Category Archives: Alumni

Clinton’s lead surgeon returns to Brody for lecture

The chest surgeon who led the team that once operated on former President Bill Clinton gave a lecture at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

The surgeon, Dr. Joshua Sonett, graduated with honors from East Carolina University’s medical school in 1988. He is chief of general thoracic surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, professor of surgical oncology at CUMC, and the director of the The Price Family Center for Comprehensive Chest Care and the Lung and Esophageal Center.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

In the 2005 surgery on Clinton, Sonett and his colleagues removed scar tissue that built up following Clinton’s quadruple bypass operation earlier that year.

“That was a privilege to get to know and treat President Clinton, and it was just like every other patient, believe it or not,” Sonett said. “I like going to my patients’ bedside and chatting about things, getting to know them as a person, and it was the same with Clinton. He did talk about the Middle East maybe more than other patients,” he added with a chuckle.

The importance of getting to know his patients was instilled in him at Brody. Sonett recalled having to write pages of patients’ social histories as a medical student.

“It was just as important to get to know them as it was to know their health needs,” he said.

Now, he loves being close with his patients.

Sonett’s lecture was part of the Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences grand rounds, which are weekly topic-and case-based presentations by members of the faculty providing up-to-date knowledge about timely issues in medicine. In it, he described his involvement in a 10-year study on a disease called myasthenia gravis that can make it hard for people to breathe and walk around.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

“Surgeons for years had been taking out the thymus, although it wasn’t clear if that surgery improved the patients’ lives,” Sonett said. “This study definitively proved that the surgery helped. That’s one of the highlights of my career that I was involved in that.”

Although Sonett now works for a different medical school, he said he is thankful for his education from Brody.

“There are so many good med schools around the country, and I think I was blessed to come to ECU. It was a very young med school at the time…it was a great learning environment. There’s no limits to what you can do here, graduating from here.”

 

Related: Clinton’s lead surgeon is ECU medical school graduate 

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Alumni road race raises $5,800 for student scholarships

The 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race and Fun Run raised $5,800 for student scholarships, according to the ECU Alumni Association.

More than 300 runners and walkers gathered at the start line in downtown Greenville on April 21 and were treated to a new 5K route through campus. Runners scampered up Fifth Street, then wound their way past Joyner Library, the Cupola, Trustee’s Fountain and Wright Auditorium. It was a sunny and temperate Saturday, and campus was quiet save for birds chirping, the fountain bubbling, and runners’ breathing heavily. As they made their way back to the finish, they were greeted by high fives from PeeDee, music from a DJ, and vendors like Smash Waffles and JuiceVibes ready to offer post-run fuel.

Runners participate in the 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race on April 21. (Photos by Caroline Tait)

Runners participate in the 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race on April 21. (Photos by Caroline Tait)

Clayton Bauman, a 2008 broadcast journalism alumnus, said the new route was like taking a walk down memory lane.

“When you’re out there and seeing all the purple and gold, all the buildings, the old stomping grounds, it really takes you back,” he said. Bauman even upped the nostalgia factor by running to a special playlist with hits popular during his time in college.

Erica Bell, a former ECU track athlete and current graduate student, ran the race last year while six months pregnant. This year she ran pushing her son, William, in a stroller.

“Normally, he can stay up for the first five minutes and then he falls asleep,” she said.

Bell added that she preferred the new course. “It’s nice that it went through campus, that kind of distracts you along the way. And this weather was perfect.”

All proceeds from the Pirate Alumni Road Race and Fun Run benefit the ECU Alumni Association scholarship fund. The alumni association annually awards scholarships to qualified undergraduates for the following academic year. To date, the alumni association has awarded 297 scholarships totaling nearly $432,000.

Alumni scholar and sophomore Emma Plyer worked the check-in station at the race and said she was extremely thankful for her scholarship.

“It’s a really great opportunity for us students to further our education and not worry about the financial burden that college has,” she said. “We just get to be students.”

For more information about ECU Alumni Association Scholarships, visit http://www.piratealumni.com/s/722/hybrid/indextabs.aspx?sid=722&gid=1&pgid=2250

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU alum wins London’s most prestigious theater award for work in ‘Hamilton’

Howell Binkley (contributed photos)

Binkley (contributed photos)

Howell Binkley, an East Carolina University alum who won a Tony Award for his lighting design of the musical “Hamilton” in 2016, has another accolade to add to his collection.

