An Emerson College student rented his dorm room on Airbnb, and now faces misconduct hearing | The Washington Post

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Feb 032016


By Yanan Wang
February 3, 2016

College students have always come up with creative ways to pay tuition. They’ve been known to live off of ramen noodles, and more recently, the loan-burdened but intrepid have tried crowdfunding their education.

No wonder, then, that a sophomore at Emerson College recently attempted to get back a slice of the price he’s paid by listing his Boston dorm room on Airbnb last month. According to the Boston Globe, 19-year-old Jack Worth’s ad offered “a private, single-bedroom unit with sweeping views of Boston Common, right in the heart of downtown.”

This stellar location was right inside the Little Building, a 12-story dormitory that houses around 750 students.

Three people took advantage of Worth’s accommodations on three separate occasions.

“Really, the idea just came from the combination of understanding where Emerson is located in the city, and it being in such a heavily-desired neighborhood,” Worth told the Globe. “And the thought of how I could make a little bit of extra money.”

But this business venture went against school regulations. Emerson spokesman Andy Tiedemann explained in an email to Reuters that the residence hall policy prohibits students from renting out their housing units “to protect residents and the community from exposure to safety and security risks.

Worth has since taken down the listing at the school’s behest, and he faces a disciplinary hearing on “several charges of misconduct,” according to a petition that has taken up his cause.

As of early Wednesday, 375 people had signed in support of Jack’s “honest, entrepreneurial endeavor.”

“There is nothing criminal with providing cheap housing to travelers,” fellow Emerson sophomore Ari Howorth wrote in a testimonial. “…he wanted to help those who wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in the downtown area. If the Emerson community is as inclusive as it claims to be, it should act it.”

(Worth has not said how much he was charging for the room.)

Another supporter wrote: “He’s the hero Emerson deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So they’ll hunt him. Because he can take it.”

Twitters users have also rallied around the hashtag #FreeJackWorth, but with differing opinions about whether Worth’s actions were wise.

One University of California, Berkeley sophomore took the opportunity to weigh in on the cost of higher education, which continues to rise across the country.

Others pointed out that Worth is by no means alone. A search through Airbnb yielded postings of dorms at Columbia University, Brooklyn College and UC Berkeley. The Huffington Post found others at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Temple University and the University of Chicago — all schools in tourist destination cities where cheap housing is in high demand.

Airbnb Christopher Nulty spokesman told Reuters that hosts must follow their local rules and regulations. After Worth took his posting down, he was fined $150.

Undeterred, the student is still actively campaigning for his right to Airbnb. His current Facebook profile picture shows him and two friends wearing T-shirts that read “Life. Liberty. Airbnb.” and “We came. We saw. We stayed. (At Jack’s).”


Brody School of Medicine dean to retire | The Daily Reflector

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Feb 022016


Monday, February 1, 2016

The dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University announced Monday that he will retire from his post in September but remain on faculty at the medical school.

Dr. Paul R.G. Cunningham, named Brody dean in September 2008, has led the school in its mission of producing primary care physicians for the state, increasing opportunities for underrepresented minorities in medical education and improving the health status of residents in eastern North Carolina, a news release said.

“I passionately support the immediately relevant and critical mission of the Brody School of Medicine,” Cunningham said. “Our school represents and embodies the culture of service and leadership that is clearly at the core of East Carolina. The professionals I have worked with have been inspiring in their capabilities and commitment.

“I will choose not to chronicle all of the very positive developments I have witnessed and participated in over the years. Suffice it to say, it has all been incredibly satisfying.”

Cunningham said he intends to take some time away to prepare for teaching and research responsibilities before returning to work as a faculty member in the medical school’s Department of Surgery, with interests in trauma and bariatric surgery.

The search for a new dean is expected to begin immediately.

Prior to joining the Brody School of Medicine, Cunningham was a professor and the chairman of the Department of Surgery at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical University. He is board-certified in general surgery and has held a number of roles throughout his career, including surgeon, professor and hospital chief of staff.

Cunningham served for many years as an educator and a surgeon at East Carolina, Pitt County Memorial Hospital (now Vidant Medical Center) and Bertie County Memorial Hospital.

“Dr. Cunningham has served ECU with distinction, characterized by superb collegiality and a dedication to teamwork,” Chancellor Steve Ballard said. “He will be missed.”

“Dr. Cunningham has served as a thoughtful and inspiring leader for the Brody School of Medicine,” Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for ECU’s Division of Health Sciences, said. “Since 2008, the school has excelled in meeting its mission of improving health care in eastern N.C. by educating outstanding physicians, especially in primary care, and many of whom continue to live and work in North Carolina. He is a respected citizen of Greenville and Pitt County and his dedication to excellence abides in everything he does.”

Cunningham continues to hold several local, regional and national leadership positions, including a recent naming as president-elect of the North Carolina Medical Society. Cunningham was president of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma in 2000 and has been a governor of the American College of Surgeons. He also is a member of the executive board of the National Board of Medical Examiners; a representative to the Group on Diversity and Inclusion at the Association of American Medical Colleges; member and chair of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine; and one of two physicians appointed to the board of the North Carolina State Health Plan.


Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center gets three-year accreditation | WITN

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Feb 022016


Feburary 01, 2016
Gina DiPietro

To view news video on WITN, click here.

A local cancer center has just been granted a three-year, full accreditation designation.

The National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers gave the accreditation to the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center, which is a joint venture between Vidant Medical Center and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

“This accreditation demonstrates LWJCC’s commitment to providing state of the art comprehensive breast cancer care at the highest standards,” said Dr. Jan Wong, professor of surgical oncology at Brody and LWJCC breast program leader. “Our multidisciplinary team works with breast patients to provide high-quality, patient-centered care that is close to home.”

This type of accreditation is only given to centers that have voluntarily committed to provide the highest level of quality breast care and give patients every advantage to fight the disease.


ECU Police Urging Students to Remain Vigilant After Two Assaults | Time Warner Cable News

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Feb 022016


By Dennis Biviano
Friday, January 29, 2016

To view news video on Time Warner Cable News, click here.

GREENVILLE–After two assaults reported on campus over the last two weeks, ECU police says it’s important that officers stay mobile and aware of what’s happening in and around campus.

Additionally, officers are asking students not to put themselves in harm’s way.

“You’re not able to control a criminal’s intent, or their knowledge to commit a crime. But you can control the opportunity, by making sure that you do your best and that you’re very diligent in being aware of your surroundings, making good choices, avoiding bad company,” said ECU Police LT. Chris Sutton.

Police say a female student reported being sexually assaulted at a residence hall in the first incident.

One week later, a male student said he was assaulted and robbed in the area of College Hill Drive.

ECU students we spoke to Friday say, if they are going out at night, they usually travel with friends. And, they would welcome an increased police presence on campus.

“I like the fact that they send out emails and you know, text messages so everyone gets it, and everybody’s aware of what happened in the situation, but you just always have to be careful,” said ECU student Salyma Gbamele.

“Lack of police presence on campus makes me feel a little shaky,” said ECU student Bryant Wilkins-Robinson.

While police continue to considering increasing their presence on and off campus, ECU is focused on its emergency call and camera stations across campus.

Campus officials say although crime rates have decreased over the past 10 years, students, faculty and staff should always be aware of their surroundings.

“At this point, we’re continuing our education programs and making sure students are aware of the incidents that occurred, and how best to keep themselves safe,” said William Koch with ECU’s Environmental Health & Campus Safety department.

ECU officials also say they hope to implement the “LiveSafe” smartphone app in the fall semester. LiveSafe immediately contacts police in case of emergency.


UNCW names provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs | Star News Online

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Feb 022016


By Hannah DelaCourt
February 1, 2016

WILMINGTON – The University of North Carolina Wilmington has filled another top position.

According to a news release, Marilyn Sheerer was named provost and vice chancellor of the Office of Academic Affairs as of Feb. 1. She has served as interim provost since June.

Sheerer has more than 25 years of experience in higher education administration. Prior to coming to UNCW, she was the provost of East Carolina University from 2007 until 2014.

The release stated that while interim provost, Sheerer worked with the Planning, Budget and Accountability Task Force to advise on the alignment of academic budgeting with institutional budgeting practices, developed an action plan for academic affairs and has been involved in the development of UNCW’s strategic plan alongside Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli.

Sheerer will oversee all academic units of the university and serve as chief operating officer of the university.


UNCP poised to lead into future | The Robesonian

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Feb 022016


January 30th, 2016

As a surgeon, I witnessed people at their most vulnerable and celebrated with them as their lives were improved by the power of medicine. Six months ago, I entered a new field — one that impacts people in an equally profound way. As chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, I am humbled, and it is my honor to lead an institution that changes lives through education.

Growing up in Pembroke and later chairing the UNCP Board of Trustees, I have long appreciated the university’s important role and supported its mission. Still, as I expected, settling into the position of chancellor has been demanding. But it’s been an extremely positive experience thanks to everyone who has welcomed me as their new leader. As Robeson County natives, my wife, Rebecca, and I have renewed old friendships and made plenty of new ones in support of UNCP.

Since taking office in July, I’ve reached out to leaders across North Carolina and encouraged the university’s senior leadership to do the same. We haven’t been shy about making sure legislators and state officials understand the value and promise of UNC Pembroke. We worked with the General Assembly to add $23 million to the Connect NC bond package for a new, much-needed School of Business facility, which will accommodate the growing need and demand in this school and help position graduates for the regionally and globally competitive job market. The facility will also support our commitment to improving the local area’s economy and will complement our new Entrepreneurship Incubator. Located in downtown Pembroke, the incubator offers workspace and expertise to support entrepreneurs across a 10-county region stretching from the Sandhills to the coast.

