Category Archives: Students

After minor league debut, Tanner Duncan returns to his roots

It’s a cool October evening at Guy Smith Park in Greenville. The defending national champion East Carolina University Club Baseball team is warming up before their intrasquad scrimmage. The star of that championship team last year, Tanner Duncan, pulls up in his pickup truck to watch practice.

“I knew I was going to miss this place when I left, but I didn’t realize I’d miss it quite this much,” said Duncan, a 2017 kinesiology graduate who’s now playing professionally in the Houston Astros organization.

Although he’s a professional ballplayer now in the Astros organization, Duncan continues to show off his pride for the ECU Club Baseball team. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Although he’s a professional ballplayer now in the Astros organization, Duncan continues to show off his pride for the ECU Club Baseball team. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Duncan is wearing his ECU Club Baseball hat and T-shirt – not his Astros gear. Following his National Club Baseball World Series MVP-winning performance last spring, Duncan was signed by the Astros and spent last summer pitching for them in the Gulf Coast League. He is the first ECU club player to play professional baseball, so one might think that he would be showing off his accomplishment by wearing navy and orange – especially since the Astros just won the World Series.

“I want to wear (ECU Club Baseball attire) with pride and I want to give club baseball a good name. I feel like there is a stereotype that’s surrounding club baseball – a stigma attached to it (that it’s not good baseball),” Duncan said. “There’s a lot of talent out here, a lot of good players that participate in this, and I hope people recognize that now.”

“It (Duncan turning pro) brings a lot more credibility to our program,” says ECU Club Baseball head coach Ben Fox. “Being able to put a guy in the league that has never played JUCO (junior college) baseball or D1 baseball, it says a lot about what we demand from guys every day.”

Duncan’s former ECU teammates see the dedication that’s required to play professional baseball.

“I knew as hard as he worked, he was going to get an opportunity to play after. He was just one of those special athletes coming out working every day,” said senior outfielder Jordan Maye. “He’d be the first one here and one of the last ones to leave. That’s just what his mentality is – he’s always working.” 


Duncan and his former teammates look on as the ECU Club Baseball team scrimmages.

Duncan and his former teammates look on as the ECU Club Baseball team scrimmages.

Duncan’s presence at practice during his offseason is a big deal to the guys on the field.

“It brings up that ‘what-if’ factor – you could potentially be in the same position that he is,” said senior catcher Jake Merzigian, who caught for Duncan in last season’s national championship game. 

“If they are looking to play at the next level, they see now that it’s possible and all it takes is hard work and dedication,” Fox said. “If you want anything out of this game, if you work for it, you can get it.”

Duncan pitched 10 scoreless innings in the championship game and was named the MVP of the tournament.

Duncan, right, shares a laugh with his former catcher Jake Merzigian.

Duncan, right, shares a laugh with his former catcher Jake Merzigian.

“Catching for him was unbelievable. Just seeing him work so hard and seeing him pitch in that national championship game. It was by far one of the best baseball games I’ll ever be a part of,” Merzigan said. “That’s definitely on my wall of fame.”

Duncan was hoping his performance would lead to the major league draft, but that didn’t happen. However he was invited to Virginia for a tryout with the Astros. Shortly after throwing for scouts, the team signed him, and the next day he headed to Florida to play for the Astros minor league affiliate.

“It was awesome, I think, just getting there to the facility,” he said. “You go into the locker room, and they have a locker for you with your name on it, the Astros symbol and everything. It’s surreal, man, it’s something I wanted for a long time, and so I’m very happy and very grateful for it.”

“It’s hard to put into words,” Fox said. “Tanner’s been so good for us for so long and I truly believe that he should have been playing at another level the whole time, but we were lucky enough to have him.”

After what he calls a successful season in the GCL, where he had a 2.17 ERA in 11 appearances, Duncan is resting his arm and working out. He expects to go to extended spring training with the Astros at the end of March or beginning of April. He’s hoping to get a shot with a full-season team or play for the short-season single-A affiliate in New York.

“It’s good to see him come out here and continue to be around the guys. He was one of our leaders last year, and to have him come back out here has been huge for us,” Maye said.

“I’m living the dream; couldn’t be happier,” Duncan said.



-by Rich Klindworth, ECU News Services

Trash cinema class to screen ‘worst movie ever made’

It’s not very often that a movie’s appeal is in how dreadful it is. But that’s exactly how an East Carolina University film class is advertising its upcoming screening of “The Room.”

