Category Archives: Arts and Sciences

Research cluster co-director featured in The Washington Post

East Carolina University associate professor Alex Manda (right) conducts a direct current electrical resistivity survey on a farm in Hyde County as part of his research on saltwater intrusion in the region.

ECU associate professor Alex Manda (right) conducts a direct current electrical resistivity survey on a farm in Hyde County as part of his research on saltwater intrusion in the region. (Contributed by Diana Rashash)

A recent article in The Washington Post highlights research by an East Carolina University faculty member on the challenges facing farmland in eastern North Carolina.

Alex Manda, associate professor of geological sciences and co-director of the ECU Natural Resources and the Environment Research Cluster, is studying how saltwater intrusion negatively affects soil in the region.

Saltwater intrusion happens when salt water moves into freshwater sources, introducing saltwater to areas where a high salt content could be problematic. The article notes that a mixture of “rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather are conspiring to cause salt from the ocean to contaminate aquifers and turn formerly fertile fields barren.”

Dawson Pugh, whose Hyde County farm is featured in the Post’s article, said that flooding and salinization on his property cost him $2 million in crops over the past five years. Now, Pugh is working with Manda to find a solution.

“Our research group is collaborating with scientists and agricultural agents from North Carolina State University to address a multifaceted problem that involves crop science, geology and hydrology,” Manda said.

Manda and his team are monitoring salt levels in soil, groundwater and surface water. Saltwater intrusion has been linked to sea level rise caused by climate change, but the article states that scientists aren’t sure how the salt winds up in fields like Pugh’s. There are a few hypotheses, including wind pushing salt water from the area’s canals and ditches into farmland or storm surge events dumping salty water on agricultural land.

Manda’s work is part of a concerted effort by ECU faculty members to put their research into practice. The university has sought to increase partnerships between researchers and the community, ensuring that the work being conducted by faculty members provides real-world benefits and applications for those in the region.

“This work is important because it highlights how ECU can engage with various stakeholders to tackle projects that are of mutual benefit in eastern North Carolina,” Manda said. “For example, farmers may benefit by finding solutions to the saltwater problem, whereas ECU may benefit by offering its students opportunities to take part in authentic research experiences.”

Learn more about the Natural Resources and the Environment Research Cluster online. Manda’s research can be found on his university blog.


-by Matt Smith, University Communications

Thirteenth-generation descendent of Thomas Harriot speaks with Harriot College Dean’s Advancement Council

Georgia Dunn Belk, who has traced her lineage to Thomas Harriot – the namesake of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University – spoke with the Dean’s Advancement Council at their spring meeting on Feb. 22 in the main Student Center.

Although there is no record of Harriot getting married, Dunn Belk is related to Harriot through a son born out of wedlock to Margaret Grimditch, who, in records, is said to have moved to Ireland with Harriot as “his family.”

William “Bill” Irwin Belk introduces Georgia Dunn Belk to the THCAS Advancement Council Friday, Feb. 22. Dunn Belk, a descendent of Thomas Harriot, spoke to the group about her family history.

William “Bill” Irwin Belk introduces Georgia Dunn Belk to the THCAS Advancement Council Friday, Feb. 22. Dunn Belk, a descendent of Thomas Harriot, spoke to the group about her family history. (Contributed photos)

Dunn Belk says she is part of the 13th-generation of Harriot (or Harriott) descendants and is actively involved in preserving history related to the Harriot legacy.

“Thomas Harriot played a key role in England’s ‘Age of Exploration,’ but his contributions are not contained to his advancement of math and science, nor to the service to the queen in the mid-Atlantic region of the 16th century world,” said Dunn Belk.

Dunn Belk stands next to the college banner depicting Thomas Harriot.

Dunn Belk stands next to the college banner depicting Thomas Harriot.

Harriot’s son Thomas (the younger) was among the first settlers to colonize Bermuda in the early 1600s, and with his family, eventually settled at Salt Cay Island, a small island in the southeast Turks and Caicos.

