Keerthana Velappan Receives Substantial U Award

By: Erika Dietrick, Undergraduate Director of Marketing and Communications

keerthana 3From the moment EC Scholar and Honors College student Keerthana Velappan stepped onto ECU’s campus, she was determined to change the world. It began with outstanding performance in her classes as a University Studies/Children’s Hearing Studies major and eventually transformed into leadership positions both on and off-campus: tutoring children of all ages in math, leading as treasurer of the Indian Student Association, and working as a summer research intern at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute (part of the University of Michigan Medical School). In between her service and research, she found time to make the Dean’s or Chancellor’s list every semester and was inducted into a number of honors societies, including Phi Kappa Phi, which nominated her for the Outstanding First-Year Student Award. However, something even bigger was brewing for this multi-talented scholar.

keerthana 5Her passion for feminism, education, and positive change eventually led Keerthana to establish the East Carolina University chapter of She’s the First during her sophomore year. The national non-profit organization sponsors girls’ education in low-income countries, allowing them to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school and to break the generational cycle of poverty. In an earlier blog post from April of this year, Keerthana describes the origin of this powerful organization and how the ECU chapter raises hundreds of dollars on campus. Just six months later, her leadership in the ECU chapter has already surpassed their initial goals: instead of sponsoring two girls in Nepal and Uganda for a year at $720, the organization is very near being able to support four.

It is for this reason that she was anonymously nominated for the 2015 Substantial U Awards. Presented by Substantial Magazine and NC Civil, the award seeks to recognize a college student who dares to be different in order to change the world. As is apparent to everyone who meets her, Keerthana’s genuine compassion, tireless work ethic, and unique perspective shone through–she was presented the award in October 2015.

In an interview with ECU, Keerthana explained that her initial motivation for starting a chapter of She’s the First was the confusion around the feminist movement and the power of education. “Over the course of this year, I have become more involved in and informed about feminism and the feminist movement,” she said. “I strongly believe that education is the key to change. Educating only half of the world’s population should not be an option.”

keerthana 4Her role model, Emma Watson, embodies a similar mission to Keerthana: to show the world that feminism is about equality between genders, not the overpowering of one or the other. The inclusive philosophy was a central topic of discussion at ECU’s first annual Day of the Girl Conference. Hosted by She’s the First*{East Carolina University}, the conference focused on redefining and owning the word feminism and included lectures from several guest speakers, including a keynote lecture by Honors College Faculty Fellow Dr. Liz Forgarty about today’s feminist movement around the world.

As She’s the First*{East Carolina University} nears its one-year anniversary, the Honors College at East Carolina University would like to commend Keerthana for embodying our mission of leadership and service to the fullest. She is a stellar role model in the Honors College Living-Learning Community, and we can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next. Undaunted by challenges and unwilling to compromise, Keerthana Velappan will continue to inspire others with her vision, her achievements, and her heart.

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Professional photography from the 2015 Substantial Awards. Use #Substantial Awards when sharing or reposting their photos to give proper credit and spread their mission statement! 

Click here to make a donation to She’s the First*{East Carolina University}. If you are an ECU student, you can e-mail to get involved in the chapter.


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How to Master the GRE

By: Stephanie Griffin, Honors College Senior

stephanie 1After taking the SAT in high school, I thought that was the last time I would ever take a standardized test. Lo and behold, 3 years later, I found myself having to study over the summer to conquer the first obstacle of graduate school applications, the GRE. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is a required standardized test for graduate school for a wide variety of programs. Being a Speech and Hearing Sciences major, the GRE is required for my applications into graduate school to get my AuD and become an audiologist. The GRE is a slightly more advanced form of the SAT that is computer based. There are two essays, 2 sections each of mathematics and reading/grammar, and an unscored section.

Compared to the SAT, the GRE testing occurs several times weekly in all major cities, so there are plenty of opportunities to take the test. I signed up to take the GRE in mid-June in order to give myself a month to study after exams ended. Knowing myself, I also recognized I would want to take the exam again. I am a person that needs to experience the atmosphere and general “vibe” of something as major as the GRE before I can truly feel comfortable. I know some people would rather study rigorously before taking a test to only have to take it once. With my general test anxiety I knew that taking the test twice would allow me to understand how it worked and timed out, so the second time I could really focus on the material and not on the logistics.

After signing up, I really didn’t know what was on the test, how it worked, etc., so I headed to Barnes and Noble. In the test prep section, I found a book from Princeton as well as a general 5-pound book full of questions. Not really knowing how to begin, I opened the Princeton book and began reading. Test prep books are honestly a great way to understand how different tests work, from the time format to what you are allowed to bring on test day. Along with a ton of great information about the test, many different test prep books will also give you online access codes for full practice tests online, vocabulary, and different tips. My book came with a timeline where I could select how long I had to study for the test and a schedule for each week was made. I used this to an extent but just focused on making my way through the book by a certain time.

