Sep 162014


September 15, 2014

A group of East Carolina University students have earned College of Education scholarships and awards for the 2014-2015 school year. Recipients were honored at a ceremony in August.

The Diane Kester Innovator Award went to Katherine Collins of Jacksonville; the James Bryant Kirkland, Jr. and Evelyn Johnson Kirkland Middle Grades Scholarship was awarded to Leila Davies of Jacksonville; and the James H. and Connie M. Maynard Scholarship was awarded to Amberlynn Bishop of Jacksonville.

The College of Education offers scholarships that from $250 to $7,000 each. This year, 68 scholarships and awards were given.

Private donations fund the scholarships that were created to honor and memorialize outstanding educators and the education profession to support the academic pursuits of future education professionals.

The mission of the College of Education is the preparation of professional educators and allied practitioners, including professionals in business information systems, counseling, electronic media, and librarianship. Significant to this mission is a strong commitment to three important related areas, all of which are realized through partnerships and other endeavors.

Sep 162014


By Michael Abramowitz

September 16, 2014

As Greenville moves forward in the 21st century, the Pitt County Arts Council wants to know what the view will be from the intersection of Evans and 10th streets — artistically speaking, that is.

The central section of the forthcoming 10th Street Connector project to link East Carolina University’s east and west campuses, known as the Evans Gateway Project area, will be the site for a large-scale commissioned public art sculpture, city and county officials announced at a community engagement meeting on Monday that drew about 20 people.

“One of the best things about this process is that it’s very organic,” said Carl Rees, Greenville’s Development Office director who is overseeing the project for the city. “It begins like this, with community engagement, and you fuse the ideas you collect with the genius of the artist.

“Many times, it takes us in a direction I could never have thought, but makes sense the more you think about it. That’s the greatness of art like this — it makes you stop, think and wonder.”

For now, the public art is slated to be located on opposite sides of the north portal into Greenville’s downtown area at the intersection of 10th Street, according to Arts Council Executive Director Holly Garriott. The corners house a bare lot on one side and private parking spaces on another. That could grow to fill all four corners of the intersection, depending on the artist’s vision, but two corners or four, it would have to be contained in the project’s $50,000 budget, Rees said. The funds are the last remaining money from the city’s 2004 general obligation bond issuance.

“I think we’re good with the $50,000 amount,” Rees said. “It will give us a chance to give the city something unique and appropriate for that part of Greenville.”

As the civic arts director for the city, the arts council is seeking qualifications from professional artists with a background in sculptural public art, Garriott told the group attending the first of a series of public engagement meetings held by the city to gather ideas and inspiration to share with the artists.

The project is open to artists age 18 and older. The committee is seeking an artist with a professional background who is willing to work with the community, Garriott said.

The deadline for submitting qualifications is Oct. 3, followed by the selection of three finalists on Oct. 10. The finalists must then submit proposals with final presentations by Nov. 14. The winner will be announced on Dec. 2.

“We’ll give the contestants a description of the public’s input and vision for the site, then the panel will examine the three finalists’ understanding of the community’s engagement in the project,” Garriott said.

The budget includes all costs associated with the project including the artist’s design fee, travel, materials, community presentations, installation insurance and actual installation work.

“It’s somewhat of a quick selection process for this project, but we’ll have a longer timetable for the art work’s creation and installation,” Garriott said. “That will allow the necessary time for community engagement and for the artist to incorporate

Rees said he has learned that a city has to be ready for public engagement whenever it comes.

“When you give people plenty of opportunity to become informed and engaged, the response grows and is typically good,” he said. “Then you just have to be ready to take it and incorporate it into the artist’s process. A good part about doing a project like this in this age is that we can give people opportunity to comment electronically, by emailing to us pictures, comments and thoughts.”

The city plans to post more information soon about that process at its website, Rees said.