In addition to the highly anticipated opening of the Entrepreneurship Incubator, we celebrated an exciting partnership with East Carolina University that paves the way for our own doctor of Physical Therapy program. And we are in conversations with other universities and community colleges across the state and beyond about opportunities to collaborate. While UNCP expands academic offerings, we are also committed to ensuring our students’ well-being outside the classroom. We broke ground on a state-of-the-art facility to house student health, counseling and psychology services. And we received confirmation the N.C. Department of Transportation is moving forward with a long-awaited $2.8 million roadway project that will improve pedestrian safety and enhance the gateway to our campus.

Looking ahead, my team has an ambitious agenda for UNCP. Our top priority is to ensure we have a culture that puts the needs of our students first while maximizing the public and private resources with which we have been entrusted. We will become an institution of choice. Our administration is stressing the need for communication, collaboration, innovation, accountability and — most importantly — integrity across the campus. We are charging students, faculty and staff to extend their service beyond the confines of campus. Many are already doing this, like faculty who promote literacy in area public schools, staff who donate food and clothing to our CARE Resource Center, and the more than 2,300 students who volunteered almost 18,000 hours last year. I am proud that UNC Pembroke’s faculty and staff led the UNC System in the 2015 State Employees Combined Campaign, with nearly 450 donors raising more than $20,000 for charity.

UNC Pembroke has a solid foundation built through visionary leadership during the past 128 years. This institution is committed to serving our region as it grows to become the university for tomorrow’s students. The generosity of spirit surrounding the university is strong, and I feel it growing each day thanks to your support. As with the power, promise and potential of medicine, education allows people to fulfill their life potential. With your help, we will continue our mission of changing lives through education.

Dr. Robin Cummings is chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.


Editorial: Major change for UNC admissions? | The Charlotte Observer

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Feb 022016


January 31, 2016

Instead of admitting marginally qualified high school graduates to UNC system campuses where they will likely struggle, why not steer them to two years of community college first?

That’s the question leading Republicans in the legislature want answered. They say too many marginal students are racking up student debt and washing out at UNC campuses when they might have been better served attending a two-year school.

No more than 20 percent of UNC’s least-qualified admittees ever graduate from UNC campuses, said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who chairs the House education appropriations committee.

Under the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program, students who accept the community college detour and finish an associate’s degree within three years would be able to complete their bachelor’s degree at the UNC school they originally sought.

Last fall, GOP leaders placed in the state budget a directive for UNC and community college officials to study how such a program might work and to report back by March 1.

It’s a win-win proposition, Horn told the editorial board last week. Students get lower tuition bills, extra preparation for the rigors of UNC work, and an associate’s degree along the way. Even if they drop out, he said, they’d leave with less debt.

UNC system officials are worried about the proposal. We have questions, too. It raises a host of issues with far-reaching consequences for families and universities.

For instance, what yardsticks would be used to determine who qualifies as marginal? Would deferral be a friendly suggestion to the student, or a direct order?

UNC campuses would surely lose funding. How much would they lose, and what would they have to cut to balance shrinking budgets?

UNC officials note that their graduation rates remain above the national average, and that a quarter of their students enter as transfers.

Half of those transfers come from N.C. community colleges, reflecting a growing collaboration already at work between the two systems.

Lawmakers would be well-advised to remember that North Carolina’s college readiness problem begins long before college.

Our high school graduation rate stands at an impressive 85 percent, but nearly half of N.C. high school graduates fail to meet any of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks.

The report lawmakers directed UNC and community college leaders to compile is expected to be unveiled in February. Horn says he’s keeping an open mind.

Given the tense relations of late between legislative and UNC leaders, we hope all GOP leaders will exercise similar restraint, and that parents and students pay close attention to this critical debate.


Editorial: Bond offers two futures | Daily Reflector

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Feb 012016


January 31, 2016

This year’s March 15 North Carolina primary election ballot will offer an important opportunity — to welcome or to squander.

Voters statewide will be asked to approve the issuance of a $2 billion general obligation bond package for new construction, repairs and renovations.

This bond will directly reinforce Pitt County and eastern North Carolina’s educational institutions, local foundations of economic development. It represents the best chance in more than a decade to raise the value of the asset on which the county most depends for its future: its people.

Without hesitation, voters should fill the box marked, “For.”

If approved, the bulk of the locally directed funds from the bond — $98.3 million — will go to East Carolina University and Pitt Community College.

Statewide, an additional $309 million would be dedicated for water and sewer loans and grants; $87.5 million for national guard and public safety; $179 million for agriculture-based projects; and $3 million toward parks for children and veterans with disabilities.

ECU would use its $90 million share to build a new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building, the university’s top priority capital project since 2008.

“This bond package will help us stay on track for a projected job growth of 27 percent in the life sciences by 2022,” Chancellor Steve Ballard said. “Few opportunities come along to create new jobs and spur economic growth of this kind on this scale.”

Pitt Community College, the most crowded of all the state’s 58 community colleges, will develop a precise plan for where it will invest the $8.3 million it would receive from the bond package to get the most benefit. Most will be cost-saving renovations and repairs of existing facilities and infrastructure, PCC President Dennis Massey said this week in a meeting with The Daily Reflector’s editorial board.

“Training and education are in our colleges’ DNA, but we need the facilities and technology to do that, for the benefit of our citizens and our businesses,” he said.

This translates to an opportunity for better-paying jobs that will bring low-income individuals and families to the dream of middle-class home ownership; and a growing local and regional economy built by a more diverse workforce that can actually benefit directly from the results it produces.

The terms and circumstances of the Connect NC bond make it attractive to any stingy taxpayer. North Carolina could pay over 20-25 years for assets that will last more than 50 years.

What the state — and more important, its eastern region — cannot afford to lose is the opportunity to compete in the global market for bioscience and advanced manufacturing industry opportunities at a time when Greenville continues to be situated as the economic hub of the region. Rejecting the Connect NC bond would tell the world watching us, “No thanks, not interested.”


Colleges, universities aim to convince voters of building needs | The News & Observer

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Feb 012016


January 29, 2016

By Jane Stancill

Some classrooms at UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school resemble a 1970s-era high school chemistry lab – old-fashioned lab stations, chalkboards on the wall, sinks obsolete.

Leaders at the university say this is no place to train roughly half the state’s doctors, and they hope voters will agree on March 15.

On the primary ballot, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote yes or no on a proposal to allow the state to borrow $2 billion – with two-thirds going to the state’s public universities and community colleges. The rest would be spent on water and sewer projects, state parks and facilities for agriculture, public safety and the National Guard.

The higher education portion of “Connect NC” – $1 billion for the UNC campuses and $350 million for community colleges – is largely focused on buildings for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and facilities to train nurses and other health care professionals.

One project would spend $68 million toward the replacement of UNC’s Berryhill Hall, headquarters of the state’s largest medical school.

Parts of the seven-story building have been modernized over the years, such as a simulation center with high-tech mannequin patients and small rooms for practice patient exams. But mostly, the windowless classrooms and lecture halls don’t work for the way doctors are trained today, said Dr. Julie Byerley, vice dean for education and chief education officer at the school.

Medical school now isn’t about memorizing facts or passively listening to lectures, she said; it’s about applying knowledge, using technology and working in health care teams to solve problems. And that requires a more open layout, with rooms for collaboration and spaces that can be customized to fit changing instructional needs.

The school is also cramped. It has been given the green light to expand its incoming class to 230 but can’t accommodate more than 180 in Berryhill.

“In Chapel Hill, we don’t have room to produce the doctors that North Carolina needs,” Byerley said. She added that the estimated U.S. physician shortage is 60,000 now, and about one-third of practicing doctors are expected to retire by 2020.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said the campus has nearly $1 billion worth of deferred maintenance with no way to tackle it all at once. “This gives us a chance in a high need area to get something done relatively quickly,” she said of the medical school project, which will also require $22.6 million in private fundraising.

“There’s a critical need for more doctors,” Folt said. “They need to be outstanding doctors. We’ve got the capacity to do it, and we need to really improve the facility.”

Need questioned

The March bond referendum comes 15 years after North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved $3.1 billion for the UNC system and community colleges. At the time, it was the largest higher education bond issue in U.S. history. The money unleashed an astonishing construction boom, with 728 projects across the state, adding 12 million square feet of space. Campuses were transformed, with new and renovated residence halls, classroom buildings, labs, libraries and student services buildings.

In 2000, a $4 million campaign paid for advertising to sell the bonds to the public with a statistic that got the attention of parents and grandparents: Universities were expecting a 30 percent surge in students at the very time that campus buildings were deteriorating from age and neglect. The bonds were approved by more than 70 percent of voters – a margin that even surprised proponents.

This time around, the situation is different. The state is recovering from a recession, and the public may not perceive a need after the building spree of the early 2000s, especially at a time when nearly half of UNC system students are taking some instruction online. University enrollment has flattened in recent years, though some campuses, such as UNC Charlotte, have experienced huge growth. Community colleges experienced a flood of students during the economic downturn, but overall enrollment has since declined.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who advocated for the bonds, has maintained that the borrowing won’t require a tax increase. Last week, North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell issued a debt affordability study that showed the state had ample capacity to handle the Connect NC borrowing. Debt payments will depend on interest rates at the time of borrowing, but added debt service would range from about $30 million to $200 million annually, said Schorr Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the treasurer’s office.

Even with the added borrowing, the state’s overall tax-supported indebtedness would remain flat, because the North Carolina’s previous debt load steadily drops off after 2015.

Despite the projections of comfortable debt capacity, some in McCrory’s party aren’t sold on more borrowing. And a ballot with a competitive Republican presidential race is likely to draw a large turnout of conservative voters.
Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, wrote a commentary in the Beaufort Observer recently declaring the campus spending a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Wow! We have a GOP controlled state government!” he wrote. “What happened to the ‘conservative’ majority? What happened to ‘fiscal responsibility’? What happened to ‘smaller government’?”

He questioned the usage rate of university buildings and whether the community college system had such pressing needs.

“These expenditures of funds are neither necessary for the State to continue serving the people, and certainly not indicative of a group of folks who ran on less government, less spending and less waste in government,” Speciale wrote.

Playing catch-up

Robert Shackleford Jr., president of Randolph Community College, said the state’s 58 colleges are chronically underfunded. Some have heating and air systems that are 30 or 40 years old, he said.

