Category Archives: Hot Topics

Graduate student earns ECU’s first Schweitzer Fellowship in public health

ECU graduate student Gabriel Beattie-Sergio has received a 2018 Schweitzer Fellowship, the university’s first such award in the area of public health. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU graduate student Gabriel Beattie-Sergio has received a 2018 Schweitzer Fellowship, the university’s first such award in the area of public health. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Graduate student Gabriel Beattie-Sergio has earned ECU’s first-ever Schweitzer Fellowship in public health, to create and sustain a project aimed at determining and eliminating different factors that contribute to childhood asthma. His designation through the program is as a BCBSNC Foundation Schweitzer Fellow.

Beattie-Sergio’s work will focus on victims who were impacted by the 2016 Hurricane Matthew, live in substandard housing and have children with asthma. A large part of Beattie-Sergio’s time will be dedicated to conducting in-home (field) visits, interviewing families and conducting environmental health and housing assessments.

“I’ll be gaining experience with underserved populations and minorities, and seeing firsthand what environmental factors can contribute to illnesses,” said Beattie-Sergio, who is working under the mentorship of Dr. Greg Kearney, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health.

Beattie-Sergio said earning the fellowship is a chance for him to get a first-hand look at some of the topics he has learned about in the classroom. Kearney said it represents a unique opportunity to work in the trenches.

“Gabe demonstrates an eagerness to learn and help people, so I think this will be a great experience for him,” said Kearney, program director of environmental and occupational health. “As his mentor, I hope to provide him with guidance that will allow him to apply his public health education and develop skills along the way.”

Beattie-Sergio’s work will leverage current research projects and partnerships through ECU’s Department of Public Health, including the Medical-Legal Partnership, a collaborative project between the Brody School of Medicine, Department of Public Health, Vidant Medical Center and Legal Aid of N.C. The project was funded last year by Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina.

“The skills he will develop will focus on identifying and reducing children’s exposure to environmental triggers in rental housing and interviewing and assisting patients in overcoming the social determinants of health by integrating free legal services,” Kearney said.

The research hits particularly close to home for Beattie-Sergio, who is pursuing both a master’s of public health in epidemiology and a master’s of science in environmental health. He suffered from childhood asthma and hopes his work will help address the illness in North Carolina’s eastern region, which has the state’s highest rates of childhood asthma.

“The fellowship allows me to meet with families that I normally wouldn’t and talk with the children about how you can still live an active life with asthma,” Beattie-Sergiosaid. “I tell them that if I had a program like this one in my area growing up it would have made living with asthma as a kid much more enjoyable.”

Through the project, families get referred to the Eastern Carolina Asthma Prevention Program (ECAPP) from Vidant Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

“From there, if the family decides to have an environmental assessment conducted, Dr. Kearney and I go to the home and look at factors in the house that can be contributing to the child’s asthma — mold, roaches etc.,” Beattie-Sergiosaid.

Based on their findings, the case can be referred to Legal Aid to pursue action to get the living conditions improved by landlords and property owners.

Beattie-Sergio will conduct childhood asthma research through a 2018 Schweitzer Fellowship, under the mentorship of Dr. Greg Kearney, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health.

Beattie-Sergio, right, will conduct childhood asthma research through a 2018 Schweitzer Fellowship, under the mentorship of Dr. Greg Kearney, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health.

Beattie-Sergio’s idea for the Schweitzer project will coincide with the public health department’s ongoing research.

“It seemed like it dovetailed perfectly with our work,” Kearney said. “Gabe will be experiencing how health care, environmental health and public health come together in a real-world setting.”

Beattie-Sergio’s project also meets the criteria for sustainability, which is a main characteristic used to choose the winning Schweitzer Fellow applications.

Since 1994, the North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program has supported 425 fellows from many academic disciplines through funding from various foundations, academic institutions and individual donors. Last year’s 23 North Carolina fellows join approximately 240 others nationwide.

Fellows all work with mentors at one of 14 program sites across the U.S. and in Lambaréné, Africa, where physician-humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer founded a hospital in 1913.