Artists interested in submitting qualifications may contact Garriott by phone at the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge at 551-6947 or at

Sep 162014


September 16, 2014
by Lekan Oguntoyinbo

Last year the U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement with Louisiana Tech University and the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System to rectify concerns about alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The department maintained that the institution violated the law by using a version of an online learning product that was inaccessible to a blind student. The student’s lack of access to the course materials lasted nearly one month into the quarter and the student fell so far behind in his work that he had to drop the class.

The settlement also resolved similar complaints about another course in which the same student alleged he was not provided accessible course material for class discussions or exam preparations on time.

As part of the settlement, Louisiana Tech agreed to make significant changes to make materials more accessible to visually impaired students, including training instructors and administrators on ADA requirements and “deploy[ing] learning technology, web pages and course content that [was] accessible in accordance with” the guidelines.

The student also received more than $23,000 in damages from the university.

The Louisiana Tech case was just one of many instances in the last three or four years in which the federal government has gone after higher education institutions in an attempt to force them to be more compliant with ADA requirements.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights entered into an agreement with the South Carolina Technical College System, the state’s largest higher education system, to ensure that the websites of the system’s 16 colleges are accessible to people with disabilities. ADA settlements or consent agreements with the Justice Department or Department of Education have also been reached with other universities and organizations, including the University of Montana and the Law Schools Admissions Council.

More welcoming environment

At the heart of these cases was a belief that many were not doing enough to ensure that blind students or students with other visual impairments gained access to learning materials as required by the ADA. In the case involving the LSAC, the process for accommodating students was deemed burdensome.

Experts have called these series of settlements game changers. They say that it will lead to an increase in the quality of learning materials for the visually impaired and create more access for them.

Some universities and university systems have been working to stay ahead of the curve by enabling systems that make the academic environment more welcoming to students.

The University of North Carolina system is working to implement the Universal Design for Learning, which uses educational tools that help learning disabled students boost their performance in the classroom. UDL offers tools to professors to present materials using certain types of interactive technology, helping students with different learning challenges more effectively grasp the course materials. Over the last couple of years, it has worked to implement UDL at three campuses and is introducing it to a fourth this fall.

Dr. Sarah Williams is an associate professor of special education and director of Project STEPP, an initiative designed to help learning disabled students at East Carolina University. She is helping oversee the implementation of UDL at four campuses: East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Appalachian State and Fayetteville State. “We are looking at different models to make our campuses more welcoming for people with different learning needs,” she says.

Williams says one of the aims of the grant-funded initiative is to help faculty members, tutors and advisers learn more about UDL.

“This way, they will think about the widest range of possible learners,” she says.

Williams adds that UDL is a great tool to help them see how differently students learn.

Obstacles to access

But some university officials and even disability advocates say there are obstacles to creating technological access for students with different learning needs.

“The biggest challenge, I think, is that software technologies develop rapidly,” says L. Scott Lissner, ADA coordinator and 504 compliance officer for The Ohio State University.

He says Ohio State tackles such challenges by proactively finding accommodations for students with disabilities while providing IT contractors a limited amount of time to find a solution to the software challenges, usually no more than two years. Failure to meet that deadline could lead to a termination of the contract, Lissner says.

Lauren McLarney, a government affairs specialist for the National Federation of the Blind, says there’s also a supply and demand issue. She says a consent agreement reached with a handful of institutions is not enough to influence the software market.

“Until there is widespread demand, the market will not produce accessible technology like we would want them to,” she says. “The schools are isolated players in this vast market. There’s no way that those schools will influence the market. Is [a] settlement agreement good for Louisiana Tech? Yes. But it’s not going to influence the market.”

McLarney says another complication stems from the fact that in 2010 both the departments of Justice and Education issued compliance guidelines for colleges and universities. But, she says, they were not specific enough. McLarney notes there’s a big push for Washington to establish specific criteria.

Still, many universities say they are looking ahead and trying to be proactive rather than reactive — the better to stay out of hot water with the feds.