“It’s not to put us way out ahead,” Shackleford said. “It’s to help us catch up.”

The $350 million for community colleges would be divided based on a formula, with amounts ranging from $2.7 million at Carteret to $12.6 million at Wake Tech.

For the universities, each campus would get one substantial project, though N.C. State stands to gain two – $75 million toward an engineering building and $85 million toward a plant sciences building.

The engineering building would nearly complete the College of Engineering’s move to the newer Centennial Campus. The college, with more than 10,000 students, now has three buildings on Centennial. NCSU will try to raise half the cost of the new building.

“That’s a heavy lift for us,” said John Gilligan, executive associate dean in the college. “We’re happy to do it because we’re getting the buy-in for the essential buildings that we need.”

In the past decade, undergraduate enrollment in the engineering school has increased by 22 percent, and graduate enrollment has doubled. The growth is likely to continue.

Gilligan said many undergraduates get multiple job offers upon graduation, and the college spun off six startup companies last year. “What’s really made this state, and certainly this region, is engineering know-how and computer science over the last 50 years,” he said. “We certainly have that entrepreneurial spirit, and we try to build that into our students.”

The new building is slated to house civil, construction and environmental engineering and industrial and systems engineering. Students there will be working on advanced manufacturing, rapid prototyping and transportation systems, to name a few areas. “For this new century, that’s how jobs are going to be created, is with that kind of technology,” Gilligan said. “There’s not many jobs in the old technologies, that’s for sure.”

Engineering is also the focus at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, which already is the nation’s largest producer of African-American engineers. N.C. A&T would build its planned Engineering Research and Innovation Complex with $90 million from the bond issue.

Strategic bonds

Today’s research buildings require high-resolution equipment, magnetic resonance scanners and heavy utility support, said N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold Martin. Now, he said, there’s not enough space or adequate utilities to support that kind of work on a large scale.

Martin tweets about the bonds daily and has been hitting civic clubs with his counterparts at Guilford Tech and UNC Greensboro, making the case that the Triad’s economy stands to gain.

“The bonds this time are much more strategic,” Martin said, targeted to high-demand career areas such as engineering and nursing.

The 2000 bond referendum dramatically changed the aesthetics of A&T’s campus, Martin said, helping it compete for students. “It has driven our brand and quality,” he said.

Folt said the spending from the last bonds helped UNC ramp up its research enterprise. UNC now ranks in the top 10 nationally for research grants.

“A lot of that has to do with the changing face of the campus,” she said. “We’ve been able to stay cutting edge in science because we’ve been able to create cutting-edge buildings.”

Krishan Sivaraj, a first-year UNC medical student from Cary, said his classmates almost never studied in Berryhill until recently when a few small changes were made to add whiteboards and power outlets to lounges. It led to a big increase in the number of students who use the communal study space.

“So imagine what would happen if they redid the whole building and fully renovated it?” he said.

At many medical schools, students are able to follow a professor’s slide presentation on monitors at small group tables, rather than straining to see one projection screen at the front of a large room. So, for example, in a pathology class, looking at cells would be more precise and more interactive.

“Those are the things that our building, in its current state, can’t support,” Sivaraj said. “If this bond goes through, it would be really great for med students at UNC down the road.”


Jeff Lebo working to build a winning basketball program at ECU |The News & Observer

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Feb 012016


January 29,2016
By Ron Morris

GREENVILLE — Sure, he has put on a few pounds since his playing days at North Carolina. He has lost most of his hair, but that occurred when coaching at Auburn. Still, there are no bags under those sparkling blue eyes, and his laughter often reverberates around his office. Truth be known, there is little physical evidence to show that Jeff Lebo has the toughest job in all of men’s college basketball.

He is the head coach at East Carolina, where up-and-coming coaches go to bury their careers, where neglect for the program has been a decades-long commitment, and where the program’s history is so wretched as to be no history at all. Yet Lebo is expected to win.

“I don’t know about that,” Lebo said – with a hearty laugh – this past week when asked if he, indeed, faces an impossible task of building a winning program at a football school in a basketball state, one where he operates in the extended shadow of Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State.

Lebo smiles and laughs often because he believes ECU already has made progress toward the goal of being a consistent winner, and will continue to take steps in that direction. There are many factors that have Lebo and Jeff Compher, ECU’s athletic director, convinced it can be done, not the least of which was the program’s jump a season ago to the American Athletic Conference.

“Our story is evolving,” Compher said. “The biggest part of that evolution for us is the American Athletic Conference and what that means for us, and the opportunity it presents to us. Being a member of a conference with schools that have won recent national championships like UConn, perennial powers like Temple and Cincinnati and Memphis, SMU and Houston, to be able to have those schools in your league and opportunity to play those schools is something I see as a huge value to us.”

The new conference affiliation – and the TV exposure that comes with it – allows Lebo to expand ECU’s recruiting base outside North Carolina, where it always has been impossible to go against the Big Four programs in landing talent. Also, the addition in 2013 of a $17 million practice building and athletics hall of fame represents a significant upgrade in facilities. An improved atmosphere at Minges Coliseum has ECU’s football-leaning fan base slowly coming on board. Finally, having a head coach in his sixth season with a contract that extends to 2020-21 lends leadership stability to a program that historically has been nothing but unstable.

TV Exposure

Neither Lebo nor Compher opt to use the word “challenging,” when discussing ECU men’s basketball. They prefer “opportunity,” and that choice of words is best exemplified by the athletics department’s move in 2013 from Conference USA to the Big East Conference, which immediately broke apart and led in 2014 to the Pirates joining the AAC.

The move initially was made for football purposes during the great reshuffling of conferences across the country. Now it could be that basketball benefits most from the jump, most notably in the strength of the new conference. The most recent RPI has the AAC as the sixth-best league, compared to Conference USA’s No. 21 ranking.

As members of its previous conference, ECU’s games were rarely televised. The only ESPN games occurred for ECU when a North Carolina or N.C. State was kind enough to add the Pirates to their home schedules. This season, 25 of ECU’s regular-season games will be televised.

By gaining that kind of national exposure, high school recruits across the country now can recognize that ECU plays in a high-level league. That allows ECU to expand its recruiting base out of the mid-Atlantic region into the northeast and further south into Florida. Two years ago, talented guard Lance Tejada of Pompano Beach, Fla., chose ECU over Florida State, Miami and Connecticut.

That does not mean ECU will abandon its North Carolina roots. In that same recruiting class with Tejada was one of the top guards in the state, B.J. Tyson out of Wadesboro. Then this past recruiting class included forward Kentrell Barkley from Northern Durham High School. He selected ECU over Wichita State, Cincinnati, UNC Wilmington and Charlotte, and has developed into one of the AAC’s top freshmen.

“I felt I could come here and change the culture of the program and do some big things here,” Barkley said minutes after his 3-point play with 1 second remaining Wednesday gave ECU a 64-61 victory over Temple. The Pirates (10-12, 2-7 AAC) lost to Houston Saturday 97-93.

“It’s a building process. We have to keep working hard and try to change the culture.”

Football School

That culture has historically been one of great indifference toward men’s basketball. Long ago, likely during the Clarence Stasavich days of the 1960s, ECU made a decision to concentrate its athletic efforts on football. That is where the bulk of the athletic department’s money and resources have been expended ever since, and the reason ECU is largely recognized as a football school.

Although Minges Coliseum was constructed in 1968 and renovated in 1994, that had been the extent of commitment to men’s basketball facilities until 2013. Under athletics director Terry Holland, a much-needed practice facility for the men’s and women’s program was built using private donations only.

“That is a sign for our future and why it is going to continue to get brighter,” Compher said. “We’re not taking a back seat from a facility perspective, whereas in the past that did weigh us down a little bit.”

When Lebo arrived on the scene, his team had a difficult time getting into Minges Coliseum for practice because it shared the court area with women’s basketball and volleyball. Occasionally, the baskets were not lowered for practice. Lebo often took his team five miles away to practice at a gym in the North Campus Crossing apartment complex. During the off-season, Lebo’s players had no place to practice and play pick-up games.

“That tells you basketball is important,” Lebo says of the new facility. “That is the thing we fight in being relevant here. We fought when I first came here, ‘Why would you want to come here? Look at these facilities.’ You’re like, what are you going to say.”

Minges Maniacs

Now Lebo has something to sell recruits, along with an improving atmosphere at home games. In 48 seasons of play at now 7,100-seat Minges Coliseum, ECU has played to a mere 12 sellout crowds.

The most recent of those sellouts was during ECU’s 2013 run to the tournament championship. So excited was Lebo to see a packed arena for ECU’s semifinal game against Evansville, he deviated from his pregame routine to snap pictures for posterity sake. It was an atmosphere Lebo and his players will not soon forget.

Minges is one of the rare college gyms that provide student seating for up to 1,500 “Minges Maniacs” all around the lower bowl. So, it can be an intimidating place for opponents to play. During the under eight-minute timeout in the second half, basketball has carried a football tradition to the court. A “no quarter” is declared, and instead of raising a red flag like at the football stadium, a cheerleader parades a large pirate flag around the court as a video spells out that the Pirates will now call for an unconditional surrender of their opponent.

It is the kind of atmosphere Lebo envisioned when he was hired in 2010 after being fired following six seasons at Auburn. Because his wife, Melissa, hails from nearby Williamston, Lebo was keenly interested in the ECU job. He previously had unsuccessfully pursued the job as a 29-year-old assistant coach at South Carolina.

On both occasions, Lebo said he heard from coaching friends that ECU was a dead-end job. That he could not possibly win there. That he should study the history of the place before he pursued the position.

Meant to Be

The history told Lebo that ECU had managed 13 winning seasons in nearly a half-century of competing at the highest NCAA level before he arrived. ECU’s only tournament championships came in 1972 in the Southern Conference and 1993 in the Colonial Athletic Association, leading to the program’s only NCAA tournament appearances. Both ended with a loss in the first round.