On Sunday, Binkley won an Olivier Award for Best Lighting Design for “Hamilton.” The Olivier Awards are the UK’s most prestigious stage awards presented annually by the Society of London Theatre. This year’s Olivier Awards saw “Hamilton” take home seven prizes, the most of any show, including best new musical.

Binkley has been a Broadway lighting designer since 1992. He grew up in Winston-Salem, where he participated in both high school and community theater. He went to ECU to pursue a degree in architecture and got involved in the theater program. He studied theater at ECU until 1977, but left before graduating to work in New York. His first Broadway show was “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1992. Before “Hamilton,” he worked with the show’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda on a production called “In the Heights,” Miranda’s Broadway debut.

Howell Binkley

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

“ECU totally prepared me for my career,” Binkley told ECU News Services in 2016 before his Tony win. “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 several years, Binkley has given a senior theater student from ECU a summer internship with him in New York.

“Hamilton,” an instant Broadway hit, uses rap and hip-hop music to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. The lighting design for the show is continuous and helps move the show seamlessly through 50 songs.

 

Related: ECU alum wins Tony award

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Grammy-nominated musician visits ECU

Renowned Grammy-nominated musician and ethnomusicologist Dr. Tim Eriksen will speak and perform in classes and other venues at East Carolina University during the week of Feb. 19-23. During the week, Eriksen will lead a film-screening and discussion, present an academic talk and perform a musical concert that are free and open to the public.

“Eriksen is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia,” his online biography reads. “He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and bajo sexton – a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass – creating a distinctive hardcore Americana sound.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 7-8 p.m. in the Science and Technology building, room C-307, Eriksen will screen and discuss two films about the venerable sacred music tradition of shape-note singing, a unique and haunting genre of sacred music that reflects the complexities of identity in the multi-cultural history of the United States.

First, he will show Landon McCrary’s1979 independent film “Dewey Williams, 81st Birthday Singing,” about black shape-note singers in Alabama, followed by an excerpt from Matt and Erica Hinton’s film, “Awake My Soul,” about their white counterparts.

Tim Eriksen, Grammy-nominated musician, will visit ECU the week of Feb. 19-23.

Tim Eriksen, Grammy-nominated musician, will visit ECU the week of Feb. 19-23. (contributed photo)

After the screenings, Eriksen will discuss the history and contemporary practice of shape-note singing and what it has to say about religion, civil rights and racial identity in American history and the present day. Also, he may perform a little singing of his own for the audience.

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, Eriksen will lead a lunchtime academic talk on “Old Folks Singing in Utopia: How Antebellum Musical Antiquarianism and Calvinist Eschatology Gave Birth to Science Fiction on the Banks of the Connecticut River.” The discussion will be held from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bate building, room 1006.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the public has the opportunity to hear Eriksen perform live. A concert of “Hardcore Americana: Secular and Sacred Songs,” will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Science and Technology building, room C-307.

Eriksen received his doctoral degree in enthomusicology from Wesleyan University. He specializes in shape-note music – specifically the sacred harp – “Old Time” music, American folk, Bosnian vocal and Indian classical music. He has performed and consulted on the soundtrack for the film, “Cold Mountain,” and he has released numerous recordings in genres from folk to jazz to punk.

The events are co-sponsored by the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities and Harriot College’s Religious Studies Program. All are free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

For more information about Eriksen, visit timeriksenmusic.com/. For questions about Eriksen’s visit to ECU, contact Dr. Joseph Hellweg, Whichard Distinguished Professor, at hellwegj17@ecu.edu.

 

-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

Golden LEAF invaluable for current, past students

Recent ECU graduate and current master’s student Jordan Spelce dreams of one day becoming a city or county manager and spurring business and development in places like his hometown of Taylorsville in Alexander County.

But his career path might have looked completely different had he not received a Golden LEAF scholarship and participated in the organization’s internships and leadership programs.

Established in 1999, the Golden LEAF Foundation was created to strengthen the economies of rural or tobacco-dependent communities in North Carolina. Since its inception, the organization has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. LEAF stands for Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation.

