ECU alumnus nominated for Tony Award

An East Carolina University alumnus will be honored at the 2016 Tony Awards this Sunday for his work on the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton.”

Hamilton Playbill

Howell Binkley is nominated for best lighting design for a musical. The show, which received a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations, has become one of Broadway’s biggest critical and commercial successes in its ten-month run.

“It’s an honor to be involved with such a hit show,” said Binkley, who has been a Broadway lighting designer since 1992. This is his seventh nomination; his last win was for “Jersey Boys” in 2006. “It’s still as exciting as the first one.”

Binkley has worked with “Hamilton” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda and his team before, on a production called “In the Heights,” Miranda’s Broadway debut.

Howell Binkley (contributed photo)

Howell Binkley (contributed photo)

“We have a history of working together,” Binkley said. “It’s a very collaborative process.”

“Hamilton” uses rap and hip-hop music to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. This is just one of the many things that make the show unique, from the diversity of the cast to the non-stop pace. There are 50 songs that move immediately from one to the next, Binkley said, and his lighting helps keep the show moving. Instead of traditionally fading to black at the end of each scene, there’s only one blackout at the end of the first act for intermission.

“The show is continuous,” Binkley said. “We work to keep it seamless and keep it vibrant.”

Binkley has been with the show since its beginning, participating in weeks of technical rehearsals before the show premiered off-Broadway at The Public Theater in February 2015. Putting sets, costumes, music and lighting together is “a layered process” that takes about three weeks, Binkley said. “It’s like any other business or product; you have to perfect it before the audience sees it.”

Now, Binkley checks in on the show about once a month to make any needed adjustments, as the house staff at the Richard Rodgers Theater execute his lighting design in sold-out shows.

Howell Binkley

Lighting designer and ECU alumnus Howell Binkley joins the cast and crew on stage for curtain call after a production of “Hamilton.” (contributed photo)

Growing up in Winston-Salem, Binkley participated in both high school and community theater. He wanted to pursue a degree in architecture, for which ECU accepted him. But once he got involved in the theater program, he never looked back. He studied theater at ECU until 1977, but left before graduating to work in New York. He started out doing lighting for rock ‘n roll concerts, until he met renowned director Harold Prince of “Phantom of the Opera.” His first Broadway show was “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1992.

“ECU totally prepared me for my career,” Binkley said. “It gave me a great foundation that took me to where I am now. I’m very proud I went to ECU, and more proud every year as I watch the school grow.”

For the last three years, Binkley has brought a senior theater student from ECU for a summer internship with him in New York.

“I’m happy to open new doors for them and see where they all go,” he said. “School was a new community for me. I introduce them to a new community just like ECU did for me. ECU absolutely contributed to my success. I love giving back.”

Howell Binkley

Howell Binkley in stage lighting. (contributed photo)

–Jackie Drake

ECU School of Art and Design presents the Coastal Carolina Clay Guild Exhibition

by Dana Wilde-Ramsing

Five alumni from East Carolina University will have pieces on display in the Coastal Carolina Clay Guild Exhibition to be held June 3-30 in the Wellington B. Gray Gallery. There is an opening reception with many of the artists on Friday, June 3, from 5 until 7:30 p.m.

The exhibition features ceramic art work in a variety of styles and aesthetics by 35 artists from the greater Wilmington area including the following ECU alumni: Richard Heiser, Jacob Herrmann, Vicky Smith, Kathy Whitley and Dina Wilde-Ramsing.

The Coastal Carolina Clay Guild was established in 2007 and now has more than 100 members from the coastal areas of North and South Carolina.

by Brian Evans (Contributed photos)

The Wellington B. Gray Gallery is located off of 5th and Jarvis Streets on campus in the Jenkins Fine Arts Center. Summer gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the exhibition.

For more information, contact Tom Braswell, interim gallery director, at 252-328-1312 or visit www.ecu.edu/graygallery.

Graduates toasted at Senior Celebration

Glasses were raised to East Carolina graduates of two generations at Senior Celebration on Thursday afternoon.