The Salt Islands – Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos – are known for their export of sea salt, an important preservative during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Harriot family cultivated the salt trade, which continues today under the name of Morton’s Salt. Harriot’s “White House,” which Dunn Belk and her brother inherited after their father’s passing, still stands on the island and is said to be the largest remaining relic of the salt industry.

She said the Harriot family was known to produce “salt so pure you can see through it like a piece of glass.”

However, with the decline of the salt industry in the late 19th century, Dunn Belk said Salt Cay became like Colonial Williamsburg.

“It is a land that time forgot,” she said.

Later, the house was used as a setting for the 1941 movie “Bahama Passage.”

In 1585, during the exploration of the New World and Britain’s preparation for settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, Harriot (senior) took ginger from the Caribbean to Great Britain. He developed and popularized fermented ginger beer, the first of the British to make beer in the Western Hemisphere.

Dunn Belk, after learning of the connection to ginger beer, began the process of re-popularizing the local product by changing the formula to allow for greater shelf life and commercial viability. She is President and CEO of the British West Indies Trading Company Ltd., which makes the fermented low alcohol ginger beer she re-formulated under the name of Islander Ginger Beer.

Dunn Belk described how Harriot brought ginger back to Great Britain and was the first person to make beer in the New World.

Dunn Belk described how Harriot brought ginger back to Great Britain and was the first person to make beer in the New World.

She concluded her talk by re-emphasizing Harriot’s multi-faceted intellect and mentioned how important one’s family is to future generations.

“Everything that I shared with you today illustrates his [Harriot’s] keen intellect and pioneering spirt that continue to live on through the centuries. These enterprises, and the brilliant mind behind them, are also part of his enduring legacy.”

Every family has an amazing history behind it. We are all, in our own way, standing on the shoulders of giants, all of whom faced great risk, hardship and sacrifice, which made our lives possible today,” she said.

Dunn Belk is married to William “Bill” Irwin Belk, descendant of the Belk department store founder, and daughter-in-law of Irwin “Ike” and Carol Belk. The Belk name is a familiar one at ECU, found on the former Belk Residence Hall, now Gateway, and the Carol G. Belk Building.

Dunn Belk’s career has led her to positions on both the west and east coasts. She now resides in Charlotte, where she helps manage her family farm and supports open space preservation. With dual citizenship in the United States and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dunn Belk continues to research and preserve her Harriot family story.


-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

ECU offers new master’s degree in Hispanic studies

Spanish is the official language of 20 nations and is the second most spoken language in the world, with more than 400 million native speakers. Students at East Carolina University now have the opportunity to expand their knowledge of Spanish and to prepare for a successful career with the new Master of Arts in Hispanic Studies.

“1934 Environment” was painted by Cândido Portinari (December 29, 1903 - February 6, 1962), a prominent Brazilian artist and influential practitioner of the neo-realism style in painting. 

“1934 Environment” was painted by Cândido Portinari (Dec. 29, 1903 – Feb. 6, 1962), a prominent Brazilian artist and influential practitioner of the neo-realism style in painting.

Approved in March, the program is accepting applications through July 15 for the fall semester. The program is unique in that it is not divided into traditional language, culture and literature courses but takes a holistic approach to teaching, said Dr. Dale Knickerbocker, professor of Hispanic studies and director of the new graduate program.

“The M.A. graduate will develop a transcultural understanding of Hispanic studies, defined as the ability to comprehend and analyze discourse – the cultural narratives that appear in every kind of oral and written expressive form,” Knickerbocker said.

ECU students come to the Hispanic studies program with a wide variety of professional interests, from health to banking and communications to criminal justice.

Through the graduate program, students will be matched with a partner in the state that aligns with their interests and professional goals on an active-learning research project. A few partners include Vidant Health Care, the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, El Centro Latino and the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

“Students will learn to communicate with the degree of formality needed to succeed in professional environments,” said Knickerbocker.