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. (Photos by Will Preslar)

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. (Photos by Will Preslar)

“I’m so grateful for Golden LEAF. Its leadership program really helped me almost more than anything else academically in my college years,” Spelce said.

ECU alumnus Jordan Spelce says he wouldn’t be on his current career path without the help of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

ECU alumnus Jordan Spelce says he wouldn’t be on his current career path without the help of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

It was through a paid Golden LEAF internship with an economic development agency that he discovered his passion for business and finance.

“That jump-started me toward what ultimately became the path to my career,” he said.

Each year, Golden LEAF awards scholarships to high school seniors and community college transfer students from qualifying rural counties who express an interest in returning to the state’s rural areas to work after graduation.

“Part of the way we are working to fulfill our mission is to reach young people who have deep roots in rural North Carolina, who are likely to return home, and help them go to college,” said Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach. “Our investment in Golden LEAF Scholars extends beyond their four-year education. We fund a leadership program that helps students connect with internships in their fields of interest in rural communities. Students gain professional experience early in their educational career that they may not have gotten otherwise in the communities we hope they return to and serve.”

Senior education major Tristan Hunter speaks at a luncheon in Greenville for Golden LEAF Scholars.

Senior education major Tristan Hunter speaks at a luncheon in Greenville for Golden LEAF Scholars.

This year, 87 ECU students received Golden LEAF scholarships. One of them was senior education major Tristan Hunter of Rocky Mount, who spoke at a luncheon in Greenville January 31 that ECU hosted for Golden LEAF Scholars, staff and members of the foundation’s board of directors.

“I’m very honored to be one of those 16,000 students” to have received a scholarship, he said. “Not only did Golden LEAF lighten my financial burden, it helped me meet all the goals I set for myself in college.”

Hunter added that he wants to go back to Rocky Mount and teach in a public middle school once he earns his degree.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach and ECU Chancellor Staton attend a luncheon for Golden LEAF scholarship students.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach and ECU Chancellor Staton at the luncheon for Golden LEAF Scholars.

Chancellor Cecil Staton addressed the luncheon participants and thanked the foundation for being one of ECU’s strongest partners in addressing the extraordinary disparities in health, education and economic development in rural and coastal North Carolina communities.

“Our desire for rural prosperity is a key aspect of the mission of both Golden LEAF and ECU. Our missions are synchronous,” he said.

So far, the mission is being fulfilled.

For Spelce, the former Golden LEAF scholar, the decision to stay in-state and work is simple.

“I want to stay in North Carolina. I was born and raised here,” he said. He also wants to keep his Golden LEAF experience going by becoming a coach to other scholars in the future.

To learn more about the Golden LEAF Foundation, visit goldenleaf.org/scholarships.html.

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU students benefit from University Writing Center donations

East Carolina University students receive valuable benefits from the University Writing Center preparing them for academic and professional success. Recent donations to the center are facilitating those advantages.

Dr. Nicole Caswell, director of the University Writing Center, pictured with a former UWC consultant

Dr. Nicole Caswell (right), director of the University Writing Center, is pictured here with former UWC consultant, Rexford Rose. Caswell is grateful for recent donations to the UWC priority fund that allows them to continue their mission of serving students. (Photos provided by Dr. Nicole Caswell.)

In fall 2017, ECU English alumni Wanda (’75) and Jon Yuhas (’78) gifted an initial $5,000 to establish the University Writing Center priority fund. The purpose of the fund is to continue the vital work performed by the center.

“The writing skills we ourselves learned at ECU have served us well in building successful careers. Writing is important to every profession,” said Wanda, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission and a new member of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advancement Council. “In our professions, we both see well-educated people who, because their writing skills are not good, miscommunicate important information. Writing standard operating procedures, legal documents, medical instructions or providing technical specs all start with solid basic writing skills.”

Jon and Wanda Yuhas discuss the University Writing Center

ECU alumni Jon and Wanda Yuhas discuss the University Writing Center priority fund with Dr. Will Banks, professor of English, (center, yellow shirt) and Dr. Nicole Caswell (right).

However, not every question about writing can be covered in the classroom, a concept Jon knows well from when he taught freshman composition.