Sponsored jointly by the East Carolina Alumni Association and the Pirate Club, the event allowed members of the class of 2016 to celebrate earning their degrees and joining the ranks of Pirate alumni.

Graduates also had a chance to converse with 1966 alumni, who were back on campus for the association’s annual Golden Alumni Reunion for the 50-year reunion class.

While rain poured from the roof of the Club Level into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, champagne was poured into keepsake flutes for a toast to graduates past and present.

“The future of ECU is certainly bright thanks to you, our newest Pirate alumni,” said Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations Heath Bowman, who led the toast.

“Like many families, we may not all live in the same place, but staying in touch keeps our bonds strong,” said Erinn Latta, a 2009 alumna who coordinates young graduate programming for the Pirate Club.

Also recognized were five graduates who received the 2016 Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award from the alumni association: Ryan Clancy, Erika Dietrick, Joel Glotfelty, Sarah Lisson and Kate McPherson.

–Jackie Drake; video by Rich Klindworth

Graduates decorate caps to celebrate degrees

Graduating from college is an accomplishment and expressing that elation has become a tradition at East Carolina University. Approximately half of ECU graduates decorate their mortarboards celebrating their accomplishments, using Pirate symbols, Bible verses and glitter.

The annual grad cap contest sponsored by the East Carolina Alumni Association once again showcased some very creative designs.

Any graduating student was eligible to enter their creation in the contest. Graduates were encouraged to be as creative as they wanted without blocking someone else’s view at commencement. Students wrote their favorite sayings, added their favorite gems, or even reshaped their caps to represent their future.

This year, 78 students submitted photos of their caps by email, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

The winner, Carolyn Walence, won with her Peter Pan inspired cap with the quote, “Everything ends and so our story begins.”

She will receive a free diploma frame from Dowdy Student Stores courtesy of the East Carolina Alumni Association.

–Rich Klindworth

College of Nursing honors 2016 Hall of Fame inductees

The East Carolina University College of Nursing inducted 11 members to its Hall of Fame during a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel Greenville on Friday, April 15. The event, which also recognized the college’s 2016 Distinguished Alumnus, honored outstanding contributors to nursing in the areas of education, administration, research and practice.

2016 Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Sandra Smith, Sue Edwards, Wendy Leutgens, Jane Pearson, Donna Lake, Janice Neil, Annette Peery, Mary Chatman and Gina Woody, with Dean Sylvia Brown.

2016 Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Sandra Smith, Sue Edwards, Wendy Leutgens, Jane Pearson, Donna Lake, Janice Neil, Annette Peery, Mary Chatman and Gina Woody, with Dean Sylvia Brown. (Contributed photos)

This year’s class includes inductees from a range of impressive backgrounds, including two nurses who serve as leaders of major health systems; two who led accomplished, decades-long careers in the U.S. Military before pursuing inspired careers in health care and education; and several esteemed College of Nursing faculty members.

Not only does the Hall of Fame honor prominent nursing professionals, it has raised approximately $95,000 for a merit-based student scholarship fund since its inception in 2011. The 2015-2016 Hall of Fame Scholarship recipient, Tyler Knowles of Conover, North Carolina and a master’s student in the nurse anesthetist program, was recognized at the event. The college will award its sixth Hall of Fame Scholarship this fall.

“We created the Hall of Fame when we realized there were so many respected leaders who were graduates or supporters of our college and who have been leaders in our profession,” said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. “It’s an opportunity to honor their contributions and also a way to give back to future generations of nurses through the scholarship program.”

Distinguished Alum Wendy Leutgens is pictured with Dean Dr. Sylvia Brown. Wendy is president of Loyola University Health System in Maywood, IL. (Contributed photo)

Distinguished Alum Wendy Leutgens is pictured with Dean Dr. Sylvia Brown. Wendy is president of Loyola University Health System in Maywood, IL. 