Often called “the worst movie ever made” or “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” “The Room” is about a successful banker named Johnny, his deceptive fiancé Lisa and his best friend Mark. There’s also terrible dialogue, ridiculous subplots and unexplained framed photos of spoons.

The class will host a free screening of “The Room” at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hendrix Theatre as part of their coursework.

“The director sort of had no idea what he was doing,” said Dr. Amanda Klein, an associate professor who teaches FILM 4980, also known as Topics in Film Aesthetics: Trash Cinema and Taste.

“He made it in a way that made no sense, like someone learning a new language and misusing the words and terms,” she said.

Director, producer and star Tommy Wiseau gained a cult following because of the movie’s captivatingly odd elements. Most see “The Room” as his misguided, so-bad-it’s-good passion project. It also inspired an upcoming movie about its making directed by James Franco.

“It’s not about analyzing the film as a good film,” FILM 4980 student Susie Hedley said. “It’s about analyzing why it’s not, and appreciating the world that these bad qualities bring you into. And ‘The Room’ brings you into one hell of a world.”

Hedley said she was drawn to the Trash Cinema class in part because it gives credit to films that often aren’t deemed worthy of serious examination.

“Examining trash movies through an academic lens is like reading ‘Twilight’ in a literature course or studying Dothraki as a foreign language. It seems wrong somehow, because we’re taught to see these topics as lowbrow or lacking substance.”

But, as Klein pointed out, “It’s much easier to see film construction when you look at one that isn’t made too well.”

It can also be a lot of fun to watch. Similar to a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening, yelling and throwing things during “The Room” is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Viewers at the Thursday night screening will receive a goodie bag of projectiles including mini footballs, rose petals and spoons (the reasoning will make sense during the movie for the uninitiated).

“As for the audience, I can’t be sure whether or not they’ll love the experience, but I know it will get a strong reaction out of them,” Hedley said. “The first time I saw the film … mostly I was in shock the whole time.”


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU cellist Levine wins MTNA 2017 NC prize

East Carolina University sophomore cellist Scott Alex Levine won first place in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Young Artist North Carolina strings competition on October 28 in Raleigh, NC. He advances to the MTNA Southern Division competition in Lynchburg, VA, on Jan. 12-15.

The MTNA National Student Competitions are the most successful and prestigious student competitions in the country. Each year, thousands of students compete for top prizes and national recognition.

Levine is a student of Emanuel Gruber.

ECU Model UN Club Succeeds in Washington, D.C.

ECU’s Model UN Club competing in the National Model UN competition in Washington, D.C. (contributed photo)

ECU’s Model UN Club competing in the National Model UN competition in Washington, D.C. (contributed photo)

Model UN Club competed in the National Model United Nations competition in Washington, D.C. November 3-5. The club attended two conferences last year in Atlanta and Charlotte, where the group won delegation awards, sparking their interest in attending this year’s national competition. At this year’s national event, the students competed against more than 60 colleges, including schools from China, Japan, Nigeria, Italy, and France, and they received a conference-wide delegation award. ECU students who attended and participated in the competition include Mariama Abubakri, Haley Creef (MUN Club President), Dylan Fulp, Zachary Hollopeter, Andrew McLeer (MUN Club Vice President), Gabriela Morales, Aji Njie, Kaitlyn Rose, Sorrell Saunders, and Braxton Smallwood.


-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

First-Generation College Celebration

First-generation students are defined broadly (neither parent has completed a four-year degree) or narrowly (neither parent has any postsecondary education).  With nearly one-third of freshman cohorts across the country designated first-generation, colleges and universities are building programs and resources specific to them and their needs.  ECU is no different.

According to the 2014 Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE) survey, between one-third and one-half of all first-time, full-time students entering ECU in Fall 2014 would be considered first generation students. For example, 55% of respondents to BCSSE indicated that no parent/guardian had a bachelor’s degree or higher and 33% indicated no parent had any schooling beyond high school. (Note: The 2017 BCSSE was administered during this past summer orientation).  

ECU is poised to continue intentional program for first-generation students and their families in order to address the challenges and needs of these students.  We begin by joining institutions around the country in celebrating first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on our campus.

Sponsored by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AACU), and ECU’s Division of Student Affairs, the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration is being celebrated nationally on November 8, 2017.  As a first-generation administrator, faculty, staff, and/or student, we invite you to join us in celebration.