“Poorly written work says something about the writer’s intellect and character that is almost impossible to redeem,” said Yuhas, human resources manager at the Roberts Company in Winterville. “The ability to express thoughts in writing is crucial to success in any endeavor.”

Through the UWC, students at all levels may seek support in drafting, editing and revising written papers for university classes and preparing them for written communication projects they may encounter in their careers. All services provided are free of charge.

Monica Bloomberg

Monica Bloomberg, ECU graduate student and current consultant at the University Writing Center, is an advocate for students and enjoys impacting the lives of others.

“I have learned to be an advocate for students, a leader, a counselor and a member of a larger, dedicated family that is committed to supporting ECU’s students, faculty and staff,” said Monica Bloomberg, graduate student and consultant at the UWC. “My experiences collaborating with writers and my fellow consultants solidified my decision to pursue a service profession where I can continue interacting with the community and impacting the lives of others.”

Dr. Nicole Caswell, director of the center said, “Writers who visit the UWC might see the impact more immediately on a particular assignment, but the skills they have gained will serve them long after that assignment is completed.”

Chelsea (Cox) Mullins also worked as a consultant at the UWC from 2011 until she graduated from ECU in 2014.

Chelsea Mullins

Chelsea Mullins, ECU alumna (’14) and former University Writing Center consultant, said a few words at the UWC grand opening ceremony held Sept. 23, 2013.

“I was humbled to watch the UWC grow over the course of my undergraduate years,” said Mullins. “When I graduated, the UWC had become a special place where students were welcomed in and had access to more services than ever before.”

Recently, another $10,000 donation to the center’s priority fund by Dr. Michelle Eble, associate professor of rhetoric and technical communication in ECU’s Department of English, and her husband Shane Ernst, senior vice-president of quality at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, continues to show that the center’s mission is important.

“The director of the UWC, Dr. Nikki Caswell, has expanded the services of the center to meet ongoing student and faculty needs, and we saw an opportunity to invest in something at ECU that influences the everyday lives of students,” said Eble. “I’ve been amazed by the number of my own students who have used the services of the UWC. They are excited to share the feedback they received.”

Ernst sees the advantages the center provides students in helping prepare them for writing in their careers.

“The ability to write and communicate is an essential factor when it comes to landing an entry-level position and the potential for career advancement,” said Ernst.

Caswell said the center is eager to serve the Greenville community in the future through events that will assist the public with writing cover letters, resumes, and grants as well as filling out job applications.

“I’m grateful for the recent donations to the UWC priority fund because these resources allow us to continue our mission on campus while simultaneously working to expand our services to the Greenville community,” said Caswell.

For more information about the UWC, visit ecu.edu/cs-acad/writing/uwc/.

Chelsea Mullins helps cut the ribbon at the UWC grand opening

Chelsea Mullins (center, purple shirt), ECU alumna (’14) and former University Writing Center consultant, helps cut the ribbon at the UWC grand opening held Sept. 23, 2013.

 

-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

ECU to host Summer Jobs & Internship Fair for students and alumni

East Carolina University Career Services will host its first Summer Jobs and Internship Fair from 1-4 p.m. Feb. 8 at the ECU Student Recreation Center.

This event covers all majors at ECU and is focused on delivering meaningful employment opportunities for students during their summer breaks that will directly apply to their academic programs and future career goals.

“Internships are extremely valuable learning experiences no matter the academic major. In many cases, nontraditional settings are equally as valuable as an internship that mirrors an academic discipline,” said Dr. Deb Jordan, professor and department chair for the recreation and leisure studies program at ECU.

According to the 2017 Job Outlook, the five top skills employers desire in potential hires are the ability to work on a team, problem solving, written communication skills, a strong work ethic and verbal communication skills.

“Finding an internship where these skills can be learned and honed will facilitate the success of all students as they begin their professional careers,” said Jordan.

More than 50 companies are participating in this career fair, including Enterprise, Northwestern Mutual, Peace Corps, Peter Millar, YMCA, Eastern 4-H Center, UNC Coastal Studies Institute, Bethelwoods Camp and Conference Center, Busch Gardens Williamsburg & Water Country USA, Beacon Hill Staffing Group, and the Autism Society of N.C.

