Category Archives: Alumni

Graduate student awarded yearlong national fellowship

Chris Thaxton

Chris Thaxton (Contributed photo)

An East Carolina University graduate student is one of 66 from across the United States awarded a 2019 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.

William “Chris” Thaxton, who will graduate with a master’s degree in biology in May, earned bachelor degrees in biology and chemistry from ECU in 2016 as an EC Scholar.

The Knauss award, presented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Sea Grant, recognizes students who are completing masters, juris doctor or doctor of philosophy programs with a focus or interest in marine science, policy or management.

The 40th class of Knauss Fellows will begin work in February.

Thaxton, who grew up in La Grange, will be moving to Washington, D.C., for his fellowship year where he will work on ocean and natural resource policy for Sen. Brian Schatz from Hawaii.

“I love science, but my real passion is using science to find the balance between the needs of people and nature,” Thaxton said. “All of my experiences so far have been mostly ‘doing’ science. The Knauss Fellowship is an intense, yearlong introduction into how science is actually used in federal policy.”

Thaxton said he is especially passionate about the topic of climate change and how sea level rise will impact coastal development.

“There is a lot of confusion, fear and uncertainty surrounding the topic,” Thaxton said. “Science can either relieve or exacerbate these issues depending on how it’s communicated. North Carolina’s peculiar history with sea level rise policy piqued my interest in the subject as an undergraduate, and I’m excited at the opportunity to see firsthand how climate-related issues are being discussed at the federal level.”

Thaxton first learned about the Knauss Fellowship while completing a 10-week Hollings Scholar internship with NOAA four years ago.

He credited ECU’s Dr. Tim Runyon and Dr. Rebecca Asch in helping mentor his interests and research.

In the future, he would like to work as a legislative staffer on Capitol Hill, expanding the skills he expects to develop as a Knauss Fellow.

For more information, visit


-by Crystal Baity, ECU News Services

Cole Dittmer contributed to this story.


Alumni association partners with Fox Run Group

(Logo provided by Fox Run Group)

The East Carolina University Alumni Association announced Thursday that it will be partnering with New Jersey-based Fox Run Group on sponsorship and advertising efforts.

The partnership is an extension of the association’s goal to reach a wider alumni audience, said Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. On July 1, the alumni association eliminated its dues-based membership and welcomed all living graduates of the university into the alumni association.

“This new partnership with Fox Run Group represents a transformational shift in how our organization will generate the support it needs to continue living out its mission to inform, involve and serve over 180,000 ECU alumni throughout Pirate Nation,” Bowman said. “Through improved business and community partnerships, we hope our office can deliver even more optimal experiences for ECU alumni at programs and events in the future.”

Fox Run Group will be hiring a full-time staff member dedicated to working with ECU. The sponsorship firm has a background in working with universities and alumni associations. On its website, the group lists current and past clients including the Penn State Alumni Association, the University of Massachusetts Alumni Association and Rutgers University.

“The Fox Run Group understands the incredible loyalty ECU alumni have to their alma mater, and we feel that we can bring value to alumni by partnering with marketers whose products and services are a good fit with their alumni association,” Fox Run Group president Angelo Scialfa III said. “We look forward to recruiting a dedicated team member to serve the ECU Alumni Association and create a seamless working relationship for many years to come.”


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU engineering’s first class celebrates anniversary

East Carolina University’s Department of Engineering recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its first graduating class at the Greenville Convention Center.

Engineering alumni from as far away as Washington, D.C., joined current administration, faculty, staff and students and celebrated the donors and department friends who helped raise almost $25,000 in scholarship funds by attending the reunion.

Aaron Spencer (Contributed photo)

Aaron Spencer (Contributed photos)

Aaron Spencer is an alumnus of the first engineering graduating class and said he always saw himself as a Pirate when growing up. He considers himself a pioneer who paved the way for everybody else.

“Progress has to have a starting point,” Spencer said.