Each day I would complete around half a chapter to ensure that I didn’t burn myself out. The Princeton book would talk about the format for each section and then work up the difficulty of practice questions as you finished each section. The reading section gave tips on how to read through the different passages and pick the information out that you needed. A large group of common vocabulary words were given, so I would pick through those and make note cards of unfamiliar words. The math section reviewed the basics of different categories such as geometry and algebra. I honestly hadn’t done any of the tested categories of math since early high school, so a review was definitely needed. Due to the GRE being a computer based test, I also had to practice transferring information from a screen to scratch paper without losing any valuable information.  For the writing portion of the GRE, I felt comfortable enough to not practice writing due to the large amount of papers I write every semester. I read about the format of the two prompts and how to structure the papers, and left it at that.

The day before the test, I did absolutely nothing. I relaxed, went to see a movie, and headed to bed at a decent time. I knew that stressing myself out the day before would only hurt me, so I stepped away from all my test prep materials. Test day came, and I found myself cool, collected, and surprisingly relaxed. I arrived early to the testing center, filled out my forms and walked in ready to go. Throughout the test. I remembered the tips I had learned, and stuck to what I knew. As soon as I completed the test, I received my estimated score and was ecstatic. Although 4 hours of my life was gone, and a headache remained from staring at a computer screen, I felt nothing but relief.

Knowing how the test is formatted and flows, I am now in the process of prepping to take the GRE for the second and last time. I know what sections to work on, the areas to study, and what I need to do to increase my score.  I know that practice problems help me, while forcing myself to study didn’t. I also know my personal pace and style of studying. My advice to anyone taking the GRE is to not burn yourself out, be confident in what you know, and most importantly, don’t doubt yourself. Best of luck!

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The Psychology of Poverty and Poor Health

By: Nicole Fox, Honors College Sophomore

nicole fox All students in the Honors College are required to take two seminars of their choice before graduation. When I first signed up for the Psychology of Poverty and Poor Health, I had no idea what to expect. I remember when I walked in on the first day of class, my professor, Dr. Sears, announced that this course wouldn’t be easy. He said that we would learn about a lot of things that would stick with us, and we would challenge our personal beliefs and learn to see both sides of poverty.  I didn’t really think that my opinion would change at all…as a matter of fact, before this class I never really knew what my opinion on poverty was. However, through this experience I learned a lot about the different views people take on topics like welfare, wealth inequality, and Obamacare. Through detailed discussions my class discovered not only the root causes of poverty, but also some things we could do to fix it.

While poverty is typically a sad subject, my amazing professors, Dr. Sears and Dr. McCammon managed to make this content relatable and interesting.  Through various class activities I gained a new perspective and was able to place myself in different income groups, which instilled a sense of empathy and understanding in me. We played Monopoly to show how poverty is just like a roll of the dice, and a lot of times low-income families feel out of control. We also had the privilege donating money to a person or organization of our choice using Kiva, a website for microcredit loans for needy entrepreneurs around the world.

The most impactful thing I did last seminar was working with the local organization, Building Hope. Building Hope is an after school program for underprivileged children in building hope 3Greenville.  One of the main things this organization was trying to improve is child literacy, so my seminar stepped in to help. The International organization Heifer is a non-profit that collects donations in order to send animals to foreign countries for impoverished people to use as resources. Heifer recently created a program called Read to Feed, where students record how many pages, chapters, or books they have read in order to receive sponsored donations to donate an animal to a family in need.

I volunteered to be a leader on this project, which provided me with a birds-eye view of all the action. It was so much fun introducing the idea of Read to Feed to the kids and watching them learn to love reading when it was connected to a worthy cause. I primarily worked with first and second graders, and it was so exciting to see how their literacy improved over just a few months. This experience was overall one of the most humbling things I have ever done, and it would not have been possible without my honors seminar.

Overall, The Psychology of Poverty and Poor Health was my favorite class last semester. Dr. Sears and Dr. McCammon are two of the most insightful and interesting individuals I have ever met, and I am so honored to have had the opportunity to work with them. This seminar has opened my eyes to many problems in the world, and though at times it was very sad, I now know some approaches to help fight poverty. I never would have been inspired to try and evoke a change with such a big issue, but now I have a new sense of empathy and want to do whatever I can to help those in need.


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Rallying for Raas: ECU’s Newest Indian Dance Team

By: Jayati Vyas, Honors College Junior

Jayati - Pirate Raas“5, 6, 7, 8!”

For a dancer, this is more than just a string of consecutive numbers. It serves as a cue for the precise moment at which to begin dancing, so that your moves are in perfect tandem with the rhythm of the music. It provides the dancer with a clean slate, a chance to collect their thoughts before starting over and giving a particular segment another try.