“I think it’s causing universities to be much more aware about being creative in terms of answering students’ needs and engaging with faculty,” says Anita Jenious, director of equal opportunity, affirmative action, and disability services at Vanderbilt University.

“The settlement made it clear that we really have to do a certain amount of advocacy on behalf of the students. We have to look at university resources as a whole,” she says. “It is in a university’s best interests to really engage with that student. If it’s a reasonable request, we are obligated to do that or offer a reasonable alternative. If [we don’t do it], that is not acceptable.”

Dr. Manju Banerjee, vice president and director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training, says institutions are best served if they strive to deal with students’ accommodation needs on a case-by-case basis. Landmark College is a school that caters to students with disabilities.

“Accessibility is not a formulaic science, but an art,” she says. “Institutions that have tried to use a formula have gotten in trouble with the law. You can’t look at test scores and decide if someone is eligible for certain accommodations or not. … It’s a negotiated discussion with the student. It’s partly case-by-case, but it’s also a learning environment which has proactively built in options.”

Of the recent settlements with various higher education institutions, Banerjee says, “It is definitely going to have a ripple effect.

“Most of the stakeholders are in general encouraged by recent trends. What I think this has already started is [that] institutions are taking a new look at policies around access and around accommodations. [It] highlights a need to look at accessibility beyond technology,” she says.

“I think institutions are going to bring accessibility discussions to the table right at the start, whereas in the past they have always been an add-on part. So now they will have someone from the ADA office as they start discussions.”

Sep 162014


By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Sep. 16, 2014

Anna Smith, the Appalachian State University freshman whose body was found Saturday near campus, seemed “intent on harming herself,” a Boone Police official said Monday.

The statement from Chief Dana Crawford was the first acknowledgment by the police department that Smith may have committed suicide. Crawford said a note was found next to Smith’s body, but he didn’t detail what Smith may have written.

Two people familiar with the circumstances have told the Observer that police believe Smith asphyxiated herself. An autopsy was conducted Monday, but police said it could be weeks before they get complete results.

In the statement, Crawford said he was trying to dispel any notion that the case was being investigated as a homicide.

“The reason that I am reluctantly releasing this information is because I do not want to give the impression that we are not investigating all possibilities – we are. We will pursue the facts, wherever they may lead, to determine what happened to Anna Smith,” Crawford said.

Smith, 18, had been in a personal crisis in her first weeks of college, a family representative said. She was last seen Sept. 2 when she took Mountaineer SafeRide, a van service that shuttles students after dark, from the Holmes Convocation Center. Smith was dropped off in a parking lot at Mountaineer Hall about 10:30 p.m.

Police also released an audio clip of the 911 call that led investigators to Smith’s body. The female caller tells a dispatcher her location and says she believes she has found the body of Anna Smith.

Sep 152014


By Jane Dail

September 15, 2014

East Carolina University released its preliminary census numbers for the fall semester, and while undergraduate enrollment and transfers have increased, graduate enrollment continues to decrease.

Associate Provost for Enrollment Services John Fletcher said the numbers are released after the 10th day of classes each semester but are not final until they are reviewed by the college’s general administration.

Fletcher said the initial numbers showed 27,511 students enrolled at the university this fall, 624 more than last year.

He said this is the fourth-largest enrollment total in the school’s history.

Fletcher said undergraduate enrollment accounts for 22,252 students — 744 more than last year. Freshmen made up 4,226 of those, the third-largest freshman class in the university’s history.

“We’re really excited; that’s our largest undergraduate enrollment in the university’s history,” Fletcher said.

Despite the uptick in undergraduates, graduate student enrollment dropped by 162 to 4,740. Fletcher said ECU is not the only university experiencing such a decrease.

“We’ve seen it pretty much across the state,” he said. “Graduate enrollment has been somewhat in decline. We’re following that same trend.”

Transfer enrollment set another school record, he said. Fall enrollees included 1,779 transfer students, the largest group in ECU’s history.