Once they graduate, students are highly competitive in pursuing many careers, including health care, education, banking, media, social work and law enforcement.

Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo, or Temple of Kukulcan, dominates the ancient city that thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. (Photo by Daniel Schwen)

Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo, or Temple of Kukulcan, dominates the ancient city that thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. (Photo by Daniel Schwen)

According to the 2010 United States Census Bureau, Hispanics and Latinos constitute both the largest and the fastest growing minority in North Carolina and the U.S., growing from 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2000 to 16.3 percent in 2010, or from 35.3 million to 50.5 million individuals – an increase of 43 percent.

The master’s program will give ECU students the linguistic and cultural competency to provide goods and services to this rising demographic.

In addition, beginning in fall 2019, the program will offer online, distance education courses, continuing 20 years of distance education success by ECU Hispanic studies faculty. This opens up the possibilities for professionals and K-12 educators to continue their education on a more flexible basis, Knickerbocker said.

Once distance education classes begin, ECU’s online program will be the only online master’s of Hispanic studies offered in North Carolina or the southeastern United States. Currently, New Mexico State is the only other institution to offer an online master’s program in Hispanic studies.

For more information or to apply for the fall 2018-19 academic year, visit or contact Knickerbocker at


-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

Endowment to bring more renowned speakers to ECU

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead, underwater explorer Jean-Michael Cousteau, primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson have all come to East Carolina University to share their unique perspectives, and such luminaries will continue to be a staple thanks to an endowment for the Voyages of Discovery Series.

The series is an ongoing showcase of distinguished speakers with thought-provoking messages from every field. Humanitarians, authors, activists and astronauts have all been featured since the series was established in 2007 by the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. The Voyages of Discovery Series has become the premier intellectual event for students and faculty of ECU as well as the citizens of eastern North Carolina.

The 2017-2018 season ended Thursday with a performance by the political satire group The Capitol Steps at ECU’s Wright Auditorium.

Harvey Wooten attends the 2017 Voyages of Discovery premier lecture with Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic, and friend Vik Sexton. (Contributed photo)

Harvey Wooten attends the 2017 Voyages of Discovery premier lecture with Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic, and friend Vik Sexton. (Contributed photo)

The Ms. Harvey S. Wooten Voyages of Discovery Endowment is the first endowment for the series. Wooten is one of the founding members of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advancement Council and has been involved in the series since its beginning.

“I just feel so strongly about this lecture series,” she said. “It’s a way to bring intellectual stimulus to the university and the community with big names that might not ever come here otherwise.”

Wooten, a Kinston native, has lived in Greenville for nearly 40 years. She served as the co-chair of the THCAS Advancement Council for 10 years. As an active member of the council, Wooten has provided generous funding for the college and established the Harvey Sharp Wooten Study Abroad Scholarship and the Harvey Wooten Social Sciences Scholarship.

“Harvey Wooten is, without match, our most loyal and generous supporter of the Voyages of Discovery Series,” Dean William M. Downs said. “For years, she has contributed funds that have enabled Harriot College to bring some of the world’s foremost scientists, authors, policymakers, and world-changers to Greenville. By creating the Wooten Endowment, she has laid a solid foundation for the series’ future. As we endeavor to elevate the prominence of the speakers we bring to campus, we will look to grow the endowment so that generations of future Pirates will continue to benefit from the wisdom, wit and inspiration of those showcased by eastern North Carolina’s most important lecture series.”

Series director Jeffrey Johnson echoed that sentiment. “Harvey is a person of wide-ranging interests in the arts and sciences, and her appetite for intellectual inquiry and exploration embodies this series,” he said. “All of us who are involved with the series are deeply grateful to Harvey.”