“In general, I believe public health is naturally embodied in the work that Dr. Schweitzer accomplished while he was in Africa,” Kearney said, “so it’s a good opportunity for public health students to apply for the fellowship.”


-by Spaine Stephens, University Communications

Simulation brings awareness about living in poverty

About 50 East Carolina University students recently assumed the role of a family member living in poverty while juggling monthly bills, buying food or going to the doctor.

The students took part in a community action poverty simulation on March 16 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. The simulation was led by Tamra Church, a teaching instructor in the College of Health and Human Performance’s Department of Health Education and Promotion, Kim Werth, a counselor in the School of Dental Medicine, and the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement. Courtney Williams, a master’s student and graduate teaching assistant, was instrumental in planning, organizing and volunteering in the simulation as well as overseeing registration, lunch, snacks and community resource tables.

Students – most from a health behavior theory class in the Department of Health Education and Promotion - portray family members living on a budget in a recent poverty simulation held in the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. (Photos by Josh Vaughan)

Students – most from a health behavior theory class in the Department of Health Education and Promotion – portray family members living on a budget in a recent poverty simulation held in the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. (Photos by Josh Vaughan)

Church’s students are pre-health professionals and many are preparing for graduate school in physician assistant studies, occupational therapy, physical therapy, medicine, nursing or dentistry. Other graduates will go into the workforce where they will interact with people and patients from all walks of life.

“It was an opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of someone experiencing poverty,” Church said. “My goals for the simulation were to change beliefs about people experiencing poverty, increase students’ empathy towards people living in poverty and encourage them to get involved in more civic engagement.”

A student receives information for her simulation.

A student receives information for her simulation.

In the simulation, students were assigned to a family unit ranging from a single parent without a car to an elderly person having to pay for heat and medication for a month. The students sometimes faced unexpected challenges such as a death in the family or a break-in at their home. They interacted with service providers including employers, bankers, grocers, public schools or police officers portrayed by 14 volunteers from the School of Social Work, Pitt County Health Department and community.

“The poverty simulation accurately demonstrated the roller coaster of life that people in poverty have to live to get by day to day,” said Harlee Rowe, a public health studies major. “It was a shock of reality to see how much needs to be changed to help these people in need.”

Emmanuel McLeod, who is also in the public health studies program, said the activity was an eye-opening experience. “It has helped me to understand the daily lives they may face, and how the majority of the things they go through are out of their control,” McLeod said. “Despite this, we can reach out as a community and support those who need it.”

Students review materials for a community action poverty simulation held March 16.

Students review materials for a community action poverty simulation held March 16.

The simulation also taught students about available resources in the community.

After the event, some students said they planned to start having conversations about poverty while others planned to volunteer or start writing local government about issues.

“It changed my perception of how families in poverty deal with daily life struggles (that) the people who are not in poverty never have to think twice about,” said public health studies student Angela Bracco.

Church plans to offer the simulation each semester.


-by Crystal Baity, ECU News Services

Could a poll boost ECU’s national reputation?

The next presidential election may be two years away, but East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research has its focus set on Nov. 3, 2020.

•Peter Francia is the new director of ECU’s Center for Survey Research.

Peter Francia is the new director of ECU’s Center for Survey Research. (Contributed photo)

By then, Director Peter Francia hopes to have established a university polling center capable of accurately predicting the voting margins.

If successful, the university could join other polling powerhouses like Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Marist College, who regularly find themselves in the national spotlight come campaign season – an otherwise rare occurrence.

“They have a national reputation because of the polling they do. Why not ECU?” Francia said.

Becoming well-known for political polling extends beyond simple name recognition. The president of Monmouth University has estimated the value of free media exposure to be close to $1 billion. When John Lahey started Quinnipiac’s poll in the late ’80s, the school was a small commuter college with fewer than 2,000 students. A coordinated effort to build a polling facility helped turn it into a nationally known university with more than 10,000 students today.

“If you were to follow our admissions and our growth, you could follow the poll,” Lahey told Politico last year.