Perhaps the most stunning and telling number is ECU’s meager three wins against ranked opponents in program history against 66 losses. There is a reason ECU has gone through 13 head coaches in 52 seasons of NCAA Division I basketball. That is a new coach every four years on average, and three fewer than Duke, UNC and N.C. State have employed total over the same time period.

By remaining six seasons, Lebo already has given some stability to the program. He is two seasons shy of the longest tenure in program history. With five more wins, he will be the ECU leader in its Division I history.

It helps that Lebo wants to be at ECU. This is not a stepping stone to a position at a major program. When he sits in his office at the new practice facility, he talks about his love for eastern North Carolina and Greenville. He believes he was meant to land at ECU.

On Lebo’s desk sits a wooden skull that he purchased a few years ago at the coast. He says any visitor to his office who does not believe in the future of the program could face the curse of the “pirate” skull.

Truth is, the skull could also represent the heads of many coaches, including the likes of Bill Herrion, Dave Odom, Eddie Payne, Ricky Stokes and Mack McCarthy, who came and failed at ECU.

That is precisely why Lebo has the toughest job in men’s college basketball.


ECU students doing all they can to make 10th street pedestrian friendly |WNCT

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Feb 012016


January 29,2016

To view news video on WNCT, click here

GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT)- East Carolina University students are doing all they can to keep their community safe.

For months, the SGA has attended meetings and public forums trying to make a portion of 10th street pedestrian friendly. They want pedestrian signs, a traffic light, and speed limit reductions near Copper Beech Townhomes” and 33 East apartments.

In October, ECU student Samuel Mayo died trying to cross 10th street. Now, his family has started a petition asking for the same things s-g-a is working to correct. SGA vice president Jenny Betz says this part of 10th street is dangerous and something needs to be done.

“We don’t want another tragedy to happen, we’re in a reactive state right now let’s make sure that we can accomplish this before anything else happens,” Jenny Betz said.

So far the petition has more than 1 thousand signatures.


Raleigh man recovering from cancer to get dream trip with his mom to Super Bowl | The News & Observer

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Feb 012016


January 29, 2016

By Mechelle Hankerson

To view the video on the News and Observer, click here


Grant Lafoon is slowly regaining his balance. That will be important for all the cheering he plans to do for the Carolina Panthers at the Super Bowl next Sunday.

Lafoon, 26, has spent the past year dealing with stage four brain cancer. He has struggled to walk, hear and talk.

The good news is that he’s in remission now. And the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation of Cary is making that news even better by sending Lafoon and his mom, Melinda Pupp, to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.

The foundation started working on getting the tickets to the game about three months ago, long before the Super Bowl teams were decided.

Lafoon and Pupp knew he had received the trip even before the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game Jan. 24 and earned a spot in the big game.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” she said of the moment they realized their beloved Panthers would be in the Super Bowl they would be attending. “I don’t think either of us slept all night.”

Watching football has always been a tradition of sorts for Lafoon and his mom. They often traveled to Panthers games in Charlotte, and she held season tickets to East Carolina University games in Greenville. Lafoon graduated from ECU.

When Lafoon was in school at Sanderson High in Raleigh, he played football. Always close with his mother, Lafoon had a tradition of walking off the field with her after every Sanderson game.

After graduating from college, Lafoon had just moved back to Raleigh to start his career as a construction manager with Meritage Homes a few years ago when he realized he couldn’t hear out of his right ear. Then he noticed he had double vision. Soon, there were headaches, nausea and more pain on the right side of his body.

After two years of tests, doctors finally found the pingpong-ball-sized tumor on his brain stem. The best treatment was aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, doctors told him.

Pupp, who had moved to Wilmington, came back to Raleigh to help Lafoon through the treatment. She moved him into a bigger apartment and took off work to be his full-time caregiver.

“Through it all, he kept me smiling,” Pupp said of Lafoon’s four months of treatment. “It was such a joy to go through that experience with him being so positive.”

The Fill Your Bucket List Foundation helps adults with cancer do things on their “bucket lists” – lists of things to do during their lifetime.

“We started the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation to make dreams come true,” said founder Peggy Gibson Carroll. “This is one of the most exciting wishes we have been able to grant so far.”

Lafoon and Pupp will leave next Friday on their trip, in which they hope to see the Panthers defeat the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7.

Although Lafoon is excited to go to the Super Bowl, he also sees it as a reward for his mom for all she’s done for him.

When it came time for Lafoon to receive a bucket list wish of his choosing, Pupp encouraged him to pick something that he wants and not worry about anyone else, she said.

Other items on his list that he considered included visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., with his family or taking his friends on a snowboarding trip to Colorado.

But he’s still recovering from symptoms caused by his tumor, and he wouldn’t be physically able to do some things on the list. The Super Bowl was something he can do, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“All signs were pointing to the Super Bowl,” Lafoon said.

Pupp figured her son would pick his friends or his siblings to enjoy his experience.

Instead, Lafoon texted her one day at work to let her know she would be coming with him.

“She dropped everything to move in with me, so I’m taking her to the Super Bowl,” Lafoon said. “Just me and my mom.”


Strong arm robbery prompts ECU crime alert|WITN

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Feb 012016


January 31, 2016

To view news video on WITN, click here

East Carolina University police are investigating after a student was robbed on campus Sunday morning.

Police say it was around 10:40 a.m. Sunday when a male student reported that he was robbed by two men. The student said the robbery took place around 12:20 a.m. He says the two men took his wallet and cell phone. There were no suspect descriptions available.

The strong arm robbery happened south of Messick and McGinnis Theater.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the ECU Police at 252-328-6787. Information can be provided anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 252-758-7777.


Tom Ross, former UNC president, headed to Duke | The News & Observer

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Feb 012016


January 29, 2016

By Jane Stancill

UNC system President Emeritus Tom Ross, who stepped down earlier this month, is going to Duke University.

Ross has been named the first Terry Sanford Distinguished Fellow at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. He’ll start Feb. 1 and the fellowship will last at least through the spring semester, according to a news release from Duke.

Ross remains a tenured faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill and is slated to return to the School of Government there after a one-year sabbatical.

The fellowship and accompanying Sanford lecture were created to attract “men and women of the highest personal and professional stature,” such as presidents, prime ministers and cabinet members, chief executive officers of corporations, artists and scholars.

At Duke, Ross will work with the university’s new Center for Politics, Leadership, Innovation and Service to launch a bipartisan project aimed at changing the way political district lines are drawn in the United States.

Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School, said Ross will be instrumental to a new effort by the school to have more of an impact in North Carolina. The fellowship and lecture are endowed by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.

Ross, a former judge and former president of Davidson College, led the UNC system for five years. He was forced out by the UNC Board of Governors in what some observers said was a politically motivated move.


Doing Better: Healthy HBCUs key to NC’s economic future | The News & Observer

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Feb 012016


January 30, 2016

Doing Better: Healthy HBCUs key to NC’s economic future

By Christopher Gergen and Stephen Martin

Few states in the nation can claim as rich a history as North Carolina when it comes to historically black colleges and universities. Yet even as we celebrate their past contributions, the future is less certain.

Across the United States there are 107 HBCUS, 11 of which are in North Carolina. The first HBCU started in the South was Shaw University. Dedicated to training black “freedmen” theology and biblical interpretation under the name “The Raleigh Institute,” the school expanded to serve women in 1866, and within a decade became a full post-secondary institution under the banner of Shaw University.

Shaw is credited with having the nation’s first four-year medical school for African-Americans and the first university to build a female dormitory on a co-ed campus. Additionally, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was launched at Shaw, going on to become a highly influential force in the civil rights movement.

Shaw is also considered the birthplace of HBCUs in North Carolina. North Carolina Central University, Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University were all founded by Shaw graduates. North Carolina A&T was housed at Shaw during its first year of operation before moving to Greensboro and becoming one of the first land grant HBCUs – following a congressional act mandating “a separate college for the colored race.” A&T now graduates more African-American engineers than any other college in the country.

Down the road, 70 emancipated slaves started their elementary and secondary schooling in an unplastered basement at Warnersville Methodist Church in 1873. Within five years a group of freed slaves organized to buy a permanent site in central Greensboro for the school. Hearing the news, New York businessman Lyman Bennett provided $10,000 to help build the campus of what later became Bennett College. Bennett, which has a number of distinguished alumni, transitioned into a women’s college in 1926 and remains one of only two HBCUs nationally that enroll women only.

Significant challenges

In Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University began as the Freedmen’s College of North Carolina in 1867. In 1924, James B. Duke established the Duke Endowment and included JCSU as one of its four beneficiary universities. Five years ago, the Duke Endowment awarded $35 million to JCSU – one of the largest gifts ever for an HBCU – to support science programs, scholarships, and capital improvements, including a 62,000-square-foot science center.

Today, JCSU is also helping catalyze the revitalization of Charlotte’s historic West End with Mosaic Village, a $25 million development featuring street-front retail and 80 apartment-style suites for students.

All told, HBCUs in North Carolina enroll almost 40,000 students, and NCCU and A&T are the seventh and second biggest HBCUs in the country respectively. But enrollment has seen a worrying decline in the past few years.

A significant challenge is that many students at HBCUs come from lower income families, with over 70 percent of them receiving Pell Grants (a federal grant for students below a specified income threshold).

To help pay for college, many families take out loans. But in 2011, credit eligibility for the Parent PLUS loan tightened because many families were defaulting or getting increasingly burdened by debt (half of all HBCU graduates report having more than $25,000 in loan debt). As a result, HBCU students with these loans dropped 45 percent the following year.

The consequence: enrollment, retention and graduation rates have dipped significantly for most of the HBCUs across the state. Elizabeth City State University saw an enrollment decline of 27 percent from 2010 to 2013, and Shaw saw a 24 percent drop. Shaw’s graduation rate for 2013 was 29 percent.

Financial strain

With low endowments and high dependence on tuition dollars, HBCUs are experiencing serious financial strain – leading to conversations about potential closures or mergers. That’s an alarming prospect given the value HBCUs play in our state.

