Category Archives: Human Ecology

ECU student serves on statewide board of directors



East Carolina University graduate student Priscila Hilligus, pursuing a master’s degree in social work, is a coastal district representative for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) North Carolina Board of Directors.

She represents the needs and interests of more than 370 NASW members residing and working in the district, including ECU social work students, staff and faculty.

Hilligus said that her work with the organization allows her to give back to the profession, be the voice of her fellow social workers, stay attuned to important legislative changes such as title protection in North Carolina, and expand her skills in macro social work.

Hilligus discovered her passion for social work after almost a decade in the education field. “I started my journey to social work without realizing it. When I moved to the US from Brazil, where I grew up, I experienced the hardships of culture shock and prejudice.

“My early experiences as a member of the out-group, coupled with motherhood and marriage into the challenging military lifestyle led me to seek therapy as a way to rediscover and reaffirm myself,” said Hilligus. “My therapist was a social worker…and our work together opened my mind to the field. I had been an educator for many years but social work was like a magnet pulling me.”

When she learned about the part-time master’s degree cohort in New Bern, she applied for the program. “Social work has already done so much for me. It has allowed me to embrace my ethnic identity and to explore my inner self as a path to growth,” said Hilligus. “It has also helped me to see the world through a more compassionate, relational lens and to engage people and systems for change.

For additional information about NASW membership, visit or contact Priscila Hilligus at

Social work students earn nationally competitive scholarships

By Nicole Wood
College of Human Ecology

Two master of social work students were recently selected to receive nationally-competitive scholarships. Both the Christine Smith Graduate Studies Scholarship and the GlaxoSmithKline Opportunity Scholarship are awarded based on the student’s academic performance and personal or faculty recommendations.



Stacy Connor of New Bern will use the $15,000 Christine Smith Scholarship to cover the cost of her graduate degree and the exams to become a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical addictions specialist.

Any remaining money will help support the two years of clinical supervision required for licensed practitioners.

The Educational Foundation, with funding from the estate of Christine Smith and the members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, established the Christine Smith $15,000 Graduate Studies Scholarship for graduate level studies specializing in children and family issues.

Connor was overjoyed when she heard the news of her accomplishment.  She said she selected ECU’s School of Social Work because of its distance education program.

“I am a working professional and the DE program allowed me to work while going to class on Saturdays. I would not have been able to attend a regular track program,” said Connor. She said that she was also drawn to ECU’s nationally-accredited social work program for its focus on relationships.

“Being immersed in the clinical-community relational perspective is important when seeking licensure. ECU has one of the few programs in the nation that specialize in this form of study,” said Connor.



Christina Unruh of Cary, recipient of the GlaxoSmithKline Opportunity Scholarship, was selected for demonstrating the potential to succeed despite adversity. Unruh began her graduate work in another department at ECU, but in 2011 had to take a leave of absence due to a personal matter. Upon returning to East Carolina and changing her program of study, Unruh enrolled in the social work program in 2013.

Unruh explained that she too chose East Carolina because of the program’s perspective. “The clinical-community relational perspective is what drew me in initially,” said Unruh. “Its fundamental premise is that problems in living and psychological problems are almost always exacerbated by social isolation and lack of resources.”

Thankful for the opportunities the $5,000 scholarship will provide, Unruh said, “The scholarship will pay my tuition and fees which will allow me to focus on my internship and volunteer work; giving me educational opportunities all while building my résumé.”

Aging, adult services experts to convene at ECU Sept. 12

A panel discussion on aging and adult services will be held at East Carolina University at noon Friday, Sept. 12 in the Croatan Building Green Room.

Panel participants will include Donna Creech, chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, representatives from the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services and executives from county councils on aging.

Following the one-hour panel discussion, an additional hour is set aside for audience members to consult with panelists regarding potential partnership projects. Researchers from the ECU Office of Healthy Aging Research, Education and Services will also be on hand to discuss potential collaborations at the local and state level.

The event is sponsored by the Office of Healthy Aging Research, Education and Services in ECU’s College of Human Ecology.

For additional information, contact Director John Kerbs by telephone at 252-328-5546 or e-mail, or visit

ECU professor receives lifetime achievement award


David Edgell

East Carolina University professor David Edgell was awarded the 2014 Board on Human Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors a nationally recognized leader with significant history of advancing human sciences in higher education.

Edgell is a professor in the ECU College of Human Ecology. The college’s dean, Judy Siguaw, nominated Edgell.