ECU plans to set up its poll beginning with a call center that will be built with the help of a $100,000 donation from alumni Wayne and Sherry Holloman. The Hollomans have annually supported a political science scholarship, Honors College student programming and the Voyages of Discovery lecture series.

Wayne and Sherry Holloman donated $100,000 to the Center for Survey Research to establish an ECU polling center.

Wayne and Sherry Holloman donated $100,000 to the Center for Survey Research to establish an ECU polling center. (Contributed photos)

“Imagine learning the results of the election and hearing people say, ‘ECU was dead on it,’” Wayne Holloman said. “It could be big.”

Housed in the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Survey Research currently assists the university as well as private clients and public agencies in public opinion and community assessment research. That includes survey design, questionnaire development, data collection and focus group research.

“We’ve seen across the country that university-based opinion polls can capture the pulse of the electorate and catapult their institutions to prominence,” said Dr. William Downs, Dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “Wayne and Sherry Holloman are great friends of ECU and of the Arts and Sciences, and their generous investment in our Center for Survey Research will ensure that Pirate polling has a successful launch and an impactful future.”

Francia, who is also a political science professor, said a polling center makes sense at ECU because North Carolina is an exciting state to be in politically.

“On the presidential map, North Carolina is not a red state or a blue state. It is a purple state. There is also a history of very competitive statewide contests for governor and for the U.S. Senate,” he said. “Moreover, partisan control of the U.S. Senate could potentially hinge on a single seat in 2020. If so, North Carolina’s U.S. Senate election will have national implications.”

The ECU Poll will involve students by giving them opportunities to work in the call center, develop questionnaires and conduct data analysis. Francia said he hopes the polling center can be worked into the political science curriculum so more students can learn how polling and random sampling works.

In addition to political polling, the university would be capable of polling on other topics that affect the area, like opioid use and immigrant labor.

“Expanding services and missions is important,” Holloman said. “That’s what this is. Making ECU a part of the community, the state and the nation.”


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Award-winning SHOES Project builds on two years’ successes to combat mental illness and depression

East Carolina University students have partnered with campus departments to present the SHOES Project from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 8 near the cupola on the ECU Mall.

SHOES, which stands for Students Honoring Others’ Everyday Struggles/Stories, is a program intended to help ECU students who may be dealing with challenging times. College students may experience depression, anxiety, stress, addictions or thoughts of self-harm, but may feel isolated and unable to manage their response.

“Our hope is that this program and its profound effect on helping others with their struggles, providing them with education and resources, along with hope, encouragement and positivity, will help the masses in being more aware of mental health issues in adolescents and young adults,” said Waz Miller, director of residence life.

The SHOES project was first held in 2016. It won the state and regional Program of the Year award from the South Atlantic Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls, and went on to be chosen as the Program of the Year by the National Association of College and University Residence Halls. The program was shared with other campuses at the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International conference in Rhode Island in June.

Shoes with notes bring awareness to mental health issues

Shoes are scattered across the ECU Mall with anonymous notes during the 2017 SHOES event, a project which aims to bring awareness to mental health issues. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Thursday’s event will feature a display of 400 pairs of shoes, each attached to a story of someone struggling with a family situation, medical condition, mental health issue or other obstacles, which have been collected from ECU and Hope Middle School students.

In addition to the shoes on display, the So Worth Living student organization will have a Worthy Wall, a chalkboard wall where students can write down the reasons why they are worthy of being loved. Student radio station WZMB 91.3 FM will broadcast live during the event.

ECU students and staff will distribute thousands of positive messages on buses and in campus buildings during the SHOES Project. There will also be a resource table, and the Center for Counseling and Student Development will have a counselor on site for participants who would like someone to talk to in a confidential setting.

There will also be a giant purple bear named Soks and hot chocolate and cookies donated by Campus Dining. Participants can share their photos and thoughts using the hashtag #ECUSHOES.

“This is a time of year when students may get stressed, lonely and need a lift,” Miller said. “This is a collaborative effort to bring more awareness to mental health and other issues which college and younger students are facing.”