A study by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute shows that HBCUs produce a disproportionate number of African-Americans with science and technology-related degrees. HBCU students also cite a more supportive learning environment than their peers at predominately white institutions. These institutions are economic anchors as well within their communities – leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact and tens of thousands of job, according to a study by the Institute for Minority Economic Development.

Having a robust and diverse talent pipeline in our state is critical, and HBCUs help fill that crucial role. Getting them on solid financial footing will help them – and new generations of students – realize their full potential.


Second Virginia Tech student charged in the death of Blacksburg 13-year-old | The Washington Post

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Feb 012016


January 31, 2016

By T. Rees Shapiro, DeNeen L. Brown and Fenit Nirappil

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Two Virginia Tech students from the Washington area have been charged in connection with the abduction and slaying of a 13-year-old Blacksburg, Va., girl, who may have met one of the suspects online and who had been missing for four days before her body was found on the Virginia-North Carolina line.

Virginia Tech student David Eisenhauer, 18, of Columbia, Md., was arrested early Saturday at his dorm in Blacksburg and charged with abduction. Hours later, he was charged with first-degree murder after Virginia State Police located the remains of Nicole Madison Lovell on Route 89, in Surry County, N.C., along the Virginia line, Blacksburg police said.

Blacksburg police Lt. Mike Albert said that Eisenhauer abducted and killed the 13-year-old girl. Albert said that police determined that Eisenhauer knew her but declined to comment on the nature of their relationship.

Law enforcement officials on Sunday arrested a second Virginia Tech student in the case. Natalie Marie Keepers, 19, of Laurel, Md., was arrested on felony charges Sunday morning, alleging that she helped to dispose of the body, police said.

“Eisenhauer used this relationship to his advantage to abduct the 13-year-old and then kill her,” Albert said at a news conference in Blacksburg. “Keepers helped Eisenhauer dispose of Nicole’s body.”

Police said Keepers, who was arrested off campus, was also charged with a misdemeanor for her alleged accessory role in the crime after the fact.

Eisenhauer and Keepers, both engineering students, are being held without bond at the Montgomery County, Va., jail.

Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson said the police investigation was swift.

“This has been an extremely fast investigation within the just past 12 hours,” Wilson said in a news release. “And we still have a great deal to do as there are multiple interviews to conduct and evidence” to collect and analyze “as we reconstruct the timeline of events leading up to Nicole’s tragic death.”

The girl’s body was transported to the office of the chief medical examiner in Roanoke for an autopsy, police said.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said divers Sunday were searching a pond on Virginia Tech’s campus for evidence in the case. Geller would not comment on what they were looking for.

The girl had been missing from her home since around midnight Wednesday. Her mother, Tammy Weeks, said a nightstand had been pushed up against the girl’s bedroom door and the window was ajar.

“She picked it up and put it against the door,” Weeks said. “The window was cracked when I went in.”

Nicole’s family had pleaded for the public’s help in finding her, because she needed daily medication after a liver transplant.

Weeks said police came to her home Saturday afternoon to tell her that her daughter’s body had been found.

“I’m shocked,” said Weeks, 43, a cashier at a local department store. “I’m hurt. It’s unbelievable.”

News of Nicole’s death spread late Saturday afternoon, shortly before an evening prayer vigil planned for her at the apartment complex where she lived.

Weeks said her daughter had survived a liver transplant, the staph bacterial infection MRSA and lymphoma when she was 5.

“God got her through all that, and she fought through all that, and he took her life,” she said. “That evil bastard took her life.”

Nicole, the youngest of four, was in seventh grade at Blacksburg Middle School, her mother said. Nicole had two brothers and one sister.

Nicole, who was born in Radford, Va., loved pandas and decorated her room with the stuffed bears and pillows covered with the “Minions” animated movie characters, her mother said. Her favorite color was blue.

“When she grew up, she wanted to be on ‘American Idol,’ ” Weeks said. “She loved to sing and dance. She loved anything to do with 5 Seconds of Summer. She loved country music, too — Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty. She liked Jason Aldean, Sam Hunt, all of them. I took her to a Brad Paisley concert when they had it at Tech.”

She said Nicole was bullied on social media and at school, particularly about her appearance.

“She was a typical student,” Weeks said. “She didn’t like going to school, because she was bullied. She was telling me that girls were saying she was fat and talking about her scars from her transplant.”

Nicole often cried, asking to stay home from school, her mother said. “We discussed it with teachers, but it got worse. It got so bad I wouldn’t send her.”

But the bullying, her mother said, continued on social media. “They can’t control those kids on social media,” Weeks said.

It was on social media where Nicole may have met Eisenhauer recently, Weeks said police told her. “That’s all I know,” she said. “It was some off-the-wall site I never heard of.”

Nicole wrote frequently on Facebook with romantic updates about her search for young love.

“First Kiss” she wrote on May 3, 2014.

“They say that Disney World is the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Obviously they’ve never been in your arms,” she posted on July 28, 2015.

On Jan. 1 at 3:35 a.m., Nicole posted a short message to a Facebook group called “Teen Dating and Flirting.” Captioned on a close-up selfie, the white flash of her cellphone camera illuminating her cheeks, she wrote: “Cute or nah.”

The message received 304 replies. Many of the comments were spiteful, not unlike the kind of bullying that is pervasive on social media.

“You’re very round,” one person wrote.

“And no not cute,” another commented.

On her Instagram account, Nicole wrote: “Its none of your business who I date.”

On Sunday, a commenter on the Facebook page of a group that calls itself Justice for Children Without Voices, which has been following Nicole’s disappearance, noted that one of the forums she had frequented was being shut down.

“ ‘Teen Dating and Flirting’ has been shut down! The page will take a full 24 hours to be removed. Many of you know this is one of the many groups and sites Nicole Lovell was a part of. Our children are in danger when exposed to this type of stuff online. We had personally began to reach out to parents of ‘real children’ in this group. We beg every parent here to please go through your child’s social media, pay attention who’s on their pages (FB, Instagram, KIK) to just name a few and let’s start protecting our children and teaching them right and wrong. It’s ok to be the ‘mean’ parent, they can thank us later.”

School officials would not comment on whether Nicole was bullied.

“When it comes to Nicole’s activities at school, the law precludes me from talking about that,” said Brenda Drake, public information officer for the Montgomery County, Va., schools system, which has 9,600 students and 20 schools. Drake said that Blacksburg schools will have additional grief counseling for students and teachers this week. “We have special places for students to go to sit and talk and share and memories of Nicole,” Drake said. We are doing everything we can to provide support for teachers, students and Nicole’s family.”

Drake said the school system has an anti-bullying program. “All teachers are trained to look for signs of bullying,” she said. “Students are encouraged to reach out and talk about bullying.”

Blacksburg police said that new developments in the case late Friday led to Eisenhauer and his arrest Saturday at his residence on campus.

The developments were unspecified, and it was also unknown what led searchers to Nicole’s body.

On Sunday, Eisenhauer’s dorm had been cleared of any reference to him, including his name tag, which had been removed from his door. Police officers roamed the halls. Eisenhauer’s name also had been removed from the university’s cross-country team’s online roster.

During high school, Eisenhauer was an elite athlete and track star. In 2014, while he was a junior at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County, Md., he won the Class 3A Maryland title for the 3,200-meter race.

At one point, he was named Athlete of the Week by a Baltimore television station and heralded as one of the top runners in the state and a stellar student.

Joe Keating, who was Eisenhauer’s co-captain on the Wilde Lake cross-country team, said members of the team were dismayed to hear the news of his arrest.

“We’re all just in utter shock,” Keating said. “We can’t get our heads around it.”

Eric Smart, who was also on the cross-country team, said the accusations against Eisenhauer were devastating. He said that his former teammate was focused on academics and his career. “I never saw any public signs of violence,” Smart said in a message.

Eisenhauer’s parents did not return phone calls seeking comment. No one answered the door at their home in Howard County.

Keepers was a 2015 graduate of Hammond High School in Howard County, a spokesman for the school system confirmed.

According to a Facebook page and LinkedIn profile believed to belong to Keepers, she wants to work in aerospace engineering after graduation. Her LinkedIn profile says she interned with NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in 2014.

No one answered the door Sunday at Keepers’s parents’ home in Laurel.

A next-door neighbor said that Natalie Keepers was the oldest of four children. “There was nothing remotely remarkable about them,” said the neighbor, Lee Correll. “It’s your standard middle-class family.”

On Sunday, Weeks said that she was at the funeral home, making arrangements for Nicole. “We can’t believe this happened,” she said. “You never think it would happen to you.”

Nicole’s father, David Lovell, could not be reached Sunday, but he left a note on a Facebook page that had been created to support the search for his daughter.

On Saturday, Lovell wrote that he was devastated “to learn that my daughter has been found dead! I’m so in shock I know nothing more to say, I’m broken!”

A few hours later, he posted a photo of Nicole surrounded by a blue background, with the words, “In the arms of angels.”


U. of Alabama activists renew a long conversation about race | The Washington Post

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Feb 012016


January 30, 2016

By Nick Anderson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Colleges nationwide are reckoning anew with race and diversity this school year as students demand steps to curb incidents of hate and discrimination and promote a more inclusive campus culture. Protesters toppled leaders of the University of Missouri, who were perceived as unresponsive to their concerns. They also won agreement from Princeton to review how it honors Woodrow Wilson, a university president and U.S. president who was an advocate for racial segregation.

Here at the University of Alabama, a group of students and faculty has joined the movement. They call themselves “We are Done.”

“The University of Alabama is at a crucial period in its history,” the group says on its Facebook page. “While behind us lies decades of intolerance, exclusivity and inequity, in front of us lies the opportunity to create a campus that is welcoming of all students.”

The Alabama student news organization the Crimson White reported in November that the group had 11 demands for the university’s administration. Among them: the creation of a division of diversity and equity within the administration, to be headed by a vice president or vice provost; and the removal of the names of white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan, Confederate generals and eugenicists from classroom buildings, or the creation of markers to show the history of racism connected to those names.