The 2016 inductees join a list of 79 Hall of Fame members representing nine states. Each new member receives a flame-shaped award that resembles the lamp illustrated on the college’s nursing pin. The lamp and its associated flame symbolize a commitment to service and a vibrant life. This year’s Hall of Fame class:

  • Mary Chatman, Savannah, Ga.
  • Sue Edwards, Ayden, N.C.
  • Ann King, Clayton, N.C.
  • Donna Lake, Goldsboro, N.C.
  • Wendy Leutgens, Oak Park, Ill.
  • Janice Neil, Winterville, N.C.
  • Jane Pearson, Forest, Va.
  • Annette Peery, Greenville, N.C.
  • Loretta Ritter, Milford, Pa.
  • Sandra Smith, Williamsburg, Va.
  • Gina Woody, Winterville, N.C.

On a night set aside for celebrating influential nurse leaders, the college also recognized the recipient of its 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award. This year’s awardee is Wendy Leutgens (MSN 87), who serves as the president of Loyola University Health System, an 801-bed academic medical center and health system in Maywood, Illinois.

Learn more about the College of Nursing’s Hall of Fame and Distinguished Alumnus Award by visiting www.nursing.ecu.edu/hof.cfm.

–Elizabeth Willy

Alums support business students through scholarships, travel experiences

An old baseball coach once taught his players a formula: P + O = S; Preparation plus Opportunity equals Success. David and Pamela Leonard aren’t baseball coaches, but they are using that same formula to help East Carolina University business students become successful.

“I attribute a lot of my success to having a degree from East Carolina,” said David Leonard.

For some college students, spring break means a trip to a sunny beach. Instead of doing just that, 12 ECU risk management and insurance students, two Pitt Community College students, and two ECU professors traveled March 6-9 to Atlanta, Georgia for spring break to meet with the Leonards and tour several insurance companies.

Posing before loading the bus for their trip to Atlanta, Georgia over ECU’s spring break are ECU risk management and insurance students, Pitt Community College students and ECU faculty members. (Contributed photo)

Posing before loading the bus for their trip to Atlanta, Georgia over ECU’s spring break are ECU risk management and insurance students, Pitt Community College students and ECU faculty members. (Contributed photos)

“We actually sat in front of underwriters and claims adjusters and we talked to the CEO of a company instead of learning the textbook definitions,” said ECU senior Kylia Hodge.

Leonard graduated from ECU’s College of Business in 1979. Today, he is chairman and CEO of RSUI Group, Inc., which “is a leading underwriter of wholesale specialty insurance,” according to its website. Together with his wife of 35 years, Pamela, David Leonard has been a longtime supporter of scholarships at ECU.

“While I was at school there, there were some people who helped me out with tuition and expenses and I felt like I wanted to give back in that manner,” said David Leonard.

Beyond scholarships, the Leonards have also given to the College of Business Leadership Program to support student travel like this year’s spring break trip to Atlanta. The entire trip from the chartered bus to the hotel rooms, and meals for the students was made possible by the Leonards’ generosity.

“I liked the way it involves students and gets them involved in leadership activities, and I thought a lot of the skills they are learning and the way it’s being presented goes right back to things that make them more successful in life and in business, so I liked funding that,” said David Leonard.

ECU College of Business students were able to tour the Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Research Laboratory in South Carolina during their recent trip to Atlanta to learn more about the insurance industry.

ECU College of Business students were able to tour the Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Research Laboratory in South Carolina during their recent trip to Atlanta to learn more about the insurance industry.

While in Atlanta, the students had dinner with the Leonards, had a tour of RSUI Group from their CEO tour guide, toured Zurich North America, and on the way home, toured the Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Research Laboratory in South Carolina.

“When you get to personally have multiple one-on-one conversations with the CEO of an amazing company, it really does shine a different light to the students. It gives us the sense of you know that he’s really invested and he really does care about whether we succeed or not,” said ECU senior Lindsey Albaugh.

“I saw the Pirate pride that he has, not just ‘Go Pirates,’ the personality, the work ethic… to actually see an ECU alumnus be successful and be able to give back to the school that he got his training from is kind of inspirational and gives you hope,” Hodge added.

