus visitors they encounter on the job.
He recently taught his first exercise physiology class and the skills he learned at the center prepared him well, he said. “They provided opportunities for me to practice teach and (work on) skills like speaking speed and pronunciation,” Huang said. “They also encouraged me about teaching and speaking in English. I really built up confidence about teaching.”

Nursing students have also benefitted from Hopkins’ expertise, said Dr. Gina Woody, clinical associate professor of nursing.

“It is necessary for nurses to possess strong communication skills and apply these skills in advocating for patient-centered care,” Woody said. “Studies have shown that clear, concise communication among health care providers positively impacts patient outcomes.”

Recent ECU nursing graduate Skyler Kennemur said Hopkins offered suggestions on improving verbal and non-verbal communication that will help her give important information to patients and their families. “They need to be able to understand, process and make decisions based on what we have told them.”

Since opening two years ago, more than 470 students have taken advantage of the center’s services – which are completely free. Also, Hopkins’ workshops, which she gives on and off campus, have drawn more than 570 faculty, staff and students. The goal is to double those numbers this year, she said.

Before the fall semester started, Hopkins hosted a seminar with ECU’s admissions staff.

One of the exercises focused on articulation, saying each sound correctly. They also discussed often mispronounced words. Hopkins offered some tongue twisters, which she said is the single best tool to help improve articulation. She also gave tips on posture, voice tone, listening and personal space.

“She pulls out a lot of good things to think about,” said Darlene Harrell, an admissions processor.

“We work with so many offices on campus, we’ve got to make sure we’re communicating effectively,” said James Coker, associate director of admissions. “We’re the front door to the university.”

Hopkins added that effective communication can be a challenge as people text, tweet or email instead of having a conversation. “They forget to look people in the eye,” she said.

“As a professional, I can’t imagine a better skill than effective communication,” Hopkins said.

The center’s hours are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Call 252-328-2790 for more information or email


—Crystal Baity, ECU News ServicesHopkinsWeb

Alumna stars in opera version of “Cold Mountain”

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel (BM ’07), premiered the role of Lucinda in the Santa Fe Opera Festival’s world premiere production of Cold Mountain on August 1.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Havelock, North Carolina, Nansteel has performed as part of the American Opera Initiative: with the Seattle, Dayton and Merola opera companies, and with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, and the Seattle Symphony. She completed her second season at Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in May.

In its review of the premiere, Opera Today wrote that Nansteel “sang with formidable vocal power while expressing the desperation of a runaway slave.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon based the opera on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel. Like the book, the opera tells the story of Confederate soldier W.P. Inman and his struggle to return to his North Carolina home and his wife during the Civil War. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn sing the starring roles.

The Dutch recording label PentaTone will release a recording of the premiere.
The opera will be reprised at Opera Philadelphia in February 2016. The North Carolina Opera, a co-commissioner of the opera along with Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera, plans to present Cold Mountain as part of its 2017-2018 season.

“This piece has deeply ingrained historical and cultural connections to North Carolina that will invigorate our core audience, while inspiring our state-wide community,” said Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor at North Carolina Opera.


– Steve Tuttle, ECU News Services
Above: Nansteel delivers formidable power as “Lucinda” in Santa Fe Opera Festival’s premiere of Cold Mountain.

Grass wins Yamaha performance award

An East Carolina University School of Music graduate student is one of nine winners in the 2015 Yamaha Young Performing Artists competition.

Zachary Grass, who plays the tuba, is the only low brass instrumentalist selected as a YYPA winner for 2015. Other winners, from South Korea, Japan and the United States, play flute, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, drum set, cello and piano.

Grass is a student of Professor Tom McCaslin, a Yamaha Performing Artist.

“I am humbled by this opportunity,” Grass said. “Past winners of this competition include Carol Jantsch, the principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Stephen Dumaine, principal tubist of the National Symphony Orchestra, to name only two of many who have gone on to successful music careers.”

The annual YYPA program, which underscores Yamaha’s commitment to music education, recognizes exceptional emerging jazz, classical and contemporary music instrumentalists. Winners are chosen after submitting recordings and supporting materials, which are evaluated by a panel of Yamaha Performing Artists and other celebrity musicians.

“I am just happy to be able to represent my instrument and the hard work of my professors and influences at ECU and abroad who have gotten me to this point,” Grass said.

Grass joins the ranks of more than 200 competition winners since the program’s inception. This honorees received an all-expense paid trip to the YYPA celebration weekend, which was held June 20-23 and included rehearsals, masterclasses, social events and workshops focused on how to establish and maintain a career in music.

“The Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for young performing musicians in the United States,” said McCaslin. “For Zack to be included as one of the 2015 winners is a recognition of his talents, work ethic and dedication to improving himself as a performer. I am extremely proud of Zack and can’t wait to see what the future holds for this young man.”

Grass grew up in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.

—Harley DarttGrassWeb