Spencer said he is proud of his alma mater and wants it to succeed. He said he supports ECU because he wants people to say ‘Wow’ when he tells them he graduated from the university.

“I’ve got to have the success of the program to build and build for that to be said,” Spencer said.

Spencer added that he wants to set an example for future classes to give back.

“We all have to invest in this (the engineering program),” he said. “If we’re going to continue to see growth and progress, we have to continue to invest back in to this program to get to the point where people are saying ‘Wow’ when they learn where we graduated.”

Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, is among those who are impressed by the program’s development during the last decade.

“I’m very proud of everyone’s contribution to building the engineering program at ECU,” he said. “I’m not only proud of the faculty and staff who created an excellent engineering curriculum from scratch, but also every graduate who has gone out into the workforce and proven the program’s quality through their impact on their companies and communities. Well done!”

The department’s inaugural graduating class had 22 graduates. Since then, the department’s alumni base has grown to more than 600. Currently, the Department of Engineering has 550 students and 30 faculty.

ECU’s Department of Engineering recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its first graduating class. On hand to celebrate were faculty and students representing that class, including, left to right: Tarek Abdel-Salam, faculty emeritus, Paul Kauffman, faculty emeritus, Scott Dargan, Dustin Jones, Aaron Spencer, Stephen Dubrey, Josh Brown, Patrick Rhodes, Kyle Barnes, and Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology.

On hand to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first graduating class were faculty and students representing that class, including, left to right: Tarek Abdel-Salam, faculty emeritus, Paul Kauffman, faculty emeritus, Scott Dargan, Dustin Jones, Aaron Spencer, Stephen Dubrey, Josh Brown, Patrick Rhodes, Kyle Barnes, and Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology.

Barbara Muller-Borer, chairwoman of the department of engineering, said she is appreciative and enthusiastic of the continued support from industry partners, faculty and alumni for their investment in student scholarships.

“Scholarship funds are important for recruiting and retaining talented students and positively impact student success,” she said.

In addition to returning alumni, many companies and individuals sponsored the event. Called investors, these sponsors included:

■ Diamond: Purdue, Hyster-Yale and NC Electric Cooperatives

■ Gold: ECU’s Department of Engineering, Spencer C2, LLC

■ Silver: ThermoFisher Scientific, SPX Transformer Solutions and Century 21, The Realty Group, Gene & Sally Dixon

■ Purple: Truebeck Construction

■ Bronze: NCEast Alliance, Timothy A. Spencer, Kyle Barnes, and Josh Brown.


-by Michael Rudd, University Communications

ECU Alumni Association to recognize 2018 award winners

Five alumni and one honorary Pirate will be honored by the East Carolina University Alumni Association at its annual alumni awards ceremony on Friday, Oct. 19.

The awards recognize alumni and friends of the university who have demonstrated outstanding merit and achievement, distinguished themselves as leaders for the university, and adopted ECU as their own.

“Spanning the classes of 1967 to 2013, this year’s awardees include those who have served in the medical, military and corporate arenas. Through their service and achievement, they have shown the world what we already know – that Pirate alumni are second to none!” said Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “From start to finish, our awards event is a showcase of our stars, and we are so grateful to get to spend time celebrating them each fall during ECU Homecoming Weekend.”

The recipients will be honored at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Greenville Convention Center. The media is invited to attend.

2018 Alumni Award Recipients


Virgil Clark ’50 Distinguished Service Award

Danny Scott

Danny Scott of Swansea, Illinois, graduated from the College of Business in 1984. Scott is the co-founder of the specialty food company All-N-Food, LLC. Scott served on the ECU Board of Trustees for eight years, was the recipient of the Laura Marie Leary Elliott Courageous Leader Award in 2015, and established a COB scholarship in 2008. Whenever he visits campus, Scott speaks with COB classes and on student discussion panels. He also serves as mentor and coach to students.