Fletcher said the rise can be attributed to the university’s efforts to make the transfer process easier for prospective students, Officials hope to continue to improve the process, he said.

“We’ve always recognized the value that our transfer students bring to campus, but I think in the new world of higher education in North Carolina, transfers are even more valuable,” Fletcher said.

He said transfer numbers across the state are increasing, along with enrollment at two-year institutions.

An update to a comprehensive articulation agreement, which guaranteed transferability of general education courses from community colleges in the state to the University of North Carolina system last year may have helped transfer numbers increase, Fletcher said.

“We would certainly want to grow our transfer enrollment,” he said. “CAA certainly can help with the ability of students to bring more of their hours with them if they transfer to the four-year schools.”

Fletcher said ECU typically has the third-largest student population in state, with N.C. State University first and UNC-Chapel Hill second. He said because of the large graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill — and the statewide trend of reduced graduate student enrollment — he is curious to see what effect it will have on enrollment.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that will come out this year,” he said. “… We’re really more about trying to do the right things for the right reasons. Not to be necessarily the biggest, but perhaps we can do what we can to assist the students of the state in their desire to seek higher education.”

Fletcher said more comprehensive numbers and breakdowns by colleges and departments likely will be available by the next ECU Board of Trustees meeting. He said the preliminary numbers were higher than he expected, which he viewed as a positive.

“I would take that to mean the demand for ECU education remains high, that we continue to be a strong choice for students from North Carolina and from out of state,” he said.

Sep 152014


September 15, 2014

From how light and noise affect health to obesity, East Carolina University on Saturday joined in worldwide discussions about ways to improve and innovate the health care industry.

About 100 people attended the event that brought TEDMED, a global community that features short talks on potential for change in health care, to its health sciences campus.

Vision, Innovation and Achievement — a group of faculty and students at the Brody School of Medicine — hosted the event with the help of the medical school and Vidant Health.

The group streamed TEDMED talks from an event this past week and had local speakers provide responses to the themes of “Don’t You Dare Talk about This” and “Human Nature Inside and Out.”

Local speakers including Daniel Goldberg, Krista McCoy, Sam Sears and Julie Barrett were nominated and then selected.

Goldberg, an assistant professor in medical school’s bioethics and interdisciplinary studies department, discussed health and social medicine beyond sick care.

McCoy, a biology assistant professor, talked about environmental chemical exposures, endocrine disruption and childhood disease.

Sears, a psychology and cardiovascular sciences professor at ECU, discussed pursuing health security in the context of health threats.

Barrett, a fourth-year medical student, talked about changing the paradigm of obesity.

Sep 152014


For the Washington Post
Sunday, September 14, 2014

In September 2008, as the economy was imploding, John McCain suspended his campaign for the presidency and canceled a guest spot on David Letterman’s late-night TV show. “I’m more than a little disappointed by this behavior,” fumed the comedian, who liked to warn politicians – only half-jokingly – that “the road to the White House runs through me.” Letterman’s anger was widely publicized, and McCain was deeply chastened. He agreed to appear on the show a few weeks later and twice admitted, “I screwed up.” When the comedian responded, “I’m willing to put this behind us,” McCain practically groveled in gratitude, saying “thank you” five times.

The authors of Politics Is a Joke! – S. Robert Lichter teaches communications at George Mason University; his collaborators, Jody C. Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, are political scientists at East Carolina University – point out that in this exchange the “balance of power” clearly favored the comedian, not the candidate. And Letterman wasn’t even the most influential comic of 2008. That would be Tina Fey, whose devastating impersonations of McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, on Saturday Night Live, shredded what was left of her credibility.

The writing here is often bland and the arguments repetitive. And the book includes a lot of confusing charts from academics who try – and largely fail – to measure the precise impact of humor on political attitudes. But this is a compelling subject. Jokes are no laughing matter. As the authors put it, “Late night humor has . . . become entrenched as a force in American politics.” A Pew survey found that 28 percent of all adults get some political information from these shows, but that number jumped to 39 percent for voters under 30.

