Teamwork, Ice Cream, and Armwrestling: Ocracoke 2015

By: Garrett Yarbrough, EC Scholar and Honors College Freshman

Ocracoke PictureThe following blog post refers to the EC Scholar Ocracoke Impact Trip, a leadership training and bonding experience held in August for each incoming class of EC Scholars. Thanks to the support of generous donors Mr. and Mrs. Holloman, the EC Scholar Class of 2019 enjoyed four days of delicious dining, beach activities, and integral professional development training in the Outer Banks completely free of cost.

The sandy grit between the grooves in the bridge’s asphalt crunched beneath my sneakers as I stretched my legs from the ferry ride. Fresh off the boat! This was my first time visiting the Outer Banks since Murphy’s Law practically dictates my life. Every time I had the chance, circumstances changed and the Outer Banks’ silky sand slipped through my fingers. Thanks to Captain Edward Murphy, I can never say “What’s the worst that could happen?” Just give it a minute. I can say that Murphy’s Law makes some good stories, so what more could an English major ask for?

That’s exactly what I got after getting back on that boat after four days and three nights–a lot of stories. The trip to Ocracoke with the other nineteen freshman EC Scholars and the upperclassmen gave me the opportunity to bond with twenty-plus people that I am ecstatic to work and grow with over the next four years. Speaking on my experience as the perpetual “new kid,” having more than twenty new friends in an overwhelming new setting like college is a godsend. Each of the Scholars is unique and has their own talents that they bring to the table, which enriches what our group can accomplish. Plus it makes them the raddest dudes and dudettes to chill with.

Ocracoke Picture 2

Ocracoke provided a dualistic approach to our days, akin to what college would become. By day we learned how to become the best leaders we could and a cohesive unit. By night we ate ice cream and watched the World Armwrestling League (“WAL” for those of you who haven’t been blessed by the planet’s sport of champions). Seriously, we ate ice cream every single day. We know what’s up. All twenty of us found a great deal of commonalities between us and we clicked after one day, it seemed. We’re a well-oiled machine, similar cogs with differing teeth that spin in different directions, but create a magnificently functioning automaton in the end, fueled by inside jokes, ridiculous nicknames, and ice cream of course.

The activities that were there for us were so much fun as well! The oppressive heat was alleviated by learning how to balance ten of us on three boards adrift in the ocean, crossing a river on the backs of sea turtles, and myself fumbling with a kayak paddle. Through all of this we learned how to better communicate so we can function at our highest level possible. With the other classes of Scholars there to lead us, we learned what it meant to be an EC Scholar and how to give back to the college that has invested in our futures. After all, East Carolina is the only Carolina.

When I boarded the ferry to head back, I wasn’t even close to sad that we were heading back. I was positively fervent to get to East Carolina so I could spend even more time with such a terrific team! After the last seagull dropped off alongside the boat to head back to its roost and the island was once again enveloped by the ocean’s inscrutable fog, I looked ahead towards the mainland that began to peek over the horizon. We had all been through a lot already at this point, including a brush with the supernatural and being lulled to sleep with Jeff Bridges’ Sleeping Tapes, and the next four years will hopefully continue the insanity that we’ve already dipped into.

Ocracoke Picture 3

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Greenville to Barcelona and Back

By: Zoe Hinton, EC Scholar and Honors College Junior

zoe 1“Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar”

“Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”

– Antonio Machado

¨Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub¨ is the best that language can capture the sound of a beating heart. Hearing that rhythm through a stethoscope does not compare to feeling the blood pulsate through one´s carotid artery with your pointer finger.

Let´s move backward one year. In the fall of 2014, I began volunteering at the Greenville Community Shelter Clinic. It was there that I met Dr. Walter Pories, who has become a very valuable mentor of mine.  My dialogues with Dr. Pories led me to immerse myself in both the Spanish language and the field of medicine. He connected me with a Bariatric and Colorectal surgical team in Barcelona, Spain. With a beginner Spanish fluency level, I needed practice, especially to understand medical communication in the hospital. I contacted the ECU Foreign Language Department and spoke with Rosa Lopez-Cañete who guided me toward a medical Spanish program in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. This educational precursor coupled very well and allowed me to excel in my experience at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona.