University President Stuart R. Bell announced on Nov. 18, as the demands were released, that he would direct a strategic planning council to look at the addition of a “central diversity officer” and the development of a new diversity plan.

“While we are doing some good things, there is much work to be done to ensure a welcoming and inclusive campus where students from all backgrounds feel they belong and can be successful,” Bell said at the time. It was a crucial moment for the president, who took office in July. Bell, a native of Texas and a mechanical engineer, was previously provost at Louisiana State University.

The university in December took down a portrait of John Tyler Morgan from inside the namesake Morgan Hall, an academic building on the quad. Morgan, a brigadier general in the Confederacy who served in the U.S. Senate after the Civil War, was known as an ardent advocate of white supremacy and racial segregation.

Bell told The Washington Post that this conversation with students and faculty was crucial.

“If we don’t have the inclusion and diversity piece, we’ll never get to where we need to be,” he said. Whether the university will rename any of its buildings remains unclear. “I don’t know that that will come out of the conversation,” Bell said.

Amanda Bennett, 21, a senior from Atlanta, is one of the organizers of We are Done. She said activists are tracking the administration’s actions closely. She said their questions are these: “Are you actually making change? Or is it just lip service?”

Bennett said she and others took note of a large historical painting the university unveiled in November inside Gorgas Library, an imposing neoclassical building on the main quad. The canvas depicts an idyllic scene of what the school might have looked like in the early 1830s, about the time of its founding in the antebellum era, before Union troops torched the campus to the ground at the end of the Civil War. A happy white student is at the heart of the piece, waving goodbye to well-wishers, as an enslaved carriage driver sits off to the side. A plaque says the artwork depicts “Alabama’s First Great University.”

“I personally don’t really care for it,” Bennett said of the painting. The charged racial imagery of privilege and enslavement is “almost an insult,” she said.

Race is a long topic at this university. About 12 percent of its 37,000 students are African American, and one of them is the student government president. Elliot Spillers, 21, a senior from Pelham, Ala., last year became the first African American elected to that post since the mid-1970s.

For 125 years after the university’s founding in 1831, black students were barred from attending. The first African American student at Alabama, Autherine Lucy, was admitted in 1956 and expelled three days later, “for her own safety” in response to threats from a mob, according to an official university history.

On June 11, 1963, Gov. George C. Wallace made his famous “stand in the schoolhouse door” on this campus to protest the enrollment of African American students Vivian Malone and James Hood. A plaque dated July 2004 marks the spot of this scene at Foster Auditorium, noting that the segregationist governor stepped aside to let the two students sign up for class after President John F. Kennedy mobilized the National Guard to enforce a court order.

Outside the auditorium, more of this history from the civil rights movement is marked by a clock tower adorned with commemorative plaques in what is called Malone-Hood Plaza. That space is now a gathering point for civil rights activism in the 21st century. The We are Done group convened a rally there in November as it announced its demands.


N.C. speaker meets with Vidant officials | The Daily Reflector

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Jan 292016


By Ginger Livingston
January 28, 2016

The leadership of the state House of Representatives toured the East Carolina Heart Institute on Thursday and met with Vidant Health Care officials and leaders of the local medical community.

The discussions focused on the unique service Vidant Health and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine are providing residents of eastern North Carolina, said state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

“We realize the importance of what is happening here and that we are one state together and we need to invest here and do all we can to see this hospital and medical school expand,” Moore said. “The cancer center being built is really going to do a lot.”

Moore was joined by Pitt County’s two Republican representatives, Susan Martin of Wilson and Dr. Greg Murphy of Greenville; Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, chairman of both the House Health and Human Services Appropriations committee and Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services; and Rep. John R. Bell IV, R-Wayne.

Bell’s four-county district includes three hospitals. He also serves on the Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee which Martin chairs.

In recent years the General Assembly adopted legislation that limited the Medicaid reimbursements Brody and the UNC School of Medicine could receive. Martin and the local delegation managed to restore part of that funding for Brody when they showed legislators Brody received no revenues from Vidant and much of its care was not reimbursable.

“We are making progress that (legislators) are recognizing (Brody and Vidant) are very different models in education and care,” Martin said. There are continuing challenges in the funding models for health and the shift in federal funding.

“We are at a place where we need to come together and solve the problems for the people. A collaborative approach of how can we have a public/private partnership and meet the community needs,” Martin said.

Part of Thursday’s discussion focused on Brody’s success in graduating primary care doctors who remain in North Carolina, Martin said. They discussed the need to increase Brody’s class sizes so more doctors graduate and fill the growing physician shortage, she said.

As the General Assembly continues to work through Medicaid reform legislators will consider possible tweaks to the plan, Moore said.

Last year’s legislation will allow the state to contract with private companies which will offer pre-paid health plans for Medicaid recipients. Regional networks consisting of hospitals and doctors also will offer regional plans.

Martin said Vidant Health’s model is unique because the system consists of multiple small hospital and primary care offices operating throughout the region.

Moore said he anticipates discussions will continue on a proposal to eliminate or modify the state’s certificate-of-need laws.

The state requires hospitals and other medical providers to receive permission from the Department of Health and Human Services before adding more beds, starting certain medical services and acquiring, replacing, or adding facilities and equipment.

Legislation repealing the laws was introduced last year. The main sponsor, state Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said medical costs could be reduced by opening the marketplace to competition.

“From what I’ve heard from hospitals and the physicians, if you simply abolish the certificate-of-need, you are going to find facilities, sometimes temporary facilities, open up to provide the, quote, high-profit services, and that is going to make it very difficult for a hospital that has a large amount of charity care to be sustainable,” Moore said.

“It’s about making sure you don’t have resources put all in one area, like urban areas, to the detriment of the rural areas. I certainly think there is a future for certificates-of-need.”

“I’m for free markets as well, but hospitals have challenges that other entities don’t: 24-hour coverage, the charity care that has to be done, so it’s not an apples to apple comparison,” Dobson said.

Martin said she thinks the certificate-of-need process could be reformed, through the reduction of regulations, to allow certain specialized medical needs, such as more psychiatric beds, to come online.


‘Dance 2016’ | The Daily Reflector

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Jan 292016


Thursday, January 28, 2016

It wasn’t difficult for dancers in choreographer Ji-Eun Lee’s piece to put themselves in the right mindset.

The contemporary dance, “A Sacred Dream,” is one of seven pieces in the ECU School of Theater and Dance’s Dance 2016, which opened at the school’s McGinnis Theatre on Thursday and continues through Tuesday.

Lee, an award-winning Korean choreographer working in residence at ECU this year, is one of three new choreographers to the event. Drew Yowell, a senior at ECU, is in three of the dances for the Dance 2016 program, including serving as an understudy in Lee’s piece. He cites “A Sacred Dream” as his favorite of the three he’s been working on, both because of the collaboration that helped to create it and the raw emotion that goes into it.

“That’s the piece that we worked on the longest,” he said. “The creation process was great because, unlike the other two, we had more of a say in the choreography. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you don’t have a say in the choreography, but it was more of a collaborative effort, which was excellent.

“It was freeing. We stuck to the general idea and the general choreography, but it helped us to feel — not necessarily more comfortable, but more confident with what we were doing. That was a great thing.”

The concept behind the piece involves having a dream taken away, which Yowell said is very relatable to dancers, who are always just a misstep away from what could be a career-ending injury.

“That’s very close to home because we are always basically in danger because if we get injured or sick, we’re out of the piece,” he said. “It’s not like you can still show up to work with a broken leg.”

He added that the raw, naked effect of the piece really sets it apart from the others in the program.

“The stage is completely blank; you get to see all the lights. There are no curtains; there’s nothing. It’s raw emotion,” he said. “The dancers don’t do any sort of facial expression. They have to physically embody what they’re dancing. Even as an understudy, just watching it, I cry almost every time I see it. It’s so great.”

Yowell is also in Richard Smith’s “Come Snow, Sleet, or Shine,” a jazz piece, as well as the modern-style ballet, “Rhapsody,” by Zalman Grinberg.

Other pieces in the program include a more traditional ballet by Galena Panova, a jazz piece by Tommi Galaska, tap by Dirk Lumbard and a contemporary piece by John Dixon.

Smith, a former ECU student and now executive director of the Inaside Chicago Dance, created “Come Snow, Sleet, or Shine” specifically for ECU.

“It’s all about the ups and downs of life, and how it’s a constant flow,” Yowell said. “Though it may seem bad at times, it will always get better, and there’s always going to be something in the future. It’s one of the more optimistic pieces that we have this year.”

Grinberg’s “Rhapsody” is a different take on ballet from what Greenville audiences are used to seeing.

“I think it’s a great experience for the college because there is a distinction there between classical ballet and modern ballet,” said Sean Armstrong, a guest artist from the Carolina Ballet who serves as one of the dance’s principals, along with ECU student Katherine Corbett. “More newer ballet choreographers are blending the two, but this is one of the first pieces I’ve seen — especially in this area — that actually does a good job. It’s still a ballet piece, but this is much more contemporary, and I think the audiences will appreciate that.”


Privacy paramount for chancellor search panel | The Daily Reflector

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Jan 292016


By Holly West
Thursday, January 28, 2016

Criticism of the UNC system’s selection of President-Elect Margaret Spellings is prompting officials to prioritize privacy for candidates during East Carolina University’s chancellor search.

Lucy Leske, a senior partner and co-managing director with search firm Witt/Kieffer, told Chancellor Search Committee members at a meeting Thursday in Mendenhall Student Center that they will have to be more careful than ever about protecting the identity of finalists.

Once the committee has conducted initial interviews, five or six applicants will be invited to ECU’s campus for a visit. To avoid having to give public notice of those visits, the committee will not meet with the applicants as a group. Rather, select members of the committee will meet one-on-one with each candidate.

This policy is consistent with what other UNC system schools generally have done when hiring top officials.