Honorary Alumni Award

Austin Bunch (posthumous)

While he did not graduate from ECU, Bunch served four chancellors at the university from 1999 until his death in 2017. He impacted almost every major campus celebration including installations, commencements, convocations and awards. His talents and love of the university were felt by hundreds of people across multiple administrations.


Outstanding Alumni Award

Kodi Azari

Kodi Azari of Pacific Palisades, California, graduated from the Brody School of Medicine in 1997. He is now the world-renowned surgical director of the hand transplant program at UCLA Health. Azari was one of the lead surgeons in the first double-hand transplant and the first arm transplant. He is also the medical co-director of Operation Mend, a UCLA Health program that provides free complex reconstructive surgery and psychological support to wounded service members. He credits ECU for shaping his career.


Lt. Commander Kathleen Ferguson

Lt. Commander Kathleen Ferguson of Atlanta graduated from the College of Health and Human Performance in 2007. As a quality assurance specialist for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Ferguson approves and rejects critical pharmaceutical products, medical devices and vaccines for the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and Department of Defense. She volunteered to be on the front lines in Sierra Leonne during the 2015 Ebola virus outbreak while also ensuring that the United States’ stockpile of medicines and medical devices stood ready and available if needed.


Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins of Laurinburg is a ’66 and ’67 alumnus from the College of Health and Human Performance. He is professor emeritus of educational leadership at UNC-Pembroke, where he’s worked in numerous roles for more than 47 years, including interim chancellor, provost, vice chancellor of academic affairs and director of admissions. He is also the former president and current member of the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce, as well as a member of the Laurinburg-Scotland Area Chamber of Commerce.


Young Alumni Award

Tywana Lawson

Tywana Lawson of La Grange is an ‘03, ’13, College of Nursing alumna. She is now the director of nursing programs at Nash Community College, where she oversaw an

increase in nursing student completion rates by 30 percentage points. Lawson also worked with Nash UNC Health Care to establish scholarships for first and second-year nursing students. She is a member of the American and North Carolina Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau International, and is an ECU Centennial Pirate.


Visit for more information about the ECU Alumni Awards.


-Contact: Erin Shaw, University Communications, 252-737-1505,

Brody School of Medicine names director of alumni affairs

Laura McFall Bond, new director of alumni affairs for the Brody School of Medicine.

Laura McFall Bond, new director of alumni affairs for the Brody School of Medicine. (Photo by ECU Athletics)

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University has named its first director of alumni affairs.

Laura McFall Bond will oversee Brody’s efforts to increase the medical school’s engagement with alumni through communications and strategic events. She comes to Brody from the ECU Pirate Club where, as the director of special events and hospitality, she oversaw donor-related events, managed football and men’s basketball gameday hospitality, and led the alumni Letterwinner Experience aimed at bringing former student-athletes together for reunion activities.

Bond brings six years of experience in working with alumni and students through her employment with ECU and two fraternity headquarters, Pi Kappa Alpha and Pi Kappa Phi. She has served on the University of Tennessee’s Martin Young Alumni Council as well as their Martin-Memphis Alumni Board. She currently supports the ECU Chapter of Chi Omega as their advisor.

Bond completed her master’s degree in leadership and policy studies at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2015. She earned her undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2012.

“Brody is a huge asset to the state of North Carolina, and I am overjoyed to be in a position to work with alumni, faculty, students and staff who are making the world a better place,” said Bond.

“ECU’s medical alumni are an incredible force for good across our state and beyond,” said Brody dean Dr. Mark Stacy. “I’m excited that Laura has joined our team, not only to help us keep our graduates informed about issues important to Brody and the health of our state, but also to help us be more intentional about supporting their efforts and recognizing their successes as they live out the Brody mission.”