After weather delays, cancellations and re-routed flights through Portugal, I made it to Oviedo; a small, rainy city in northwestern Spain. The Spanish Courses for Health Science Professionals Program was a 4-week intensive program at the University of Oviedo including classes on: the medical interview, medical terminology, medical Spanish culture and grammar. My speaking ability did not allow for conversation far past, ¨Hi, How are you?¨ I wore the shoes of many Spanish-speaking citizens in the United States. It can be demoralizing when one has thoughts but cannot verbalize them. While no one truly minds, it can cause one to feel less than, not enough, and quite frankly, unintelligent. This gives a healthy sense of humility.

zoe 2I traveled to Bilbao, Madrid, and Granada before arriving to Barcelona. These places hold treasures: a magical feeling in the air while eating tapas on the streets of Madrid, a peek at the history of Moorish rule at the Alhambra in Granada, and the flirtatious curves in the metal exterior of Frank Gehry´s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. After a week of tourism, I arrived in the ever-sought-after Barcelona. The home of Antoni Gaudí, Futbol Club Barcelona and the center of Catalan culture.

I found the surgical teams at Hospital Clínic equally impressive to the culture and architecture during my time in Barcelona. Twenty minutes after I obtained an ID card and white coat on my first day, I went to the operating room to view a laparoscopic colorectal cancer resection in 3D. Before introducing myself, the surgeon looked to the other side of the room and explained a suturing method in English. I later learned that surgeons from the Cleveland Clinic were present for a week to learn a trans-anal resection technique for which Dr. Antonio Lacy, the Chief of the Gastrointestinal Surgery Department at Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, is famous. This was one of the three groups that came to train with Dr. Lacy during my brief time shadowing the team. He is a leader in the field of Bariatric and Colorectal Cancer surgery and served as an excellent advisor during my time with the team. In addition to those fields, I was also able to spend time in Urgent Care, Endoscopy, General Surgery and Endocrine Surgery.

zoe 4Something very special happened while watching a total thyroidectomy during my second week of shadowing. The patient was put under anesthesia, cleaned thoroughly with betadine and the surgeon told me to scrub. I hurriedly went to the sinks and was taught how to slowly and thoroughly take all precautions prior to putting on a sterile garment and double gloves. During surgery, I was taught how to hold pieces of equipment for a surgeon´s best view, tie sutures and even cauterize blood vessels. Occasionally I would peek under the layers of sterile sheets to remind myself there was a person on the table and not just a body part. Then came the moment when the surgeon told me to feel for the carotid artery. At first, I felt nothing. After reporting this to the surgeons, they laughed and encouraged me that the patient was not dead. The assisting resident then gently pushed my hand further into the patient’s neck. There it was: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. Warm and alive and healthy. Beating in such close proximity to the heart.  This tactile moment was one I will never forget. The chest moved up and down. Muscles reflexed and tautened when touched with the cauterizer.

I grew up with a father in pottery and a mother in painting. I watched them sculpt, sketch and mold. The hands of artists performing their trade are analogous to the adept hands of a surgeon; the hands of silk weavers in Northern India; the hands of a piano player. It seems to come at such ease, but there is intense practice and utter calculation behind the skill. They are all artists, but only mold different mediums. Surgery is a process which demands dexterity, both of one’s hands and one’s mind.

zoe 5There were obvious praxy learnings in the operating room, what with how to tie a suture knot and what exactly was a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, but there are many other lessons to be gleaned from the experience. One of the most important is how to ask for help. Second, is the need to escape your comfort zone. The most memorable piece of advice I encountered: one learns the most when disoriented, confused and struggling, not when life comes easy. At some points in our lives, it does us well to embrace the discomfort of not knowing. Third, moments like these do not come without guidance and assistance from others. Without the kindness of professionals in their respective fields, it is unlikely that I would have had this hands-on experience.

With this being said, I have found that all professionals are more than willing to help students at East Carolina University, in the Honors College and in the EC Scholars Program, but no one will help without being asked. It is our job as students to use our imagination and self-advocacy skills to seek out opportunities and address those who have the experience and ability to guide us. At ECU, I have found people and resources to help me build my road.

zoe 3

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ECU Alumnus Scott Avett Inspires Honors Students

