ECU scientists awarded $314,000 NSF grant

A new research project at East Carolina University should lead to improved climate forecasting for North Carolina.

ECU geography professors Dr. Tom Rickenbach and Dr. Rosana Nieto-Ferreira will examine how changes in the atmosphere control the manner in which rain and snow falls in the state and how those changes affect the state’s current and future climate. The study is made possible by a three-year $314,000 National Sciences Foundation grant funded by the NSF Directorate for Geosciences’ Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division.

In their grant proposal, the researchers noted that precipitation is a primary source of water for North Carolina’s rivers, soils and groundwater reservoirs. They said that studying the manner in which the precipitation arrives will help scientists understand how increasing population, climate change and land use patterns are affecting the state’s climate.

“Scientists and engineers are constantly improving our ability to measure how much rain and snow reach the surface. What we don’t understand as well is the manner in which that water is typically delivered to us,” said Rickenbach.

“That missing piece of the puzzle is crucial to knowing whether precipitation reaching the ground will help or hinder us as we lead our lives. Knowing how a given amount of precipitation reached us – as gentle widespread daily showers, intense isolated but brief thunderstorms, or heavy snowfall – determines how we can best harness it for our needs and whether we must protect ourselves from its impacts.”

Nieto-Ferreira said that scientists do not fully understand how the state’s fresh water resource responds to changes in the environment; more research is needed. She said, “We may then better understand how these variations in precipitation impact our lives, such as agriculture, urban runoff, coastal development and flooding.”

The scientists will conduct their research in three steps. First, every precipitation system that occurred across North Carolina over a three-year period will be identified and characterized using newly available high-resolution precipitation and three-dimensional radar reflectivity data sets. Next, the mode of delivery of the precipitation will be placed in the context of the prevailing wind and weather patterns of the atmosphere, based on archived maps and analysis. Finally, the climatology will be applied, with the goal of improving the interpretation of state-of-the-art model simulations of future regional climates.

The University of North Carolina Renaissance Computing Institute and the National Climate Data Center will partner with Rickenbach and Nieto-Ferreira to construct and analyze radar-based datasets tailored to the project.

For additional information about this NSF grant, contact Rickenbach at 252-328-1039 or rickenbacht@ecu.edu, or Nieto-Ferreira at 252-328-0751 or ferreirar@ecu.edu.

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Making sense of the Civil War: Prokopowicz selected as local project scholar

East Carolina University history department chair Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz will serve as project scholar for the “Let’s Talk About it: Making Sense of the American Civil War” series at the New Bern-Craven County Public Library.

Prokopowicz

The series includes five public conversations centered on the Civil War, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. The New Bern Craven County Public Library is one of 65 libraries nationwide to receive the competitive grant.

Prokopowicz will facilitate the discussions, which will take place from February through April 2012. Each session will focus on a different facet of the Civil War experience, including such topics as imagining war, choosing sides, making sense of Shiloh, the shape of war and war and freedom. Three books will provide material for the discussions: “March,” by Geraldine Brooks; “Crossroads to Freedom: Antietam,” by James McPherson; and the anthology “America’s War: Talking About the Civil War,” edited by Edward L. Ayers.

Prokopowicz said the series affords an opportunity for members of the community to talk about the war and its effect on the world today.

“The war took place 150 years ago, but the underlying issues are still active in American culture and politics. Too often those issues are oversimplified for TV cameras or debated in classrooms where only scholars and students can participate,” he said.

“This project creates an opportunity for people to have a meaningful, in-depth conversation and to share the many meanings that the war still holds for people in eastern North Carolina.”

The grant provides to the library $3,000 for project-related expenses as well as 25 copies each of “March” and “Crossroads to Freedom” and 50 copies of “America’s War.” Prokopowicz and Joanne Straight, head librarian and project director for the grant, will receive funding to attend an October orientation workshop in Chicago, Ill.

For additional information about the series, contact Straight at 252-638-7800 or by email at jstraight@nbccpl.org. Detailed information about the ALA grant may be viewed online at http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/ppo/programming/civilwar/ltaicw_guidelines.cfm.

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Grant to bring learning innovations to eastern North Carolina schools

An East Carolina University partnership with North Carolina State University was one of 19 programs nationwide selected to share in $7 million in grants for new and innovative learning programs.

The partnership will lead to release of an intelligent game-based learning environment entitled “Crystal Island” to rural middle school students throughout eastern North Carolina.