-by Amy Adams Ellis, University Communications

Purple Gold Golf Tournament raises $20K for alumni association

The East Carolina University Alumni Association hosted the annual Purple Gold Golf Tournament on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Ironwood Golf and Country Club in Greenville, where 32 teams of golfers played for prizes, pride and tradition. The event raised nearly $20,000 for scholarships, according to the alumni association.

“This is one of our major scholarship fundraisers for the year,” said Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “The timing of it makes it really fun. It’s an exciting game weekend in early fall when alumni return en masse to Greenville. And it’s an event that many people circle on their calendars.”

Golfers hit the links at Ironwood Golf & Country Club Friday, Sep. 7 for the Purple Gold Golf Tournament.

Golfers hit the links at Ironwood Golf & Country Club Friday, Sep. 7 for the Purple Gold Golf Tournament. (Photo by George Crocker)

Ryan Cole ’12 traveled from Syracuse, New York, to play in the tournament with his father, Randy Cole ’85, who made the trip from Stafford, Virginia. It was their first time participating in the tournament.

“We’ve wanted to do it for years,” Ryan Cole said. “I’ve always heard Ironwood is a beautiful course. I also like doing anything alumni related and spending time with my dad.”

For five-time participants Ryan Castillo, Jason Sagadraca, Andrew Sagadraca and Wayne Conner, the tournament has become a yearly tradition – and a chance to dress up. The team, named the Fore Fathers, arrived in matching American flag shorts, shirts and hats, complete with powdered wigs that would make George Washington proud.

“This is how we stand out. We can’t golf so we have to dress up,” Jason Sagadraca joked.

Proceeds from the Purple Gold Golf Open go directly to the ECU Alumni Scholarship Program.

Since its establishment in 2005, the program has awarded 297 scholarships totaling over $432,000.

Kirsten Powell, a senior public health student and alumni scholarship recipient, was on the course Friday chatting with alumni and overseeing the hole-in-one contest.

“It’s really rewarding to be out here,” she said. “This scholarship not only provides funds but opportunities; it’s awesome.”


1st place gross: ASAP Photo & Camera

  • Carder Frutiger ‘05
  • Stephen Pugh
  • Tyler Braden
  • Eric Miller

1st Place net: Institutional Interiors

  • Mike Baskett ‘77
  • Tim Hill ‘77
  • Roddy Seymour ‘73
  • Scott Seymour

For more information about the alumni scholarship program, visit


-Erin Shaw, University Communications


Driving in style: Alumni association promotes Pirate plates

Alumni Association now welcoming all Pirates, no longer charging membership fee

MFA alumna honored with Valdosta Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching

Abigail Heuss, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in metal design from ECU’s School of Art and Design, is the recipient of Valdosta State University’s 2018 Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching.

The Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching recognizes a faculty member who employs innovative teaching strategies and demonstrates a strong commitment to student success. Heuss, an associate professor of art, was chosen for consistently creating an active learning environment that encourages collaboration, inquiry, and self-discovery.

“[Abigail] is the most selfless and generous teacher with which I have had the pleasure to work,” said Hollis Barnett, interim head of VSU’s Department of Art and Design. “Her Student Opinion of Instruction (SOI) scores are always among the highest within the department and the university. It is not uncommon for the students to rank her teaching a perfect five on a five-point scale.

“[She] is an organized thinker and focused instructor. She is a natural teacher. Her personality and enthusiasm is infectious for her students and her colleagues.”

Pictured left to right are Valdosta State University President Richard A. Carvajal; Abigail Heuss, VSU associate professor of art; and Dr. Robert Smith, VSU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

Pictured left to right are Valdosta State University President Richard A. Carvajal; Abigail Heuss, VSU associate professor of art; and Dr. Robert Smith, VSU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. (Contributed photo)

Heuss, who specializes in jewelry, metalsmithing, and three-dimensional art, has taught at VSU since 2013.

“This award is such an honor,” she said. “I love my job. I wake up excited to come to work every day, and so it’s really nice to hear that I’ve had an impact on other people’s experiences at VSU as well.