By: McKenzie Shelton, EC Scholar and Honors College Junior

Scott Avett PicSpirited dancing and head-banging, cheering fans, dripping sweat, and subwoofers pulsing with heavy bass–perhaps this is the most familiar audience to North Carolina native Scott Avett of the successful folk-rock band The Avett Brothers. On Sunday, August 23, 2015, Scott addressed a somewhat different crowd at the East Carolina University Convocation ceremony. Nervously giddy freshmen (and certainly many fans) awaited the introduction of the inspiring ECU alum after several amusing hip-hop dance routines from our beloved college athletes. It is hard to say what the new members of Pirate Nation were thinking at this major collegiate event, but I remember distinctly what I was thinking and feeling. As a film major in the art department at ECU, I had been selected by the ECU Honors College to attend convocation as well as an intimate question and answer session with Scott. I was eager to meet someone as renowned and talented as Scott Avett. It was hard to believe that I was going to have the privilege to sit down with a man who had “made it;” a fellow artist who had struggled through the muck of the industry, and was now cruising the seas of accomplishment. Although I had grown up hearing of his band, I was only vaguely familiar with his music. I prepared myself for convocation by listening to The Avett Brothers exclusively and doing a bit of digging on his personal life. From first impressions via internet, the man seemed to be a balanced Southern rockstar.

Perhaps you will notice my casual use of Scott’s name as opposed to the more formal Mr. Avett, Sir, or the equally appropriate Your Esteemed Honor. I take the liberty of familiarity because I can confidently attest that Scott would prefer it that way. After his speech, which was filled with insight, honesty, and advice about artistic and academic diligence, Scott spoke cozily with ten other students and me in the Murphy Center. Aside from his appearance–an expertly fitted suit, rugged facial hair, and scorching blue eyes–it was obvious to everyone in the room that Scott Avett had it. I am not talking about the kind of it with which movie stars command the screen, but the kind of it that commands a room. He was at once friendly, intellectual, and entertaining. He told stories about botched film auditions with Anne Hathaway, moving tales of his father’s love, and spoke to us about the challenges of balancing family and life on the road. He moved us to tears with the sincerity with which he spoke of his love of living, learning, art, and family. We all came away from the experience as if from a baptismal—renewed in the faith of our chosen paths.

Scott’s brilliance lies in his devotion to leading a purpose-driven life. He implores us to believe that he is not on the other side of “making it.” He has not “arrived,” or any other dichotomy of the learner vs. the learned. Scott, with his humility and lust for life, indicates to us that we are always on the journey. We are always looking for the next opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our world while finding a way to serve others. Scott Avett is pleasantly and unexpectedly down-to-earth, honest, composed, and kind. He is a role model to myself and all of those who have the pleasure of his company. From this experience I feel more at peace than ever about pursuing what I love, making a difference in the world around me, and simply being happy. Thank you so much to East Carolina and the Honors College, for making this experience possible for me and my classmates.

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Making Music in the Mountains of Colorado

By: Allison Flowers, EC Scholar and Honors College Junior

Allison 4During the week of June 15 through 19, I had the opportunity to visit Colorado State University to take part in the Lift Clarinet Academy. The Lift Clarinet Academy is an annual intensive that invites aspiring professional clarinetists from around the country to study with notable clarinetists and improve their own playing. I was one of 24 clarinetists selected from universities throughout the Unites States and Puerto Rico to attend the intensive. The goal of the academy is to “take your playing to the next level” through a variety of group and individual activities tailored to fit your needs as a musician, and I feel that I have benefited greatly as a clarinetist by taking part in this opportunity.

While attending the Lift Clarinet Academy, I was able to take private lessons from its distinguished faculty, which consisted of clarinetists Dr. Wesley Ferreira, Dr. Jana Starling, and Dr. Diane Barger. During the intensive, I also participated in a clarinet quartet, attended seminars and concerts, networked with fellow clarinetists, and performed in a masterclass. Through all of these experiences, I was able to learn more about my abilities as a clarinetist and also improve my musicianship by increasing my knowledge of practice and performance techniques.

Allison 3Though I was able to take away a lot of useful information from the activities I participated in during the Lift Clarinet Academy, the activity that I enjoyed the most was performing in a masterclass for Dr. Wesley Ferreira and my peers. All in all, this was my favorite experience of the week because I was able to perform one of my favorite pieces for clarinet, “Rhapsody” by Willson Osborne, and receive advice on how I can improve my performance abilities. This was such a satisfying experience in that I was not only able to do something I love–performing–but was also able to learn how to better myself in the process.

