Category Archives: Alumni

Pirate Alumni Legacy Brunch set for Sept. 27

Families with two or more generations of Pirates including a current student are invited to the Pirate Alumni Legacy Brunch on Sunday, Sept. 27 at East Carolina University.

Hosted by the East Carolina Alumni Association in partnership with the Office of Parent and Family Programs, this annual event recognizes tradition and loyalty to East Carolina.

Students and their family members will enjoy a catered brunch in the company of fellow Pirates in the Great Rooms of Mendenhall Student Center. Participants will be given a pin to use in the pinning ceremony that they may keep. There will also be a family photo area where a professional university photographer will take free family snapshots.

This is an inclusive event; legacies are not limited to parent-child, and may include aunts, uncles, grandparents, stepparents, guardians, etc. Others who did not attend ECU but are in the student’s immediate family may also attend the brunch.

To attend, register by Monday, Sept. 21. Either students or other family members can register their whole party on one form, available online or for printing and mailing/faxing. Register well in advance, as this event may sell out prior to the registration deadline.

Attire is purple and gold business casual. The cost is $12.50 for alumni association members, including student Forever Pirates. For non-members, the cost is $22.50.

To find out more, contact Assistant Director of Alumni Programs Megan Howard ’07 at 252-328-5557 or

Sharing a special moment from the World Special Olympics


Donna Mooneyham (left) with Abigail Reznek, a swimmer from Maryland who competed on the U.S. aquatics team that Mooneyham coached at the World Special Olympics in Los Angeles. (Contributed photos)


Donna Mooneyham, an adjunct faculty member at East Carolina University’s College of Health and Human Performance, said she experienced many heartwarming moments as a coach of the U.S. aquatics team at the World Special Olympics. Held in Los Angeles July 25 through Aug. 2, the games attracted 6,500 athletes representing 165 countries.

But the one experience she will always treasure, she said, happened after she reached out to another East Carolina University graduate for help motivating an athlete on her team.

“I had an athlete from Kentucky and (at first) he was grumpy and lowly motivated. He wasn’t really gung ho for the competition. As I tried to connect with this individual, I found out he was a big NASCAR fan, and so am I. So we started talking about racing.”

Mooneyham reached out to one of her former ECU students, Greg Morin, who is a pit crew coach at Hendrick Motor Sports in Charlotte. Morin sent the athlete several items donated by NASCAR drivers.

After that, “he started getting very excited about swimming, he smiled more and he seemed to really take off with this encouragement. (At the next competition) he had his personal best time in swimming.”

On the last day of competition, Mooneyham said Morin called to let her know that he had sent something special to the athlete – a video of NASCAR great Jeff Gordon congratulating him for achieving his personal best time in the pool.

“That was such an inspiration that he went out and medaled,” Mooneyham said.

This was Mooneyham’s second time volunteering as a coach at the World Special Olympics. She also was an aquatics coach at the 2011 games held in Greece.

“This time it seemed more special because we were competing here in the U.S., which meant the families of a lot of the athletes could attend. And it was broadcast on ESPN, so there was so much more public awareness about the event. I think it was just really something special that (the parents) could have that experience” of watching their children compete against athletes from around the world, Mooneyham said.

She said a final tally showed that members of the U.S. Aquatics team won 86 medals.

– Steve Tuttle



ECU graduate stars in opera version of “Cold Mountain”

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of Cold Mountain at the Santa Fe Opera.

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of ‘Cold Mountain ‘ at the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel, who earned a degree in music from East Carolina University in 2007, premiered the role of Lucinda in the Santa Fe Opera Festival’s world premiere production of “Cold Mountain” on Aug. 1.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Havelock, North Carolina, Nansteel has performed as part of the American Opera Initiative; with the Seattle, Dayton and Merola opera companies; and with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Milan and the Seattle Symphony. She completed her second season at Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in May.

In its review of the premiere, “Opera Today” wrote that Nansteel “sang with formidable vocal power while expressing the desperation of a runaway slave.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon based the opera on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel. Like the book, the opera tells the story of Confederate soldier W.P. Inman and his struggle to return to his North Carolina home and his wife during the Civil War. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn sing the starring roles.

Additional performances of the opera are scheduled on Aug. 14, 17, 22 and 24. The Dutch recording label PentaTone will release a recording of the premiere.