Please respond at this link:


For more information, contact Dr. Mary Beth Corbin at or 252-328-4173.




Popular courses give students a way to examine various issues

Two courses at East Carolina University are giving students a way to examine and discuss diverse issues in a safe environment. Race, Gender, Class and the LGBT Identity, Society and Politics courses have increased in popularity since they were first established.

“I think ECU benefits from having courses like this. I know for me, institutions that have this type of coursework signal to the larger public, potential students and potential faculty that this is an institution that treats these issues seriously,” said Dr. Melinda Kane, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of sociology, who developed and teaches the courses.

“For students that are interested, it really helps them learn correct information as opposed to something they get from a social media site or personal experience, which may not reflect a larger pattern,” said Kane.

Race, Gender, Class is a 1000-level course that was first offered in fall 2012. It has grown from one section per semester to three sections per semester and one in the summer, which fill to capacity with 88-90 students each. In addition to Kane, the course is now taught by three other sociology faculty; Drs. Lori Heald, Arunas Juska and Rebecca Powers.

“What is great about the class is it introduces students to sociology around topics that really interest them, and I’ve found there is always something current event-wise that you can tie to the class,” said Kane. “We focus on three key areas that sociologists study all the time, helping the students see what sociologists do and the timeliness of topics. I think the students find the material more engaging.”

One subject examined was how students raised in families of different class-levels may be affected when it comes to student success.

“This resonated with me, especially because I was raised in a middle-class family,” said Tyrone Dupree, who took the course last year as a sophomore. He said he lacked access to tutors and other material that would have made him a better student. “This makes me want to raise my future child to be better academically,” he said.

“What I enjoyed most about the class was learning the factors that can lead to inequality because of race, gender, etc. People need to take these courses to truly understand how inequality works, and then we can have discussions on how we can fix these issues,” said Dupree.

Kane also designed LGBT Identity, Society and Politics as a special topic in fall 2011. It became its own 3000-level course in fall 2014. Although the course currently is offered only every other year, it fills with 40 students, and was taught online for the first time this past summer.

“The thing I enjoyed most about this course was that it challenged the typical heteronormative approach to LGBT issues we typically see in courses,” said Janae Somerville, a senior who took the course over the summer. “We are living during a time where issues of gender identity, expression and sexuality are becoming as fluid as ever. This course challenged me to look past my preconceptions of LGBT community and learn and hear different opinions that might not match my own. Overall, this course was extremely eye opening and embodied every bit of diversity this institution claims to have.”

Initially, Kane said several students took the special topic because they were committed to making sure it succeeded and to demonstrate the need for such a class.

“They wanted the special topic to do really well, so they took it even if they didn’t need it for their degree plan. Now, you get all types of majors and people who take the class because they are interested, as opposed to seeing it as a political statement,” said Kane.

“I think these types of courses are important for ECU as a community because it teaches you to do more than just empathize,” said Somerville. “These types of courses give you knowledge on topics we as a society often tiptoe around. As the saying goes, ‘knowledge is power,’ and without it we cannot grow. Empathizing with minority groups has never been enough, and will never be enough, but courses like these allow you to use resources on this campus to make a change.”


-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications 

ECU’s School of Art and Design to host textile exhibit Nov. 1-17

A textile exhibit, “Fold Unfold,” will be on display in the Wellington B. Gray Gallery on the campus of East Carolina University from Nov. 1 through Nov. 17.

An opening reception will be held 5-8 p.m. on Nov. 3 to coincide with Uptown Greenville’s First Friday ArtWalk, which showcases new exhibits and discounts at participating restaurants and shops.

Curators Susan Falls and Jessica Smith will discuss their collaborative research and the development of the project in a gallery talk, “Fold Unfold: When Coverlets meet Op Art,” on Friday, Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. in Speight Auditorium in Jenkins Fine Arts Center.

All events are free and open to the public.

Falls, professor of anthropology, and Smith, professor of fibers, both at the Savannah College of Art and Design, invited more than 100 artists from the U.S. and Canada to weave objects that could be folded and unfolded, and were the size of typical 19th century coverlets. The weavers were asked to consider the patterning of 19th and early 20th century American coverlets but to use a modernist color scheme of black, white and gray.

A slide show and catalog of each coverlet will accompany the exhibition.