North Carolina law requires public bodies like chancellor search committees to provide public notice of official meetings. An official meeting is defined as any gathering of “a majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business.”

Leske said public notice of such visits can scare candidates away because many are in high-ranking positions and do not want it getting out that they are looking into other jobs. The persistent criticisms of Spellings since the announcement of her appointment in March, including the interruption of Monday’s Board of Governors meeting by chanting, table-pounding demonstrators, have only increased that risk, Leske said.

“People might look at it and say, ‘Is that going to happen? Am I going to be part of that noise?,’” she said.

The public likely will not get any information about the candidates until April 15, when Spellings is expected to present her top choice to the Board of Governors.

Chairman Steve Jones said the committee is on track to meet that deadline. In response to a committee member’s question about what they could say publicly about the search, Jones said they were free to let people know it was on schedule.

“The process is going as planned and our search firm is feeling very encouraged about the applicants,” he said.

During their Thursday meeting, committee members discussed the rubric they will use to evaluate and narrow down candidates. The rubric was developed by Witt/Kieffer based on the leadership statement approved by the committee in December.

While reading each candidate’s resume, cover letter and curriculum vitae, committee members will use the rubric to give him or her a letter grade from A through D in each of the 12 categories.

Since the university likely will draw a large number of applicants, Leske and her team will help narrow down the applicants by placing them in three categories: recommended for review, does not meet minimum criteria and those in the middle.

Leske said the categorization will help the committee figure out which candidates should receive in-depth consideration, but it doesn’t rule out those in the latter two categories.

“You can bring anybody up for discussion in any of those folders,” she said. “The recommended for review, we will put candidates there of whom we think very highly. We’ll also put people in there we think you really need to look at them because of other considerations.”

“Other considerations” could mean a number of things, including an applicant who is an ECU employee, a high-profile individual or something else.

Feb. 12 is the deadline for submitting applications. The committee will meet Feb. 17 to narrow down the applicant pool, and invite several applicants to interview in Raleigh before choosing finalists for campus visits.

The dates for the Raleigh interviews are not set. Jones suggested March 4 and 5, but some committee members had conflicts for those dates.

Because of the amount of time it will take Leske and her team to verify the candidates’ credentials and check their references, Jones said the interviews need to be as close to those dates as possible.

“Really there’s just not a lot of timeline, if we don’t do it then, to get it done,” he said.

Updates on the search, including the dates of future public meetings, are posted at


World Health Organization says Zika virus is “spreading explosively” | WITN

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Jan 292016


January 28, 2016
By: Lynnette Taylor/Gina DiPietro

To view the news video on WITN, click here.

A virus that is transmitted by mosquitos is spreading in explosive numbers, according to the World Health Organization.

Health officials are warning you not to travel to countries where the virus is being detected, especially if you’re an expectant mother or a woman who is hoping to get pregnant.

The Zika virus was first detected in Africa in 1947 and is spread by day-time biting mosquitoes.

The WHO now says the virus is spreading to parts of South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. The virus is being blamed for a steep rise in birth defects in Brazil.

The WHO says this viral outbreak should be considered a global emergency, but local physicians say the virus is not an issue in the states right now.

“The thing we have to understand is there is no Zika virus transmission in the United States as of today,” said Dawd Siraj, the Infectious Diseases program director at ECU.

Health officials say the number of U.S. residents diagnosed with Zika infections in the past year has grown to 31. Those are cases from people who travelled outside of the country.

Zika virus symptoms are not life threatening, but causes mild flu-like symptoms that last for 2-7 days.


Samuel M. Atkinson Jr. Obituary | The Daily Reflector

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Jan 292016


Samuel M. Atkinson, Jr.

Samuel M. Atkinson, Jr., M.D., 80, passed away January 24, 2016 at Duke University.

There will be a memorial service at 11:00 am, Saturday, January 30, 2016 at Wilkerson Funeral Chapel, Greenville, NC.

Sam was born in Conway, South Carolina to Rev. Dr. Samuel M. Atkinson, Sr. and Annie Laurie Bell Atkinson. He graduated from Kingstree High School, Kingstree, SC and Wofford College in 1957. He graduated from Duke University School of Medicine in 1961.

During his 50 year medical career, Dr. Atkinson served in the U.S. Air Force as Chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Malcom Grow USAF Hospital Andrews AFAB, and as Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Eglin AFB, Florida. He was in private practice in Fort Walton Beach, FL for 10 years before joining the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine until his retirement in 2009 where he was a Professor Emeritus. He continued to practice medicine with a former resident until 2011.

In addition to his family and medicine, Sam loved auto racing, and enjoying boiled peanuts on the porch in Murrells Inlet.

He is survived by his wife, Bebe Atkinson; his mother Annie Laurie Atkinson, Florence, South Carolina; children, Katherine McInnis and husband Jeff, Fort Walton Beach, FL, Sandra O’Rourke and husband Peter, Greenville, NC, Elizabeth Bing and husband J.R., Ormond Beach, FL, and Christopher Atkinson and wife Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, and a sister, Margaret Ann May, Murrells Inlet, SC.

He is also survived by his seven grandchildren, Miller Ann, Bradley and Morgan McInnis, Andrew Brown, Sam and Jack O’Rourke, and Russell Bing.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to: The OBGYN General Fund, ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Mailstop 659,525 Moye Blvd., Greenville, NC 27834.


UNC-CH chancellor Folt outlines new steps on race issues | The News & Observer

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Jan 292016


By Jane Stancill
January 28, 2015


UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt says work is under way to foster a better climate around issues of race and equity.

Folt sent a message to the campus community this week outlining a number of initiatives in progress, such as creating a space for black students to gather, conducting a survey on the campus climate and changing student orientation programs with an eye to diversity, inclusion and wellness. She and her top administrators, as well as the Board of Trustees, will soon undergo training on structural racism and racial bias and look for ways to alleviate them.

“We’re taking a lot of very good, exciting actions,” Folt told trustees Thursday. “I feel very proud of that.”

The changes come after a campuswide meeting on race last November that revealed the extent to which minority students at times feel marginalized or uncomfortable on campus. The issue is not unique to UNC, made clear by demonstrations near, at Duke University, and far, at places such as Yale and the University of Missouri.

The concern is not new, either. In Chapel Hill, student activists have protested for years against symbols such as Silent Sam, the Confederate monument at a prominent spot on campus. Last year, trustees stripped the name of a reputed Ku Klux Klan leader, William Saunders, from a campus building, renaming it Carolina Hall.

Now, faculty, staff and students are working on what will be a lengthy effort to give more context to the university’s complex story. A task force on UNC history is developing an exhibit at Carolina Hall that will examine race through the years. A design is expected to be ready in March.

A longer effort will explore markers and historical interpretation at McCorkle Place, the large quadrangle where the Silent Sam statue is located. A group of students working with a professor conducted an audit of all buildings, designs and landmarks on campus. That will be the basis of the work ahead.

“This is a huge task we’ve undertaken,” said Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs. “The overall task we’re going to be engaged in for years.”

As of December, about 80 people had volunteered for the history effort.

Beyond the physical campus, other efforts will take a look at how successful students are in the classroom and whether they receive appropriate support to thrive. Folt said the university would launch a new study of student and faculty retention and graduation rates of students. Past studies were done in 2004 and 2010.

A campus ethics institute has launched a series of opportunities for graduate students and faculty to facilitate more give-and-take about diversity and race in the classroom.

“We heard a lot from people that they wanted to be able to host difficult conversations,” Folt said. “These issues on race are difficult to have and they’re happening around the country.”

The town hall meeting in November was at times dominated by frustration and anger. A large group of African American students issued a lengthy list of demands and chanted, “Whose university? Our university!”

Dwight Stone, chairman of the trustee board, offered cautions about the process ahead. He said it would be an important journey of learning and reflection for all.

“I ask that everyone with an interest in a successful outcome for Carolina to share their points of view with an open mind,” he said Thursday. “Being fearless enough to engage in civil discussion creates good public policy and a more informed and involved public.”

Recently, some universities have been caught in a collision between maintaining free speech and creating safe spaces for students.

Stone hearkened back to the infamous Speaker Ban law that threatened academic freedom in the 1960s, when the legislature acted to ban communist speakers from UNC’s campus.

“We resoundingly refused to ban speakers and thoughts then,” Stone said, “and my hope is that we will have the courage to not ban groups’ ideas or beliefs now. … To make it a safe place for other ideologies, to sequester various beliefs and ideas goes directly against what a university does, or at least, what it’s supposed to do, which is to promote critical thinking.”


Banov: Family, friends want to carry on UNC graduate’s mission after her suicide | The News & Observer

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Jan 292016


By Jessica Banov
Janueary 28, 2016


It’s said that people who choose to take their own lives are selfish. That they aren’t thinking of the ones they’re leaving behind. The truth is, I’ve spent the last six years thinking about what I’d leave behind. More importantly, whom.

With those words, Priya Balagopal begins what’s essentially a suicide note that also serves as a thank you to her supportive family and friends – and as a heartbreaking plea for awareness of mental illness.

What makes the lengthy essay so remarkable is that Balagopal posted it on, a website used to raise money for all kinds of causes. Balagopal died by suicide on Jan. 11, after years of struggling with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. She was 24.

Her Raleigh family started sharing the Web page, titled “The Burden of Mental Illness,” on Jan. 12, shortly after learning of the website’s existence.

Since then, it has drawn national attention and has been shared more than 11,000 times. As of Thursday, it has raised almost $34,000, some of which the family plans to donate to causes that help those with mental illness.

With Balagopal’s missive, her family and friends realize they’ve been tasked with carrying on her goal of making people aware of mental illness in the hopes of preventing others from dealing with the shattered hearts they’re encountering.

“I’m very proud of her,” Geetha Balagopal said about a week after her daughter’s death.

The mother’s voice breaks, and the tears start to form as she draws her hand to her chest.

“I’m so angry at her,” Geetha Balagopal said, “but I don’t want her death to be in vain.”