–Rich Klindworth

Alumni Scholarship applications due Jan. 31

The East Carolina Alumni Association is now accepting applications for Alumni Scholarships for the 2016-2017 school year through Friday, Jan. 31.

Applications must be submitted online through the ECU Online Scholarship Management System. No paper applications will be accepted.

Approximately 25 scholarships of $1,000 or $2,500 are available. To be eligible, ECU students must be registered as a full-time undergraduate with at least 12 credit hours and a 3.0 GPA. Students should demonstrate service and leadership in the university and community. Applications must be accompanied by a signed letter of recommendation and a creative expression, both of which can be completed and/or uploaded through the online system.

Since 2005, the Alumni Scholarship program has awarded 224 scholarships totaling more than $300,000.

For more information, visit Piratealumni.com/scholarships.

If you would like to contribute to the Alumni Scholarship program, visit PirateAlumni.com/donate.

Alum wins 2015 American Prize in Composition

East Carolina University School of Music alum Travis Alford (BM, ’05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015, choral music professional division, for his composition O Fragile Human, Speak…

Travis Alford (BM, '05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015.

Travis Alford (BM, ’05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015.

The American Prize is a series of non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels. Administered by Hat City Music Theater, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Danbury, Connecticut, The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually.

Alford teaches at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, NC, and has held positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis University and Gordon College. He holds degrees in theory and composition from Brandeis (PhD, ’14), the New England Conservatory (MM, ’08) and ECU. His primary teachers at ECU included Edward Jacobs, Mark Richardson and Britton Theurer.

Travis wrote Loose Strands on commission from ECU’s North Carolina NewMusic Initiative, a work premiered in 2013 by Scott Carter and members of the ECU Wind Ensemble; Carter and ECU students, alumni and faculty recorded Loose Strands in May, 2015.

— Harley Dartt

Goal Exceeded: Day of giving more than triples goal

By Jackie Drake
ECU News Services

On a single day of giving, East Carolina University received more than triple its goal of $75,000.

Supporters gave $259,295 under the banner of #PirateNationGives, ECU’s campaign for Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1. Three hundred forty gifts ranging from $10 to $25,000 came in from 24 states and Washington, D.C.

“The response was overwhelming; we are so thankful for the generosity of the East Carolina community,” Chris Dyba, vice chancellor for university advancement, said. “Every day is a great day to give to ECU, but we are so grateful to everyone who came together to participate in this day no matter where they are located. Our supporters truly showed that Pirate Nation gives.”

ECU was one of many educational and non-profit entities participating in Giving Tuesday, a national day to focus on charitable giving after holiday spending begins on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is the second year that ECU participated in Giving Tuesday. Last year, the university received 132 gifts totaling $67,248.

This year’s total includes gifts given in person through major gift officers, over the phone and online at ecu.edu/piratenationgives. Donors could make a gift of any size to any area of the university they chose.

Charitable gifts impact every facet of the university: student scholarships, research, life-saving medicine, the arts, athletics, libraries and more.

This year some donors had the chance to double their impact thanks to 1966 alumnus Dr. Jerry McGee, who gave $25,000 as part of a challenge to first-time donors and those who increased their last gift by $100 or more.

“East Carolina draws so much support from people who give a couple hundred or few thousand dollars; we only have a few multimillion dollar donors,” he said. “These days we’ve gotten to where we think giving $50 or $100 doesn’t matter, but it does matter. I wanted to make sure people understood the importance of their individual gift.”

As a longtime higher education professional, McGee knows the value of giving back to your alma mater in whatever amount you can. McGee worked as a development officer and administrator and various institutions, including others who have participated in Giving Tuesday.

“A lot of my professional success goes back to what I learned at East Carolina,” he said. “When I got a call asking me to help East Carolina, the answer was yes. At least once a year, we need to sit down and take time for the causes we care about. I’m very proud of East Carolina, and I’m pleased so many people chose this day to support the university.”