In the event of rain, the project will be moved to Thursday, Feb. 15. For more information, contact Waz Miller at


-Contact: Will Bullock, ECU Residence Hall Association advisor,, or Troy Nance, SHOES event coordinator/RHA President,

Social determinants of obesity, diabetes addressed at ECU symposium

Does where you live or your level of education make you more prone to obesity and diabetes?

These and other social determinants of obesity and diabetes, which are disproportionally affecting eastern North Carolina, were addressed during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU on Friday.

ECU student discusses her project

ECU senior kinesiology student Mackenzie Brown discusses her project during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at ECU on Feb. 2. (Photos by Rob Spahr)

During the event, local, regional and national experts in obesity and diabetes, as well as community leaders and ECU faculty, staff and students, were challenged to address the social causes of the diseases.

The social factors discussed included cultural beliefs, gender roles, access to health care and patient-provider communications, economic stability, community infrastructure, educational attainment and role models.

Dr. Leandris Liburd speaks

Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during the symposium.

This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Liburd is an expert on the social determinants of health and has been successful in identifying intervention strategies to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

“Our health is our greatest resource, it affects everything. … (But) it’s something that I think we typically take for granted until we don’t have it anymore. And then we get up and say ‘OK, now I need to pay attention,’” Liburd said. “In public health, we try to get to people in the front end of that. And while we can’t prevent everything, there are things that we can delay and that we can minimize.”

Liburd said physicians come with high levels of authority and respect, which they can lend to help sway public policies and make significant positive impacts in leveling out some of the social health discrepancies.

“We don’t expect that doctors will go out and take on all of these issues. But we do think that it’s reasonable, as a beginning, that they will lend their influence to the efforts that others are trying to put forth to help make them successful,” Liburd said. “We have to find our place in this and where we can contribute the most.”

The symposia are presented by the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with ECU’s Department of Public Health, the Brody School of Medicine and the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation.

“Over the past decade and a half, the Mills symposium has invited distinguished national and international experts to address the health and health care issues that affect minority populations, especially our communities right here in eastern North Carolina,” said Robert Orlikoff, dean of ECU’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

“This is not an academic seminar and this is not a town meeting,” Orlikoff added. “It’s a rare opportunity for us to come together, educate ourselves and work together to reach real and long-standing solutions.”

Jean Mills, who died from breast cancer in October 2000, was an ECU alumna with a passion for community health and health equity. Her brother, Amos T. Mills III, established the symposium in her honor.


-by Rob Spahr, University Communications

Student-designed brochure outlines dangers of e-cigs

Second-year Brody School of Medicine students Whitney Green and Radhika Kothadia have designed a brochure to educate middle and high school students about e-cigarettes.

The effort comes on the heels of new 2017 data from Monitoring the Future, funded by the National Institutes of Health, said Dr. Vivek Anand, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at East Carolina University.Front of e-cigarette brochure

“During the past year, 19 percent of 12th grade, 16 percent of 10th grade and 8 percent of eighth-grade students, respectively, reported vaping nicotine,” Anand said. “These numbers can be higher for tobacco-growing areas like eastern North Carolina.”

Public health and tobacco control advocates are concerned about teen use of e-cigarettes because studies have shown that it goes hand in hand with the use of cigarettes and other drugs, he said. “And we still really don’t know how e-cigarettes affect the developing lungs and other organ systems.”

For several years, Anand has conducted research aimed at pinpointing the mechanisms behind smoking behavior.

Kothadia said she has become increasingly interested in patient education and preventative health care, and her interest in the effects of tobacco products began in high school when she volunteered with Tobacco Reality Unfiltered, an initiative of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our goal was to educate people of all ages about the harmful effects of tobacco,” she said.

Kothadia and Green helped format and edit the educational brochure and are working with J.H. Rose High School to arrange presentations in health classes about e-cigarettes. At least 25,000 brochures will be printed and distributed through the ECU Psychiatry Outpatient Center, ECU Family Medicine Center, ECU pediatrics clinics, Vidant, RHA and PORT health clinics in New Bern, and other community clinics throughout February.