The opera will be reprised at Opera Philadelphia in February 2016. The North Carolina Opera, a co-commissioner of the opera along with Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, plans to present “Cold Mountain” as part of its 2017-2018 season.

“This piece has deeply ingrained historical and cultural connections to North Carolina that will invigorate our core audience, while inspiring our state-wide community,” said Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor at North Carolina Opera.

– Steve Tuttle

ECU alum consults on Netflix series

Charlie Cox and Joe Strechay1

Actor Charlie Cox (left) gives the credit to East Carolina University alumnus Joe Strechay (right) for the good reviews of his performance as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who at night becomes a superhero crime fighter, in the new Netflix series “Daredevil.”

Strechay, who works for the American Foundation for the Blind, was a consultant to the series before “Daredevil” began filming last year. He spent several days teaching Cox the subtle movements he needed to be convincing in the role. The show gained an audience in its first season and Netflix has signed up for 12 new episodes to air this fall.

Student and teacher were back together in June at the 2015 Helen Keller Achievement Awards in New York, where Cox was recognized for raising public awareness about the blind.

“He is a genuine guy and he portrays a positive role model any way you look at it,” Strechay said about the British-born actor, who first attracted attention in the 2007 film “Stardust.”

“The amount of time and effort he puts in to provide an accurate and respectful portrayal is amazing,” Strechay said.

Cox said the hardest acting lessons came when Strechay blindfolded him and led him on brisk walks down busy New York City sidewalks. “He was kind of freaked out but he didn’t tell me that initially,” Strechay said. “I just wanted to show him how I travel.”

Strechay came to ECU from West Virginia with his twin brother, Daniel Strechay. He says he lost most of his eyesight to a congenital condition during his freshman year. He and his brother pledged Sigma Pi and were active in Greek life. Joe majored in communication and Daniel majored in political science. Both graduated in 2001.

After graduation Joe enrolled at Florida State for a master’s degree in methods to improve employment prospects for people with limited vision. He joined AFB in 2008 as program manager for CareerConnect, an AFB website that offers free resources and tools for students and job seekers with vision loss.

Daniel Strachey is manager of sustainability communications for PepsiCo and lives in the New York area.

Joe Strechay now lives in Huntington, West Virginia and travels frequently between AFB’s New York headquarters and training program sites across the country. He remains connected to campus through CommCrew, an alumni support group for the ECU School of Communication.

He believes job opportunities are increasing for people with limited vision as technology improves.

“There is progress,” he said. “There are new regulations that require federal contractors and subcontractors to meet utilization goals for employing persons with disabilities. That actually has helped a lot of veterans. What I say is, we haven’t reached the pinnacle yet but I can see progress being made.”

– Steve Tuttle

ECU graduates to lead State Board of Community Colleges

Two graduates of East Carolina University will serve as chair and vice chair of the State Board of Community Colleges.

Scott Shook

Scott Shook

Scott Shook of Greenville was elected chair of the board at its July 17 meeting in Raleigh. Clyde Higgs of Charlotte was elected vice chair. Both will serve two-year terms in those positions.

Shook is vice president and financial advisor with BB&T Scott & Stringfellow in Greenville. He graduated from ECU in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He is married to Karen Selby Shook, who graduated from ECU in 1989 with a bachelor’s in accounting.

Higgs is vice president of business development at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. He received a master’s degree in public administration from ECU in 1999.

Clyde Higgs

Clyde Higgs

Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Shook to the State Board of Community Colleges two years ago. The governor appointed Higgs to the board four years ago.

“The N.C. Community College System is the largest, most comprehensive higher education system in our state and a leader nationally,” Shook said. “It is an honor to serve as chair with this dynamic group of board members, all of whom have a passion for our students, our colleges and North Carolina.”

Shook is a member of the board’s Accountability and Audit Committee, the Finance Committee and the Presidential Search Committee. His term on the board expires in 2019.

Higgs is chair of the board’s Personnel Committee and serves on the Cabinet Committee, the Finance Committee and the Presidential Search Committee. His term on the board expires in 2017.

— Steve Tuttle

Scholarship honors first African-American undergraduate

Joseph Bryant, a junior from Greensboro, is the initial recipient of the Laura Marie Leary Elliott Memorial Scholarship, which was created in memory of the first African-American to earn an undergraduate degree from East Carolina University.