ECU Career Services offers the following suggestions to attendees:

  • Dress in casual attire and bring your ECU 1Card.
  • Research the employers who will be attending the event by visiting ecu.edu/career and prioritize what organizations to target for employment.
  • Develop and practice an introduction or power greeting.
  • Create or update your resume that has been critiqued by a career counselor and bring multiple copies to the fair.
  • Remember to smile, initiate a handshake and look the employers in the eye when greeting them at the event.

 

-For more information, contact Leslie Rogers at 252-328-6050.

ECU alumna named NC School Nurse Administrator of the Year

From her 30-year career as a school nurse and nurse administrator, Terri Joyner knows that healthy children learn better— and that school nurses are key to making that happen.

The ECU alumna was recently named the School Nurse Administrator of the Year by the School Nurse Association of North Carolina.

Joyner said she was “overwhelmed” by the recognition, and that the award is an acknowledgment of the hard work school nurses and nurse administrators do on a daily basis.

Liz Newlin, former president of the School Nurse Association of North Carolina (left), presents Terri Joyner (right) with the 2017 School Nurse Administrator of the Year Award.

Liz Newlin, former president of the School Nurse Association of North Carolina (left), presents Terri Joyner (right) with the 2017 School Nurse Administrator of the Year Award. (contributed photo)

“Most people think it’s all Band-Aids and boo-boos, but it’s not that at all,” Joyner said. “Kids face much bigger health needs than most people realize. School nurses can make a really big impact on overcoming those barriers.”

Joyner received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from ECU in 2005 and Master of Science in Nursing in 2013. After working as a school nurse for 10 years, she became the manager of the School Health Program at Vidant Medical Center, where she oversaw the 20 school nurses serving Pitt County’s 37 schools. She retired in January.

“Terri (was) responsible for 24,000 students—24,000 sets of parents—and 3,000 staff,” Catherine Dews Nelson, senior administrator for Community Health Programs at VMC said in a press release. “The scope alone is mind-boggling, especially when you consider anything can happen at any time, any day that might require a nurse’s attention. The entire community benefits greatly from the dedication and expertise Terri brings to the work.”

Because there is not a nurse at every school each day, nurses in Pitt County must ensure schools can handle health needs when they aren’t there. They also help families navigate health care systems and find health resources.

About 20 percent of children in Pitt County have chronic health conditions, Joyner said. Nurses work with those children to guarantee access to education regardless of health needs. Joyner managed the county’s school nurses, helped them locate resources and coordinated care between the school system, the hospital and the health department.

Her favorite part of the job was the staff, she said. “I worked with the best group of women nurses out there. They are so passionate about the kids in Pitt County and helping the kids be successful academically and with their health.”

Joyner also works part-time with ECU’s College of Nursing. She said she enjoyed ECU’s program as a student and chose it for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees knowing “it was the place where I would get what I needed to improve my own practice as a nurse.”

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU students, alumni to take part in new class ring ceremony

For the first time in East Carolina University’s 100-year history, students will receive an official ECU class ring at a ceremony on Dec. 3.

The class ring ceremony is a new tradition in which students mark an important milestone toward becoming ECU alumni. While students have always been able to purchase a class ring, there has been neither a signature collection with a unified look nor a ceremony before. Alumni from 1970-2016 have also ordered class rings this year.

The three official ring styles – signet, traditional and dinner – all have a crest on the top with the university shield, a sword and ECU’s motto, “Servire.” A group of ECU alumni, students, faculty and staff worked with Dowdy Student Stores and jewelry manufacturer Jostens to design the rings.

“The ring ceremony is a very special event and one we hope grows into a venerable tradition here,” said Heath Bowman, ECU Alumni Association president. “The class ring is a tangible connection to the university and a celebration of a student’s time at ECU. It is a lasting symbol of Pirate pride that will forever unite its wearer with fellow Pirates.”

The Ring Ceremony

The ceremony will be 2 p.m. Dec. 3 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at 115 Heart Dr., Greenville. It is open to those who have purchased a ring and RSVP’d to the event invitation. Rings will be presented by Heath Bowman, ECU Alumni Association president, and La’Quon Rogers, Student Government Association president. The ceremony will close with a singing of the university alma mater.

For more information or to buy an official ECU ring, visit Dowdy Student Stores or go to www.jostens.com/ECU.

 

-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

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