In many ways, the manner in which Pirate Raas came to be is similar to this. For someone who had dedicated over 15 years of her life to learning and performing various Indian dance forms, choosing to attend a university that, at the time, did not offer much in terms of collegiate Indian dance teams was a hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless, I was hopeful. My good friend Raven Misra and I gave the idea of starting a raas team a considerable amount of thought, but we just couldn’t seem to get our hands on the resources we needed to create one. Also, many of the students on campus had close to no experience doing raas, which was an important aspect for us to consider if we were to start a team that had the potential to compete at national competitions. However, with the new academic year came an influx of students who had prior experience Pirate Raas - 2015with raas, one of whom, in particular, shared our aspirations. So when my soon-to-be co-captain, Mona Amin, called for an interest meeting for an “ECU raas team” in December of 2014, it was as if someone had said “5, 6, 7, 8!” and I found myself staring at an opportunity to give my dream another try.

‘Raas’ is a type of Indian folk dance that is native to Gujarat, a state located in the western region of India. It is typically danced by both men and women during the festival of ‘Navratri’, that occurs in October every year. Collegiate raas teams retain most parts of traditional raas, but make some modifications to the music and choreography in order to make their performances more exciting to watch. For this reason, there is a tremendous amount of effort that is put into generating creative steps, formations, and themes for a full raas routine.

Pirate Raas at Reimage 2Mona attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math, where she formed and managed a raas team for two years. Although, I did not have prior experience leading a raas team, I had learned and performed ‘Bharatnatyam’ (a type of Indian classical dance) as well as raas almost my entire life. Thus, we both had a unique set of skills we brought to the table that helped us in collaborating and creating a dance team. Even then, it was inevitable that we would face a number of challenges as we worked hard to prepare the team for performances and competitions. We started off small: our first performance took place at Wahl-Coates Elementary School here in Greenville, NC. Before we knew it, we had already performed at Bhangra Sutra at UNC-CH, competed at East Coast Dhamaka at George Mason University in Virginia, were invited to compete in Las Vegas, and topped off our semester by coming in second place at Pirates Got Talent. As fortunate as we were to have these opportunities, there was so much more to it than we had imagined.

Pirate Raas not only gave me the opportunity to develop myself as a dancer and a leader, but also helped perpetuate my passion for dance. Now, with the team being a mix of returning and new members, we are looking forward to a year full of exciting new endeavors. So here’s to starting over, a cleaner slate, and yet another try. Ready? 5, 6, 7, 8!

Pirate Raas ECD


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Attending the Amazon Brand Ambassador Summit in Seattle

By: Allison Flowers, EC Scholar and Honors College Junior

allison 1At the end of my spring semester, I applied for the position of Amazon Brand Ambassador at East Carolina University and accepted an offer for the job at the beginning of the summer. My responsibilities in this role are to plan and execute on and off-campus marketing events that provide visibility to Amazon and the Amazon Student program, the Amazon Prime membership that is offered specifically to college students at a discounted price.  In addition, I help maintain a social media presence for the Amazon Brand Ambassador program through its Twitter page @AmazonAtECU.  I was asked to attend the Amazon Brand Ambassador Summit at the beginning of August to receive training for this role.

allison 3Overall, the Amazon Brand Ambassador Summit was one of the highlights of my summer.  It was held from August 6th through 9th in Seattle, Washington, and approximately 200 Brand Ambassadors from universities throughout the United States were in attendance.  During the four days that we were in Seattle, we attended various training sessions, which taught us about every aspect of our job.  The session themes varied but included topics such as social media etiquette, university solicitation policies, and event planning.  We also attended a session that explained internships and future career opportunities at Amazon.

In addition to attending training sessions, we were allotted time to explore the city of Seattle.  Having never been to the west coast before, getting to explore the culture and vibe of a new region was particularly interesting to me.  During my free time I was able to see the Space Needle, walk through the historic Pike Place Market, and visit the first Starbucks in the world.  Being an avid lover of coffee and teas, visiting the first Starbucks was my favorite tourist moment of the summit.  Our program managers had also planned social events to get to know other Brand Ambassadors, the highlight of which was an evening cruise of Lake Union, which featured stunning views of the Seattle skyline at sunset.

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All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed traveling to Seattle for the Amazon Brand Ambassador Summit.  The combination of attending informative training sessions, exploring Seattle, and meeting Brand Ambassadors from other universities resulted in a truly extraordinary experience.  After attending all of the training sessions at the summit, I feel confident to begin my job as an Amazon Brand Ambassador at ECU and look forward to holding the first on-campus events at ECU with my fellow Brand Ambassador.  If you see an Amazon table somewhere on campus, be sure to stop by and say hi!

allison 4


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