The scholarship was created to assist students pursuing careers in fields that are historically underrepresented by minority populations. These fields include, but are not limited to, science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

Bryant is majoring in chemistry. He is active in club basketball, the Pre-Pharm Club, ECU Ambassadors and the Chemistry Club. He is the son of Gralin and Annette Bryant, who are active members of the ECU Parents Association. Gralin Bryant graduated from ECU in 1983.

According to Zack Hawkins, director of Student Affairs Development, more than $32,000 has been raised so far for the scholarship, a sum that allows it to become endowed.

Alumni who gave $1,000 or more to the scholarship fund include Danny Scott and Connie Shelton, ECU Football Coach Ruffin McNeill, Ray Rogers, ECU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy, Linda Thomas and Valeria Lassiter. Many other black alumni and several of Laura Leary Elliott’s family members, including her daughter, Rachel Elliott Byers, and sister, Ruth Leary Asbury, also made contributions.

Bryant will be recognized during the Black Alumni Chapter Scholarship and Awards Banquet on Oct. 17 as part of Homecoming activities.

The $2,000 scholarship will increase in value in subsequent years, Hawkins said. In the future the scholarship will be awarded annually to one female and one male student.

Leary graduated in 1966. She taught school in Windsor for two years and then relocated to Washington, D.C. She worked for many years at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, retiring as a senior accountant in 2006. She died in 2013.

Left to right, Gralin, Annette and Joseph Bryant are pictured with PeeDee on campus. Joseph Bryant is the first Laura Marie Leary Elliott Memorial Scholarship recipient.

Left to right, Gralin, Annette and Joseph Bryant are pictured with PeeDee on campus. Joseph Bryant is the first Laura Marie Leary Elliott Memorial Scholarship recipient.

Alumni Association plans event in Wilmington

The East Carolina Alumni Association will host a networking lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 19 at Dockside restaurant, 1308 Airlie Road.

Cost for the lunch is $12 for alumni association members and $22 for non-members, with registration by June 12 at Attire is purple and gold business casual. Participants should bring business cards to exchange and enter for a door prize drawing.

For additional information, visit or contact 252-ECU-GRAD (252-328-4723) or

ECU’s oldest known alumni dies at 106

The woman who is believed to be East Carolina University’s oldest living alumni has died at the age of 106.

Josephine Catlette Stem

Josephine Catlette Stem

Josephine Mae Catlette Stem of Winston-Salem, who died April 27, received a teaching degree from East Carolina Teachers College in 1929. She taught at Wilton High School in Granville County for eight years before marrying James Stem and becoming a homemaker.

She lived most of her life in the Raleigh area. According to her obituary, her main pleasures in life were baking pound cakes to share with friends and watching the Atlanta Braves and Carolina Tar Heels on television.

She is survived by two children, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Steve Tuttle

Josephin Catlette Stem1929


Alumni Association hosts April networking events

The East Carolina Alumni Association is hosting April networking events in Greenville and Raleigh. Both events are open to all alumni and friends of East Carolina, with an $11 cost for Alumni Association members and $17 for non-members.

The Greenville event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 28 at A.J. McMurphy’s, 1914 Turnbury Drive. Register by April 23, indicating any special dietary needs during registration.

Featured alumni will be:

  • Jeff Foster ’83, founder and attorney at Foster Fitzpatrick and member of the East Carolina Alumni Association Board of Directors
  • Diane Taylor ’06, CEO and founder of Taylor Made Publishing

The Raleigh event is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 18 Seaboard, located at 18 Seaboard Ave., Suite 100. Register by April 28, indicating any special dietary needs during registration.

Featured alumni will be:

  • Heather Dickson Ransom ’06, owner of Consilium Connect
  • Jeff Tippett ’91, founder of Targeted Persuasion

For both events, dress is PURPLE and GOLD business casual. Bring business cards for a business card exchange and the opportunity to win ECU door prizes.

Individuals wishing to join the alumni association to take advantage of member pricing on these and future events may do so directly on the event registration form. Please note that advanced registration is required before the deadline. Early registration is strongly encouraged, as space is limited depending on the venue.

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