Family and friends say the post on the fundraising site is “classic Priya,” and that somehow comforts them. She eloquently describes, and uses academic citations, to document her private struggles and what led her to end her life. That she even set up the page to comfort her family and help them with her hospital bills and her student loans also fits her personality. She was thoughtful and fiercely loyal to those she loved.

But the public nature of the UNC graduate’s death makes an already complicated situation even more so.

Balagopal’s family and friends still wonder how they could have helped her. They certainly tried for years. Yet they’re coming to terms that the young woman’s inner pain was so overwhelming that they no longer could.

I met with Geetha Balagopal; her daughter, Shalini Balagopal, 20; and Daleena Abraham, 22, one of Priya Balagopal’s best friends, in the Balagopals’ North Raleigh home.

Over almost three hours, they reminisced about the daughter, sister and friend and how her death cut short the life of a woman who was destined to make a difference. They still talk about her in the present tense; it’s too soon to mention her in the past.

They said she hated the phrase “committed suicide” and would rather say “lost to suicide.” That seems to mesh with how people feel about her death.

“One of the biggest things I struggled with was wondering why it had to be someone as good as her,” said Abraham, a senior at UNC. “She could have accomplished so much. Within these 24 years, she’s touched these many people. I can’t even imagine what she could have done in an entire normal life span.”

Early struggles

From a young age, Priya Balagopal strove for perfection, from her cursive handwriting to her grades. In childhood, she was bullied and learned not to trust her presumed friends. She started high school at Leesville Road High and was at the top of her class but never really felt like she fit in.

When she got to the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, where she attended the last two years of high school, she made a few friends and threw herself into volunteer work. She decided she wanted to be a psychiatrist, eventually changing her plans to become a clinical social worker. She continued to place pressure on herself to excel.

One day, Priya Balagopal told her mother during a drive to school that she wanted to end her life.

Geetha Balagopal was stunned that the 17-year-old felt her life was meaningless. She quickly took her daughter to a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication for depression and anxiety.

Geetha Balagopal, like many parents, proudly remembers the dates of her children’s milestones and accomplishments. That also means she can recall in anguishing detail the dates of her daughter’s suicide attempts in 2009, 2013 and 2015.

Shalini Balagopal, a student at N.C. State University, had an occasionally fraught relationship with her only sister, who was older by three years and four months. She also suffers from depression but experienced different symptoms.

“When she looked at me, she saw a younger version of herself, and she hated herself,” Shalini Balagopal said. “It was very difficult for her to deal with me and see me potentially go through whatever she may have gone through or thought about.”

Today, she calls her sister “a straight-up superhero” and has become a family spokesperson in the aftermath of her sister’s death. She wants to share her sister’s words with anyone who will read them.

At UNC, Priya Balagopal flourished. She started to major in psychology, her sister said, partially to understand herself, partially to assist others. She joined the Bhangra Elite dance team, becoming a co-captain of the Indian dance group, and was president of Active Minds, an organization that advocates for mental illness awareness. While she had difficulty making friends when she was younger, she found people like Abraham, around whom she could be her true self.

A girl like Priya, she looks OK on the outside, but she was bleeding on the inside.

Geetha Balagopal, mother of Priya Balagopal

Priya Balagopal was almost like two people. Goofy and funny. Thoughtful and a good listener. While she suffered, she also tried to understand her own condition. In 2012, as president of Active Minds, she organized a visual reminder about suicide, lining up backpacks on campus with each symbolizing a student who had died by suicide. She volunteered for a suicide hotline and wanted to erase the stigma of mental illness.

But 2013 proved to be a difficult year. Priya Balagopal felt isolated and was starting to feel left behind as friends graduated. Her father, Balagopal Nair, lost his job. Family members got into car wrecks, and student loan debt was mounting.

Balagopal says she was raped and was in an abusive relationship earlier in college and still suffered from post-traumatic stress.

She tried to kill herself again, and her family says the UNC administration encouraged her not to come back to school. Balagopal wrote that she worried because she lost the National Merit Scholarship and a grant from the School of Science and Mathematics she had received to attend UNC.

“All she wanted to do was finish school,” Shalini Balagopal said.

Hours of chaos

Priya Balagopal took off almost a year, working and receiving treatment, eventually graduating in 2014. She worked in Raleigh for a year with AmeriCorps Access Workforce Development to help the homeless and disabled, among others, find jobs. This past fall, she was readying to move to Douglasville, Ga., where she had been recruited to work at Youth Villages AmeriCorps, a program for troubled youth.

Before she left, she tried to kill herself in September.

“It shocked me to the core,” Geetha Balagopal said. “That attempt was the first time I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep her safe from herself.”

Priya Balagopal tried to tell her mom she wouldn’t try again and would seek more help. Geetha Balagopal believed her daughter.

When her daughter came home in December for the holidays, Geetha Balagopal said she looked drained. That appears to be when she created her GoFundMe account. Priya Balagopal selected a photo of herself with a yellow balloon, taken at UNC’s Suicide Awareness Day in September, shortly after that third attempt.

On Jan. 11, friends and family went through several hours of chaos when the young woman was reported missing. They learned later that day that their worst fears had been confirmed.

Balagopal had emailed Abraham information on the GoFundMe page, but the family was unaware of its contents in the frenzy of trying to find her.

They say they’ve been humbled by the response to the page and know it’s making a difference. They hope Balagopal’s words let people connected to mental illness know they’re not alone.

For them, it’s never been about the money, but after the contributions pay for any of the expenses that worried Balagopal, they hope to follow through with her mission. They plan to donate some of the funds to Youth Villages. Long term, they want to start a nonprofit and change the stigma of mental illness.

Launching a nonprofit seems daunting at the moment, so for now, they’re going to focus on their own healing and celebrating Balagopal’s life.

“We’re going to live moment by moment, step by step,” Geetha Balagopal said.


Op-Ed: Putting football in its place on UNC campuses | The News & Observer

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Jan 292016


January 28, 2016

Anticipating her March inauguration as president of the University of North Carolina system, Margaret Spellings is already tossing passes to her teammates. During the coming weeks, she has announced, an anonymous donor will pay the Boston Consulting Group $1.1 million for a preliminary assessment of the 17-campus network. The goal? To ensure she’ll have the best people “to play NFL ball.”

It’s a strange time and place for football metaphors. UNC-Chapel Hill still reels from the revelation that, for decades, athletes received course credits for fabricated classes in subjects they hadn’t studied. This scandal smears the reputation of a school top ranked nationwide – and has cost over $10 million in legal and consulting expenses. We couldn’t have a better cautionary tale of why it’s so risky when colleges do whatever it takes to emulate pro sports.

Even barring scandal, high-profile college sports cost a fortune – and it’s one often paid by students already crushed by debt. For example, student fees supported the 2014 move of Appalachian State University into the Sun Belt conference, just as tuition also rose sharply. In a parody from local website RottenAppal, a fictional student learns that further tuition hikes will finance a gargantuan stadium stretching from Alabama to Canada and responds: “I already have some student loans anyway so I’ll probably just take some more out. I’ll only end up owing the US government like 13% of the national debt by the time I graduate, which actually isn’t that bad if you don’t think about it.”
In the grip of sports

Last fall, AppState students were also required to forfeit campus parking spaces – for which they had already paid – on home-game Thursdays, to provide space for fans. This might have prevented some students from attending school, but the university also encouraged faculty to cancel classes – and these weren’t fabricated classes, either. These were the real kind of classes that actually meet. A campus protest and petition yielded few results: Once in the grip of commercialized football, there’s little room to maneuver. We’re playing NFL ball now!

The perennial argument for college football is that whatever the start-up costs, it ultimately turns a profit. Yet studies show that only top teams make money: Donors want winners, yet each football game must produce one loser. It’s a zero-sum game pitting public universities against each other, with the victory of one entailing literal costs to the others. Schools new to the game enter a risky lottery – a less innocent Power Ball where students get stuck with the losing tickets. Even when an underdog wins, it’s a net loss for American education.
Mispaid student fees

Football is said to nourish such virtues as teamwork and persistence – and this is certainly true of smaller, grassroots sports. But as the pro model takes hold, passive student-spectators soon vastly outnumber student-athletes in any college stadium. As a few elite players tackle one other in the distance, how can fans in the stands shape the game except to cheer on cue and keep paying those student fees? And how does this prepare them for their own futures of creativity and initiative?

Even for athletes, the path to later life is fraught with risk. Ongoing research confirms that sports concussions may cause long-term brain damage, a heavy price to exact from athletes who are not themselves paid to play. The time demands of sports distract from education, leading to high attrition and academic scandals such as Chapel Hill’s. Even the career path of coaching – a natural evolution for gifted athletes – remains closed to many: Although a high percentage of top football players are black, the overwhelming majority of head college coaches are white.

My argument here in no way targets the NFL itself. With its special status as America’s favorite sport, NFL football brings joy to a lot of folks – especially this year in North Carolina, anticipating the SuperBowl! And that’s all fantastic, in its place. But its place is in your living room with your dips and BBQ and friends and the Panthers. Maybe the stadium, if you get lucky. Not in your college parking space and definitely not on your student bill.

State universities aren’t the place “to play NFL ball.” It’s the wrong model for collegiate athletics, and the wrong metaphor for a vibrant campus. Leave the Power Ball where it belongs – with the pros – and let universities invest in learning. That’s a gamble everyone can win, and a better bet for North Carolina.

Catherine J. Cole of Boone has a Ph.D. in music and is working on a master’s in biology, with an emphasis in plant ecophysiology, at Appalachian State.

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Search for new ECU chancellor continues Thursday | WITN

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Jan 282016


January 28, 2016

East Carolina University officials will meet with UNC system leaders Thursday as they continue to search for the school’s new chancellor.

The search committee will meet with those system leaders at Noon Thursday at the Mendenhall Student Center.

They’ll plan various aspects of the search, including candidate interviews.

They’re hoping to announce a new chancellor by mid-April.

Current chancellor Steve Ballard will be stepping down in July, after serving at the university since 2004.