Wooten said she never misses a lecture. Her favorites over the years have included renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, writer and journalist Walter Isaacson, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Above all, Wooten said she hopes the endowment will encourage more people to give to the lecture series and show others what a gift ECU is giving to the public.

“You can bring rock stars and country singers here and that’s great entertainment for one night, but these speakers that come give you insight into their mind and their world and give you something inspiring to take away from it.”

For additional information about the Voyages Series, visit


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Revisiting a legacy: Dr. C.Q. Brown’s influence continues today

The Department of Geological Sciences in East Carolina University’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. However, one could say that the department’s foundation was cemented not in 1967, but 1965. In that year, Dr. Charles Q. Brown, a Clemson University professor at the time, kept hearing how ECC – East Carolina College – was the fastest growing college in the state. He was curious, paid a visit to the college and met some of the deans.

“I actually wrote them a response to my visit about the things they probably ought to do; some plans for the geology department,” Brown said. “We started a dialogue at that point.

“That brought me to East Carolina.”

In 1966, Brown joined ECU as a professor. In 1967, he formed the Department of Geological Sciences and became its first chairman.

Dr. C.Q. Brown

Dr. C.Q. Brown joined ECU as a professor in 1966. A year later, he founded the Department of Geological Sciences. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

The father of the department

A 2017 department newsletter states the following from geology department chairman Dr. Stephen Culver: “I cannot end without mention of our founding father, Dr. Charles Q. Brown, who planned, initiated and ran the department for the first four years (1967-1971). C.Q. returned from higher administration in 1979 and ran the department for another decade. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to C.Q. for his vision, his energy and his leadership.”

During a recent visit to ECU, Brown toured the department that he started. Day after day, students walk by the department’s glass cases that house fossils and minerals. Some are aware of Brown’s legacy with the department. Some are also aware of his other legacies that benefit those that walk the department’s hallways.

“It is absolutely unbelievable that it has grown so far (sic),” Brown said. “Fifty years seems like a long time, but that’s rapid growth. That is fantastic growth, and it’s to the credit of this faculty and administration.”

A legacy that endures

The late Elizabeth Brown Sledge

Dr. Brown endowed a scholarship for the College of Engineering and Technology to honor his late daughter, Elizabeth Brown Sledge.

In 2000, students, colleagues and alumni recognized Brown’s legacy by establishing the C.Q. Brown Scholarship. It recognizes and awards rising seniors who are studying in the department of geological sciences. Additionally, ECU’s Epsilon Phi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Epsilon raises money that goes toward this scholarship.

In December 2015, Brown established the Elizabeth Brown Sledge (EBS) Scholarship Endowment. This College of Engineering and Technology scholarship is in memory of his daughter, who received her degrees from ECU in 1984 and 1991. It will aid those technology systems students who are underrepresented and demonstrate a financial need, which represents Sledge’s championing of the underdog.

Brian Stanford is a recipient of the EBS Scholarship Endowment. His major is in information computer technology with a networking concentration. He graduates this spring, and said he appreciates the value these scholarships bring to students’ lives.

The late Barbara Brown

Dr. C.Q. Brown’s influence in the Department of Geological Sciences continues today thanks to a scholarship in his name and an endowment he made in memory of his late wife, Barbara. (submitted photo)

“I feel much respect for and am very grateful to Dr. C.Q. Brown and any contributors of the Elizabeth Brown Sledge Scholarship,” Stanford said. “They not only have provided me with financial help for my degree, but they also showed me that we have kind people in this world who do selfless things that can have a great impact on people’s lives.”

Dr. Harry Ploehn, College of Engineering and Technology dean, had the opportunity to meet Brown while he was on campus. During the meeting, Ploehn learned more about Sledge and Brown’s wishes for the scholarship.

“With the EBS Scholarship Endowment, we want to capitalize on Elizabeth’s passion for helping at-risk students, her passion for helping the underdog,” Ploehn said. “This scholarship helps students who are at risk of not being able to continue with their studies.”