In addition to participating in the musical aspects of the Lift Clarinet Academy, I was also able to attend social outings and do some sightseeing of my own. Colorado State University is located in the town of Fort Collins, Colorado, which is a charming medium-sized city outside of Denver. During the week that I stayed in the city, I was able to explore “Old Town,” which is Fort Collins’ picturesque downtown area. Through an outing with the faculty and students of the Lift Clarinet Academy I also visited the Horsetooth Reservoir, which is a man-made lake nestled at the foot of the nearby Rocky Mountains. While visiting Horsetooth, we were able to hike alongside the lake and observe the stunning natural beauty of the mountains and the water. Towards the end of the week, I visited Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was the sightseeing highlight of my week in Colorado.

Allison 2All in all, I am very happy that I had the opportunity to experience the Lift Clarinet Academy. Attending the academy helped to improve my skills as a clarinetist as I worked with its faculty and my peers. I received advice that I can use to continue my growth musically and professionally as I further my studies at East Carolina University and prepare to pursue a career of my own. Making friends with clarinetists who attend universities across the United States and getting to visit new places created memories that I will never forget. The Lift Clarinet Academy helped to take my clarinet playing to the next level, and I look forward to pursuing musical opportunities like it in the future.

Allison 1

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Honors Students Learn from Leaders of Robotic Surgery

By: Jessica Nottingham, ECU News Services

The following article was originally published by ECU News Services and can be found here.

Every day had something new in store for two Honors College students who spent their summer working with East Carolina University’s leaders in robotic heart surgery.

Aenia Amin and Zachary Elliott, two recipients of the 2015 East Carolina Heart Institute (ECHI) Robotic Surgery Internship, were able to observe robotic heart valve replacements, lobectomies and neonatal heart procedures, among others. The internship is a competitive program that exposes undergraduate pre-medical students to laboratory research methods, surgical treatments and an integrated cardiovascular disease program.

ECU Honors College student Zachary Elliott completes a summer internship at ECHI by presenting a case study on heart valve replacement using medical imaging technology.

The interns rotated between the operating room and clinic throughout the six-week program. In the operating room, the days began with case conferences and observation of robotic and non-robotic surgical procedures.

“No two cases were alike in the operating room,” said Elliott, who is a sophomore neuroscience and public health double major and an early assurance in medicine award recipient. “Some days, a rare operation would show up, for example, an 8-month-old (infant) requiring a clot removal from around his heart.”

Getting a glimpse into the world of medical technology, the students learned that it’s ever-changing and will likely be a large influence during their careers as surgeons or healthcare providers.

“We witnessed training of new physicians on various robotic skills, the robotic device (Da Vinci SI surgical system) in action and observed minimally-invasive ‘robotically-assisted’ procedures,” said Amin, a junior triple major in neuroscience, psychology and Hispanic studies. “The capabilities of the robotic devices were astounding, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for robotic surgery and for medicine.”

Days in the clinic were spent observing the relationship between surgeons and their patients and staff, reading various scans and X-rays and learning more about each patient’s anatomy and conditions, according to Amin.

ECU Honors College student Aenia Amin demonstrates the daVinci Si robotic surgery system in the ECHI Robotics Lab.

“It was neat seeing the full circle from pre- to post-operative visits for several patients, and it allowed us to experience what physicians experience on a larger scale. Overall, this was a very enriching, satisfying and enjoyable experience.”

The program is supervised by Dr. Wiley Nifong, an internationally recognized surgeon who helped pioneer robotic and minimally invasive cardiac surgery and values the importance of early medical experience. “We do this program every year to give students an opportunity to get into the hospital early,” said Nifong.

“Dr. Wiley Nifong and the rest of the surgeons were some of the most kind-hearted and enthusiastic people I have had the pleasure of being around,” said Elliott. “They would always take the time to explain the procedure, show me the anatomy of the patient and thoroughly answer any questions.”

To cap off the internship, Amin and Elliott selected and presented case studies that involved patients with complex social and medical histories.

“I chose my case because the patient has extensive drug use and medical conditions,” said Elliott. Amin’s case study involved a patient who had a history of homelessness, which had an impact on the patient’s ability to receive consistent professional healthcare. The cases exposed the interns to the intersection of medicine and social interactions that affect treatment planning and post-op care, said Nifong.

Each year, two ECU Honors College students and two N.C. State Park Scholars are selected to participate in the six-week internship which includes a $1,000 stipend.

“I know from this experience that there is nothing I would rather do with my life other than surgery,” said Elliott.

Elliott, a D.H. Conley High School graduate, is the son of Scott and Tammy Elliott of Winterville. Amin is the daughter of Drs. Saad and Sumayya Amin of Greensboro. She is a graduate of Northern Guilford High School.

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