“My goal as a teacher is to inspire and encourage students of all levels to work hard, to take chances by investing something of themselves into the work, and ultimately to become empowered by making art. I work to build an environment where students feel safe to ask questions, take risks, and occasionally fail at things in the short term in order to learn how to research and be active learners.”

Heuss has coordinated several exhibits to allow students to showcase their work and build their resume. She also maintains a website that features student work from VSU’s jewelry and metalsmithing courses.

Heuss redesigned VSU Department of Art and Design’s small metals lab to make it more efficient for her students and purchased updated metalsmithing tools and equipment. She also secured a grant from The Enamelist Society to purchase the necessary materials and equipment to teach enameling in one of her courses.

Her motivation to see students succeed comes from her passion for the art she creates with her students, Heuss said.

“There’s something really empowering about learning how to make things,” she said. “I think about the change in my own life that came about when I figured out that I had that power to take a material, take tools, and turn that material into something that was meaningful to me and to other people. Being able to help somebody else have that same experience is really beautiful to me.”

Heuss’s work has been featured in numerous local, regional, national, and international exhibitions and publications. Many of her pieces have won awards, and she has presented on her craft at multiple conferences.




Driving in style: Alumni association promotes Pirate plates

The East Carolina Alumni Association is part of a renewed push to get more drivers showing their Pirate pride with ECU-branded license plates.

The program, an existing partnership with the university and the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, returns a portion of license plate fees back to ECU and supports student scholarships.

PeeDee shows off a Pirate plate on campus.

PeeDee shows off a Pirate plate on campus. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

“This partnership makes total sense for us,” said Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “A vast majority of our ECU alumni and friends live in North Carolina, so we were excited when this opportunity came about. We want to challenge all Pirates around the state to upgrade their vehicles with a Pirate plate. It is a great way to not only support our deserving students, but to help showcase the strength and generosity of Pirate Nation around our state.”

The specialized ECU license plate with the Pirate logo costs an additional $25 on top of the regular DMV registration fee. Of that amount, $15 goes to the ECU Alumni Scholarship Fund. For an additional $30, the Pirate plate can be personalized with a custom message such as a class year.

Options available for Pirates at the DMV.

Options available for Pirates at the DMV. (Photos by the ECU Alumni Association)

To order a Pirate license plate, go to the nearest DMV office or visit the DMV online. For more information, visit

Only Pirate plates purchased in North Carolina support ECU scholarships. Various states offer collegiate license plates, and those interested in an out-of-state Pirate license plate should check with their local DMV.


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Recent ECU graduate wins national research contest

A research paper by a 2018 graduate of East Carolina University’s Master of Public Health program has won a national contest.

Preventing Chronic Disease, a medical journal established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recently announced that Fei Gao’s paper, “Prevalence of gestational diabetes and health behaviors among women: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2014,” was one of two graduate-level winners of their 2018 Research Paper Contest.

Fei Geo

Fei Gao (Contributed photo)

The contest required papers to be relevant to the prevention, screening, surveillance or population-based intervention of chronic diseases, including arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Two winners were selected from the graduate student category and one each from the doctoral, undergraduate and high school categories. More than 100 papers were submitted.

“My MPH provided many opportunities to practice and utilize research techniques, from our internship to our professional paper to attending research conferences,” said Gao. “My role as a graduate assistant for the diabetes study conducted at the ECU Family Medicine Center also helped cultivate my interest in diabetes. All in all, the combination of great mentors and opportunities helped prepare me in writing this manuscript.

“With much more to learn about diabetes and preventative care, I will continue my research to provide pertinent findings to help reform current interventions and guidelines for diabetes and other related chronic diseases,” Gao added.

The journal will publish Gao’s winning paper later this year. Gao is the first student in ECU’s Master of Public Health program to receive the honor.


-by Kelly Rogers Dilda, University Communications

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