While on campus, Brown talked about how important guest lecturers were during his education. In memory of his wife, who died in 1999, Brown established the C.Q. and Barbara Hedgepeth Brown Endowment.

“I already have a scholarship that the students are supporting in my name,” Brown said. “I wanted to memorialize her life also with something different. I thought having outstanding lecturers coming to the campus and to the department would be great.

“That’s the beauty of the endowment. It goes on and on.”


-by Michael Rudd, University Communications

ECU alumna named NC Presidential Scholar

East Carolina University alumna Katie Stanley is one of four recent graduates from across the state named a Presidential Scholar for the 2017-18 school year by the University of North Carolina General Administration.

UNC President Margaret Spellings announced the appointment July 20.

Presidential Scholars provide a range of professional functions for the UNC General Administration. Scholars have regular interaction with senior leadership and members of the system’s Board of Governors and help research, write and implement policy.

 Left to right, Honors College Dean David White, Katie Stanley and EC Scholars director Todd Fraley celebrate during the Honors College graduation ceremony in May. Stanley has been named a NC Presidential Scholar at the UNC General Administration. (contributed photo)

Left to right, Honors College Dean David White, Katie Stanley and EC Scholars director Todd Fraley celebrate during the Honors College graduation ceremony in May. Stanley has been named a NC Presidential Scholar at the UNC General Administration.
(contributed photo)

A political science major and Greenville native, Stanley’17 was a member of the Honors College and Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society at ECU. Stanley plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy with the goal of working in state government. Stanley previously interned for Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Representative Dean Arp (R-Union).

“We were thrilled to learn about Katie’s appointment as a Presidential Scholar and look forward to hearing about all the great work she will accomplish in this role,” said Dr. David White, dean of the ECU Honors College. “Katie’s story is an example of how successful our Honors College students are, and how often they make us proud with their personal and professional achievements after graduating.”

The Presidential Scholars were selected among May 2017 UNC system graduates who demonstrated leadership skills, strong motivation, intellectual curiosity and ability to take risks, according to a news release. Previous scholars have worked on assignments from General Administration departments including legal, advancement, academic affairs and communications.

“The Presidential Scholars program allows some of our most talented graduates to hone professional skills and gain real working experience in higher education,” Spellings said. “Scholars also have the unique opportunity to explore and understand the inner workings of an institution that has helped transform our great state.”


-by Cole Dittmer, University Communications

ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences announces new department chairperson

East Carolina University’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences has appointed the next chairperson for the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment. Dr. Thad Wasklewicz, ECU professor of geography, with research interests in geomatics and geomorphology, is currently the director of the Terrain Analysis Laboratory. He steps into his new role as department chair effective August 1, succeeding Dr. Burrell Montz, who has served as chairperson since coming to ECU in 2009.

“I am both grateful to professor Montz for her exemplary leadership over the past eight years and excited to have professor Wasklewicz joining the college leadership team,” said Harriot College Dean William Downs. “Thad will bring us new vision, new energy and a keen commitment to advancing research, teaching and service in this important academic unit.”

“I’ve had an amazing working relationship with Burrell,” said Wasklewicz. “She leads by example and has created a working environment that permits faculty to keep research productivity in our program at an extremely high level. As a department, we have been lucky to have her as a chair, and we look forward to her continued efforts in the program as a faculty member.”

Wasklewicz came to ECU in 2007 as an associate professor and became full professor in 2014. Over the past decade, he has been actively involved in the department through teaching, mentoring students as honors thesis, thesis and dissertation chair or committee member, serving the university and department on multiple committees, and collaborating with colleagues from a variety of departments at ECU, and other universities, on research related to environmental change detection and geospatial technologies to collect and measure these changes.