“I grew up with pretty powerful advertising from anti-tobacco campaigns in the early 2000s that targeted young people and revealed the truth about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke,” Green said. “Now the trend has shifted over to vaping, and I don’t think enough information is out there to show teenagers the association between vaping and tobacco or how it all affects their health.”

With as many as one in five high school students reporting the use of e-cigarettes, Anand said continued research and educational efforts about their effects are critical.


-by Jules Norwood, ECU News Services

Ethnic Studies Film Series screening on March 21

ECU Ethnic Studies, Sociology department, English department, and the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center present: Forbidden; Undocumented and Queer in Rural America by Tiffany Rhyard. The documentary will be shown in Sci-tech 307C on Tuesday, March 21 from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Forbidden is a feature length documentary about an inspiring young man whose story is exceptional, although not unique. Moises is like the thousands of young people growing up in the United States with steadfast dreams but facing overwhelming obstacles.

If you are an undocumented queer immigrant living in the United States amidst this turbulent political climate, you are not safe and your future is at risk. When Moises Serrano was just a baby, his parents risked everything to flee Mexico and make the perilous journey across the desert in search of the American dream. After 23 years growing up in the rural south where he is forbidden to live and love, Moises sees only one option — to fight for justice.

The film chronicles Moises’ work as an activist traveling across his home state of North Carolina as a voice for his community, all while trying to forge a path for his own future.

Both the director, Tiffany Rhynard, and Moises will be attending the screening. There will be a breif Q & A after the film. This event is a Wellness Passport Event!

-by Gera s. Miles Jr., Ethnic Studies


Brody students encourage healthy relationships

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

Events organized by two students from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University this Valentine’s Day encouraged the community to look beyond flowers and candy. The students wanted their university family to learn more about domestic violence prevention.

Sophie Austin and Kelly Boyd, both second-year medical students, are recipients of funding from the Tiana Nicole Williams Memorial Endowment, named for a young woman killed by her fiancé in 2002, one month prior to beginning medical school at ECU.

“Her story disputes stereotypes that only low-income or poorly-educated women are victims of domestic violence,” Austin said. “Domestic violence is unfortunately present in every setting among people who may show no apparent signs. Hopefully, if domestic violence is talked about and resources made available more frequently, people will be more willing to seek help or speak up if they see a friend in trouble.”

Austin and Boyd hosted two events – one on each ECU campus – where they provided information on university and community resources. They also asked students and employees to answer the question, “What is love?”


Nelly Bellamy, a first-year student at the Brody School of Medicine

“It made people really think about and reflect on what a healthy relationship means to them,” Boyd said. “Everyone’s idea of a healthy relationship is different, but there are some fundamental aspects of health that all relationships should have, including respect, trust, safety, et cetera.


Taj Nasser, a second-year student at BSOM

“The more people who are educated about domestic violence prevention,” Boyd added, “the closer we are to stopping this violence before it happens.”

Austin and Boyd collaborated with the ECU Wellness Center, ECU Healthy Pirates and the Office of the Dean of Students.






More information about the Tiana Nicole Williams Memorial Endowment is available online at


Leslie Miller (left) and Consola Esambe Lobwede (right), both first-year students at BSOM.


New trees planned for sustainable parking lot renovation

Trees that were to be included as part of a sustainable parking lot design were determined to be dead when they did not produce leaves this spring. Designers plan to replace the lost trees. (Contributed photos)

New trees will be planted in the 14th Street parking lot renovation area across from Belk Residence Hall as part of a sustainable parking lot design.

The new canopy trees will replace several existing trees that died this winter.

The parking lot renovation is the first construction project initiated since East Carolina University adopted its new master plan designating sustainability as a core value for the institution.

The existing trees were a key element incorporated into the original sustainable parking lot design. However, experts identified the trees as dead when they failed to produce new leaves this spring. Since the old trees cannot be saved, new trees will be planted to replace them.

The existing green areas will not be used for additional parking.

The campus personnel involved in the design of this parking lot also chose to maintain and protect the trees at the former Stratford Arms Apartment site.

For additional information, visit


A plan to maintain existing trees in a new parking lot renovation fell through when the trees died over the winter. New trees will be planted in their place.

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