“I believe that very few individuals within the academic community have had the broad impact on humanity that Dr. Edgell has had and continues to have,” Siguaw said.

Edgell has devoted much of his career toward towards promoting tourism as an economic and social development tool for communities and nations worldwide. His experience includes explicit concern for poverty reduction and sustaining natural and built resources. His career includes leadership roles in the U.S. Department of Labor and in Travel and Tourism for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Edgell has represented the United States government as head of a delegation to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Organization of American States, the Asia-Pacific Economic Council, the Caribbean Tourism Organization and as executive director of World’s Fairs and Expositions.

He joined ECU in 2003 and developed the ECU Center for Sustainable Tourism, the largest university program of its kind in the United States. He is a  full time professor of international commerce, tourism and economic development.

Edgell has authored 10 books and more than 100 articles on tourism, trade and economic development.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is one of four awards presented annually by the Board on Human Sciences, an association of administrators of higher education units responsible for research/discovery, extension/outreach, and teaching/learning programs in the human sciences at universities across the country.

For more information on the Board on Human Sciences, member institutions, the BoHS Awards and the Award recipients go to

ECU welcomes new Disney International Program students

Participants in the ECU Disney program gather for orientation.

Participants in the ECU Disney program gather for orientation.

Bob O’Halloran from the School of Hospitality Leadership along with James Gehlhar, Julie Williams and Katie Erickson from the Office of International Affairs recently traveled to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida to deliver an orientation program for newly arrived ECU Pirates.

Forty-one students from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will take 15 credits from the School of Hospitality Leadership while completing their Disney Internship in various positions throughout Walt Disney World.

The orientation included an overview of the online courses they will be enrolled in while in the program, which also includes a research project and internship.

This semester the students, who are in the United States on J1 visas sponsored by the university, are representing four South American institutions: Colombia’s Politecnico Grancolombiano – Bogota, Ecuador’s Universidad del San Francisco, and Peru’s Universidad  San  Ignacio  de  Loyola and Universidad Nacional San Agustin Arequipa.

For more information on the Disney International Program, contact Dr. Robert O’Halloran at

Jorgensen urges parents to teach kids about money




ECU professor Dr. Bryce Jorgensen was featured on, and in an article about teaching children about money. Jorgensen said that teaching children financial literacy at early age is critical. “Money influences…marriage, children, where we work, how much we pay in interest, whether we can get a loan, how much debt we are in, a comfortable retirement,” he said.

Read the article. Read the Fox article.   Read the NASDAQ article.

ECU professor to oversee acclaimed Capital Jury Project Archive

East Carolina University criminal justice professor Dr. Jonathan Sorensen will oversee the Capital Jury Project archive in the ECU Department of Criminal Justice.



The data archive includes interviews from more than 1,198 death penalty jurors in 14 states. Results from the study have enabled researchers to publish more than 60 academic and law journal articles over the last 22 years. The archive was originally funded by the National Science Foundation.

“The significance of the CJP is hard to overstate: it is the single most comprehensive and influential study of capital punishment ever completed,” said Sorensen.

Project originator William Bowers, formerly a professor at the University of New York at Albany and Northeastern University, asked Sorensen to collaborate on the Capital Jury Project and forwarded its data archive to ECU.

“Bowers and his colleagues sought to look inside the ‘black box’ at sentencing deliberations to better understand the decision making of jurors in capital punishment cases. We will continue with this and similar studies to assess the efficacy of capital punishment policies nationwide,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen, who joined the ECU faculty in 2012, has achieved national prominence as an expert on capital punishment and prediction of criminal offender dangerousness. As the author of three books and more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, Sorensen’s research has been cited by, among others, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ring v. Arizona (2002) and the American Bar Association.

Criminal Justice Department Chair Dr. William Bloss is pleased that the department has been selected to house the CJP archive. “Having Dr. Sorensen affiliated with the Capital Jury Project is a distinction for the department and a testament to his stature as a scholar,” said Bloss. “Housing the CJP archive will afford our faculty and students an extraordinary opportunity to work, along with Dr. Sorensen, on this historic research study.”

For additional information about the CJP archive, visit

ECU nutrition students prepare educational feast

Aurora Mendoza puts the final touches on a  mixed green salad with fruit and nuts during meal service at the Darden Dining Room on campus. (Contributed photos)

Aurora Mendoza puts the final touches on a  mixed green salad with fruit and nuts during meal service at the Darden Dining Room on campus. (Contributed photos)


By Nicole Wood
College of Human Ecology

Three days a week at East Carolina University, guests can satisfy their lunchtime hunger while supporting nutrition students’ education in the College of Human Ecology’s Darden Dining Room.