Dr. Thad Wasklewicz (contributed photo)

Dr. Thad Wasklewicz (contributed photo)

“It’s been a great pleasure working with ECU students. I’ve been working with undergraduate students in the research process and many of those undergraduate students have moved up to the master’s program,” said Wasklewicz. “To see them make it through an undergraduate honors thesis, through their masters and then get employed in positions where their expertise is respected and utilized, has been a very rewarding part of working at ECU.”

In his new role as department chair, Wasklewicz plans to build on the department’s strengths, which include continuing to mentor the faculty and pushing them to succeed, and supporting the involvement of students through a newly developing leadership program. Other initiatives he intends to promote include more international student activities, and continuing to grow numbers and increase the active participation of students in the ECU Geo-Club, which is active in the local community.

“I am excited and ready to promote our program in a manner that grows student interest and increases our presence in the eastern North Carolina community,” said Wasklewicz.

Other goals are to increase marketing of the Planning and Geography programs to attract more students and funding, and perform more service-oriented community activities grounded in current departmental research.

“Our program is not a typical destination place for students coming out of high school,” said Wasklewicz. “Trying to figure out ways to make the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment more of a destination location for students by interacting with local high schools and community colleges, and building stronger connections between programs here on campus – to not only increase our majors but increase the number of students involved in our classes – is one of the things I’d like to see progress during my tenure as chair.”

Among many research interests, Wasklewicz primarily focuses on high-resolution topography and applying topography to understand how hazards like debris-flows initiate and propagate within steep mountainous watersheds. Also, he has a keen interest in how debris flows impact built environments in close proximity to the mountain fronts. These interests have allowed Wasklewicz to conduct research in many locations in the eastern and western parts of the United States, Japan and Central America.

Throughout his time at ECU, Wasklewicz has received more than $2 million in grants and contracts, and he has been invited to present his research more than 90 times at professional meetings and university seminars nationally and internationally. He is the author, or co-author, of more than 40 articles and chapters published in peer-reviewed journals and books.

Wasklewicz is a member of the Association of American Geographers, the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. He was also a recent visiting Research Fellow at the University of Tokyo and is the current Chair of the Environmental and Engineering Division of the Geological Society of America. His past awards include an ECU Scholar-Teacher Award, the Geological Society of America Gladys Cole Award, an USGS Senior Scientist in Residence Award and a National Science Foundation Career Development Award.

Wasklewicz received his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in geography from Arizona State University in 1996 and ‘92 respectively. He received his B.S. degree in geography from Plymouth State College in Plymouth, N.H. in 1991.


Contact: Lacey Gray, director of marketing and communications, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences,, 252-737-1754

ECU’s Earth Day Expo

The Biodiversity Initiative and Department of Biology at East Carolina University will host an Earth Day Expo on Tuesday, April 11th from 4-6pm in Howell Science Complex with interactive events for people of all ages.  Various ECU researchers and local non-profit organizations will have displays and activities available on topics related to biodiversity.

There will be live animals and plants, lab activities, natural history story times, and more.  Kids from various after school programs will be attending and the public is welcome. Please check in at the breezeway of Howell when you arrive for a passport, map, and other information! More details are available at

For more information, please contact Heather Vance-Chalcraft at or 252-328-9841.  This event is a North Carolina Science Festival event (



-by Heather Vance-Chalcraft, Department of Biology

ECU guest speaker to discuss “Fake News, Misinformation & Democracy in America”

On April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Adam Berinsky, professor of political sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be on campus to discuss “Fake News, Misinformation and Democracy in America.” Berinsky studies the political behavior of ordinary citizens.

While Berinsky is primarily concerned with questions of representation and the communication of public sentiment to political elites, he also studied public opinion and foreign policy, the continuing power of group-based stereotypes, the effect of voting reforms, the power of the media and survey research methods.

The event is co-sponsored by the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science and the ECU Center for Survey Research. The event is free and open to the public and will be held in Rivers Building, room A-102, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

For additional information about Berinsky, visit:


-by Lacey Gray, Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences

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