Jesters are as old as politics, of course. Cartoonist Thomas Nast skewered the bosses of New York’s Tammany Hall in the late 19th century, and humorists such as Mark Twain and Will Rogers made “poking fun at a Congress . . . a time-honored American Pastime.” One of Twain’s famous lines still seems pretty fresh today: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

What changed the equation was television. It shifted the focus from institutions to individuals. The authors recount an episode from 1967, when Richard Nixon was rebuilding his political reputation by appearing on the Mike Douglas Show. “It’s a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this (television) to get elected,” Nixon complained. A young producer named Roger Ailes shot back, “Television is not a gimmick, and if you think it is you’ll lose again.” Nixon was so impressed that he hired Ailes, and a year later the candidate appeared on the popular show Laugh-In. He said exactly four words – the show’s signature slogan, “Sock it to me?” – but Nixon established an important precedent by utilizing a comic setting for a serious purpose: connecting with voters. One commentator said that the brief cameo turned Nixon “into a ‘regular fella’ willing to poke fun at himself.”

The influence of comedy shows flows from two sources. One is the jokes. The authors analyze more than 100,000 of them and conclude that the most memorable jibes play off “an obvious theme or trope” that already exists: George W. Bush is dumb, Al Gore is stiff, John McCain is old, Mitt Romney is rich. Bill Clinton was the “all-time favorite target of late night comedians” because he had two large appetites that were easily lampooned – food and sex. By contrast, Barack Obama has always been an elusive subject. “Raunchy” makes a much richer target than “remote.”

Comics don’t create these stereotypes, but they inflate and amplify them. As Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald said in 1999, once the late-night comics “are making jokes about you, you have a serious problem.” And technology has only expanded their impact since then. Jokesters now have far more outlets on cable TV and web-based channels. Their routines are featured on popular portals such as Politico and archived on sites like YouTube. And the best lines go viral on social media. My students don’t have to watch Jon Stewart live, they just go to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds and download the links their friends have posted.

These comics also play a second role: providing a platform (or a couch) for politicians to advance their images and ideas. The late-night scene has become a “mandatory stopover” on the campaign trail, and in 2008, presidential candidates appeared more than 100 times on these shows.

Their aim is the same as Nixon’s in 1968: to appear as “regular fellas” (or the female equivalent), to come across as “an average guy and a good sport.” The authors actually understate the importance of this point when they say that candidates on comedy shows appeal only to a “niche” audience of “politically inattentive” voters “that takes personality more seriously than partisanship and prioritizes likability over ideology.” My experience covering politics tells me that the audience for politicians on nonpolitical platforms is far from a “niche” group. Many voters value “likability” above any other quality.

That’s why Obama has appeared on so many different TV outlets, including daytime chat fests such as The View and Ellen and sporting events such as the Super Bowl. All of these venues give him a chance to tell stories, to promote his personality, to send the message: “I’m just like you.”

During the last campaign, Romney refused to go on most late-night shows “because he believed he would be stepping into a hostile environment.” Obama occupied every couch he could find. And exit polls showed the president running 10 points ahead of his challenger on the critical question, “Who is more in touch with people like you?”

The road to the White House might not run through the late-night comics. But you can see it clearly from their studios.

Sep 152014


By Jonathan Clegg

Updated Sept. 14, 2014

It was supposed to be a snoozer of a weekend in college football.

When we looked over the schedule for the third weekend of the season, it appeared utterly devoid of drama, one of those early-season Saturdays featuring lame nonconference matchups, manufactured rivalry games and powerhouse schools feasting on cream puffs. Eight of the top 25 teams in the country weren’t even in action.

UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel is carried off the field after UCLA’s 20-17 win over Texas. Associated Press

It was enough to make us think about ignoring Saturday’s drudgery altogether in favor of something more stimulating, like finally fixing up those shoe racks from the Container Store. TCS -1.06%

But somewhere along the line, something all too familiar occurred. This dud of a weekend somehow turned into a doozy. By the time it was done, four ranked teams had stumbled to upset losses, the number of unbeatens dwindled and we had been totally captivated for 12 straight hours.

So much for a letdown weekend. This was exhausting, agonizing, brilliant and heartbreaking. And that was just Florida’s triple-overtime win over Kentucky.

purplearrowBefore the first quarter of the opening games had expired, Virginia Tech had already fallen behind by three touchdowns at home to East Carolina. The Hokies, tipped as a trendy playoff contender after last week’s upset of Ohio State, managed to tie it up late but still couldn’t escape, going down 28-21, after giving up a 65-yard touchdown drive in the final minute.

By that stage, we were sucked in as the upsets kept coming. Virginia forced four turnovers to shock Bobby Petrino and No. 21 Louisville. Hours later, in the biggest stunner of the season so far, Boston College knocked off No. 9 Southern California, holding the heavily-favored Trojans to a pitiful 20 rushing yards.

It wasn’t only the carnage in the top 25 that kept us enthralled. We hadn’t been all that excited about Rutgers’ introduction to Big Ten conference play. Frankly, we weren’t all that excited about Rutgers’ introduction to the Big Ten conference altogether. But excuse us if we weren’t transfixed by the gripping spectacle as the Scarlet Knights narrowly fell to Penn State in a 13-10 nail-biter.

Then there were the plain-old great games between teams outside the spotlight, like the back-and-forth battle in which West Virginia topped Maryland 40-37 on a last-second field goal. Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen was so excited that he almost called a run play.

If there’s one takeaway from all this, it’s don’t plan to assemble a shoe rack on a college football Saturday. But if there’s a broader point to be made here, it’s about college football’s remarkable capacity to entertain us despite itself.

Despite the lousy matchups and cupcake opponents that fill its opening weeks, the craven realignment that has upended the sport in recent years and all the pressing issues that confront the college game, it still serves up great entertainment—even when we least expect it. Or especially when we least expect it.

That is not to say that all the excitement on this volatile weekend caught us by surprise. We were pretty sure South Carolina and Georgia would produce some electricity even before the game was subject to a lightning delay. When kickoff finally rolled around, it duly lived up to the hype.

Even the shambolic ending was oddly compelling. On a fourth-and-inches call with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter, Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson lined up under center, took the snap and plunged forward before being buried under a mammoth clump of 300-pound linemen.

We were then treated to one of the most fundamentally flawed and maddeningly imprecise episodes in all of sports as the officials attempted to gauge the location of the ball. With no clear view and after much debate, it was arbitrarily spotted at the halfway line, whereupon the officials brought out the chains and painstakingly proceeded to measure this inexact spot. The tip of the ball was a hair across the line and the Gamecocks had a first down. Game over. South Carolina wins. Those of us watching at home, meanwhile, felt completely bemused.

“No one had a good vantage point,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt. “Even from where I was standing, it was such a big scrum, it’s really hard to tell unless you have some type of gadget on the ball. Maybe we could put a GPS system on it?”

Needless to say, had Alabama dropped a game in similar circumstances, their fans would’ve developed a prototype by Sunday morning.

Even at this point, the unexpected thrills weren’t finished.

Having lost star quarterback Brett Hundley to an early injury, career backup Jerry Neuheisel came off the bench for UCLA and tossed a late touchdown pass to lead the Bruins to a come-from-behind win in their primetime matchup with Texas.

In a joyful moment, Neuheisel was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. The most touching scene came hours later, however, when a video surfaced showing his father, former Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel, watching the dramatic comeback in a backroom TV studio, where he was working as an analyst.

“Come on, Jer! Come on, kid!” Neuheisel repeated, as he paced up down in front of the screen, before proudly punching the air as the game concluded. Turning to his colleagues, he beamed: “How about that?”

How about that. It was that sort of weekend.