Sarah Sykes helps Justin Simmons with a New England slaw.

Sarah Sykes helps Justin Simmons with a New England slaw.

Students in the food production in dietetics course – now in its fifth year – acquire hands-on experience in the kitchen, at the front of the house and in marketing positions. During the preceding fall semester, students learn about food preparation and management principles applied to quantity healthcare food production. The spring course then allows them to put their plans – and menus – into action.

“The students are getting real-world experience. Building a menu and standardizing recipes is something they will do in their future positions,” said ECU professor Diana Saum, who teaches both the fall and spring semester courses.

“We want to ensure that our students are gaining the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in their chosen career,” said Saum.

Nutrition Science student Sarah Sykes said she was excited to get into the kitchen this semester. “I have learned so much throughout this experience, from basic food production terms in the classroom to real life management experiences in lab,” she said.

“Having people purchase our food allows us to gain feedback and fully experience the complete food production process. We value everyone who comes in to try our food and we thank them for aiding in our development as future nutritionists.”

The Darden Dining Room is open to the public for lunch on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout the spring semester from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Prices typically range from $4 per entrée to $1.50 for dessert. Cash or check is accepted. Sign up for Saum’s reminder e-mail, which includes the daily menu, by e-mailing her at

Krysta Parkhurst (left) and Brooke Radford show off their soups to Nutrition Science advisor Jan Fletcher.

Krysta Parkhurst (left) and Brooke Radford show off their soups to Nutrition Science advisor Jan Fletcher.

Nutrition students develop their professional leadership styles

Students detail their  analyses of Pitt County areas to Sandra Spann (left), president of Food Systems Consultants. Spann was one of the experts who spoke with the class during their project designed to enhance leadership skills. (Contributed photo)

Students detail their analyses of Pitt County areas to Sandra Spann (left), president of Food Systems Consultants. Spann was one of the experts who spoke with the class during their project designed to enhance leadership skills. (Contributed photos)

By Nicole Wood
College of Human Ecology

East Carolina University nutrition science professor Brenda Bertrand engaged 35 students last semester in a project designed to enhance their leadership skills.



The students teamed up to conduct “windshield tours” of Pitt County, using photography to document their research. The students examined health issues including whether areas were equipped for walkers or bikers and whether grocery stores or convenience stores were in close proximity to neighborhoods and schools.

Students then considered the implications of their findings and what those results would mean for the studied locations, which included Farmville, Chicod, Grimesland, Ayden and Stokes. They developed diagrams to chart the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) in those areas.

When the teams shared their diagrams with the entire class, a trend emerged. “They began to notice similarities between the different communities,” said Elizabeth Kroeger, graduate assistant for the course. “They each saw limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables with community and geographical constraints for shopping (distance or lack of grocery stores) and transportation (lack of sidewalks).” The teams then collaborated to combine their findings into an SWOT diagram for all of Pitt County.

Representatives from the studied communities visited the class to help students develop new ideas and intervention plans that are feasible for real-world application. Nutrition experts worked with the students throughout the process and visited campus to share their perspectives on the students’ plans.

Graduate student Elizabeth Kroeger, left, is gathering data from the nutrition students' project as part of her own research project. Kroeger is pictured with one of the students at the Pitt County Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, where she also works.

Graduate student Elizabeth Kroeger, left, is gathering data from the nutrition students’ project as part of her own research project. Kroeger is pictured with one of the students at the Pitt County Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, where she also works.

The students created a blog detailing their project and their own understanding of leadership in rural health. Along the way, students read articles regarding transformative leadership – a type of leadership that has ideal traits for working within the nutrition field. They answered questions about the articles on their blogs. Students also took questionnaires that identified their leadership traits at the beginning and end of the project.

While the students gathered data on the communities, Kroeger gathered details on the students’ learning process and leadership transformation. She will use the data for a graduate research project to determine whether the students’ leadership styles changed throughout the project.

“The qualitative research we collected of the students’ perspectives on the leadership projects (and) leadership in general will be used to prepare a manuscript for a journal submission in 2014,” said Kroeger. “Hopefully, our research will give professors in the field of nutrition insight into how to effectively develop leadership skills among their students.”

The project was sponsored in part by a BB&T Leadership Grant. Those grants aim to advance ECU’s culture of service and its place as a leadership development community by encouraging and assisting units across campus to embed leadership development components into their courses and programs.



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