Robin Haller, professor of textile design at ECU, has a piece in the exhibit along with other North Carolina weavers Dani Burke, Barb Butler, Cassie Dickson, Melanie Wilder, Deanna Lynch, Laura Magdycz, Gabrielle Duggan and Nicole Asselin.

Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Jenkins Fine Arts Center. The gallery is closed for all university holidays. The center is handicapped accessible. Individuals with disabilities who require accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the Department of Disability Support Services at least two weeks before the event at 252-737-1016. For more information, visit

Contact: Tom Braswell, interim Wellington B. Gray Gallery director, 252-328-1312 or


-by Crystal Baity, ECU News Services

Make a Difference Service Day is Oct. 28

The East Carolina University Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) is hosting Make A Difference Day with dozens of community partners on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at various locations in Greenville and Pitt County.

Make a Difference Day is a national day of service, sponsored by USA WEEKEND magazine and Points of Light, and is the largest single-day of volunteering in the country.  Millions of volunteers across the nation will unite with the common mission to improve the lives of their neighbors.

CLCE will also collaborate with Operation InAsMuch (OIAM), which is a network of 10 churches in the Greenville area, working to make a difference in the community. The goal is to place 100-150 student volunteers with a number of community partners including Building Hope, Little Willie Center, the Pitt County Animal Shelter, RHA Howell Center and many other service sites in our community.

“ECU hosted Make a Difference Day last year with great success,” said Alex Dennis, assistant director of the ECU Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement. “This national movement is a great opportunity for students who are interested in getting connected with the community through service, learning, and leadership.”

Volunteers will start the day at 9 a.m. with an opening ceremony in the Mendenhall Student Center Great Rooms before heading to their service locations. All participants will return to Mendenhall for a reflection ceremony at 1:30 p.m.

ECU students, faculty and staff can learn more about community partner organizations and specific service activities as well as register for a service project through ECU’s OrgSync website (  Once registered for a project, a student-leader will contact all participants with additional information needed on Make A Difference Day.

For additional information, contact Alex Dennis, assistant director of the ECU Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement at  To learn more about the national Make A Difference Day, visit


Contact: Alex Dennis, assistant director, Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement

Invasive species exhibit opens at N.C. Estuarium

East Carolina University biologist April Blakeslee and students in her lab have created a new exhibit on invasive species at the North Carolina Estuarium in Washington. The exhibit will be unveiled Thursday, Oct. 26 at 4:30 p.m.

ECU biologist April Blakeslee and art and design student Kayla Clark have created a display about invasive species at the N.C. Estuarium in Washington. The exhibit opens Thursday, Oct. 26. (contributed photos)

ECU biologist April Blakeslee and art and design student Kayla Clark have created a display about invasive species at the N.C. Estuarium in Washington. The exhibit opens Thursday, Oct. 26. (contributed photos)

Funded by N.C. Sea Grant with additional contributions from the N.C. Estuarium and ECU’s Department of Biology, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, and Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, the exhibit highlights Blakeslee’s research on zombie crabs — mud crabs infected with a parasite that takes over their reproductive systems — as well as notable invaders such as lionfish and hydrilla.

“We hope that visitors will come away with a better understanding about invasive species and will be fascinated by this host-parasite system and also the important role that parasites can have in ecosystems” said Blakeslee. “They will also learn more about how each person can make a difference in preventing the spread of invaders by not releasing unwanted pets; cleaning boats of attached algae, plants and animals; cleaning boots — essentially, the message that every person can make a difference in conservation-related efforts.”

ECU art and design graduate student Kayla Clark was instrumental in the design of the exhibit, Blakeslee said. “The exhibit is truly interdisciplinary, bringing art and science together for educating about an important conservation issue.”

The zombie crab parasite is a kind of barnacle, called Loxothylacus panopaei or Loxo for short, that is native to the Gulf of Mexico but is now being found along the east coast as far north as Long Island Sound. Blakeslee and her students dubbed the infected crabs zombie crabs because they continue living but are reproductively dead. The parasite also affects the crab’s behavior, causing it to protect the egg sac as if it were the crab’s own young. The protective behavior is found not only in female crabs, but also in males, which would not normally exhibit such tendencies.

By hijacking the mud crabs’ reproductive system, Blakeslee said the parasite could have a dramatic impact on the population. She and a team of researchers are monitoring mud crab populations in eastern North Carolina to assess and track the spread of the parasite.

The N.C. Estuarium is located at 223 E. Water St. in Washington. For more information visit


-by Jules Norwood, ECU News Services

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