In Crystal Island, students work to solve a science mystery as they learn about microbiology. The game will help students achieve Common Core State Standards, new North Carolina state guidelines that establish what students need to learn in each grade.

Initial tests with more than 1,000 students have demonstrated significant learning gains in both science and literacy with the program.

The partnership is a collaboration between the Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education in the ECU College of Education and the IntelliMedia Group at NCSU.

The grants are provided through Next Generation Learning Challenges, a collaborative program aimed at applying technological innovations to enhance learning and improve college readiness. Funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

ECU’s NGLC director Roger Conner said, “We believe learning technologies and next generation models can produce transformative change…for both teachers and students.”

For additional information on the Next Generation Learning Challenges, visit http://nextgenlearning.org/. Contact ECU’s NGLC director at 252-328-6922 or e-mail connerr@ecu.edu.

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Endowment supports ECU program for students with learning disabilities

A large endowment from the Harold H. Bate Foundation will support an East Carolina University program for students with learning disabilities.

The Harold H. Bate Foundation has pledged $333,000 over five years to endow a distinguished professorship for Project STEPP (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships) in the ECU College of Education. The program pools community and university resources to provide academic, social and life-skills support for students with identified specific learning disabilities who have shown the potential to succeed in college.

Dr. Sarah Williams, associate professor and Project STEPP director, said the program helps students “who have historically fallen through the cracks in terms of university access and retention.”

The program boosts STEPP students through guidance in the transition from high school to college. It includes courses in self-advocacy, time management, study skills and note taking. Participants have individualized plans including set study hall hours and assistance from a network of advisers, mentors, assistive technology specialists, tutors, counselors, instructors and other experts.

The extra attention is getting results, Williams said.  “The students…are holding their own and doing well.”

“We have a strong retention rate…stronger than the university retention rate in general, and remembering these students weren’t even supposed to be here, that’s saying something,” she said.

The program’s success has attracted attention in Chapel Hill. STEPP staff members have been asked to work with the UNC System to implement customized learning differences programs at other universities in North Carolina.

Beyond its success in student retention, the ECU STEPP program is unique because it is affordable.

Williams said that many university-level programs exist to help students with learning disabilities, “…whole colleges established and organized around teaching individuals with learning disabilities.” The problem is that “many of them are private colleges and very, very pricey,” she said. The ECU program is offered at no additional cost beyond the normal university fees and tuition.

“Nationally, we have not found other programs that provide this comprehensive level of support to students who are very deserving and very capable of being successful in the college setting without any additional cost,” she said.

“That piece, not charging students extra, is part of our foundation and not something we’re interested in compromising on.”

The Bate Foundation endowment will help keep the STEPP program from charging extra. The $333,000 commitment will translate to even more funding, because the State of North Carolina matches $1 for every $2 donated to endowed professorships. That could result in a $500,000 endowment for Project STEPP.

For additional information about the STEPP program, contact Williams at (252) 327-1101 or williamssar@ecu.edu. The program’s web site is available online at http://www.ecu.edu/cs-educ/stepp/index.cfm.

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The Bate Foundation has contributed more than $3 million to ECU. It was founded through the generosity of Harold H. Bate, a philanthropist, investor and retired lumber executive to enhance education, youth and recreation and quality of life for the communities of Craven, Pamlico and Jones counties and East Carolina University.

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Grant supports Pitt County youth enrichment

A $5,000 grant will support academic and cultural enrichment activities for Pitt County youth at the Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center, an East Carolina University partnership program.

Provided by the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, the donation will support the YES (Youth Excelling for Success) Summer Bridge Program, which targets children in grades 3 through 5 with activities to help them stay engaged and prepared for success when school resumes in the fall.

Held Monday through Thursday from June to early August, YES offers mathematics, language arts, science, martial arts, chess and other board games. Participants enjoy activities on the Wii along with physical education, gardening, computer lab and other cultural enrichment activities.

Academic enrichment follows the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and is taught by qualified teachers. Campers are served breakfast, snacks, and lunch daily.

YES program director Shawan Sutton expressed gratitude for the donation. The foundation’s members “clearly understand the importance of quality summer programs for youth,” Sutton said. “The YES staff is excited about helping the youth keep their academic skills sharp while promoting positive social growth and development. We have lots of great activities planned for participants and even some for their parents and families.”

Lee Watson, market president for Wells Fargo in Greenville, said the foundation was pleased to present the donation in keeping with its mission of building strong and vibrant communities, improving the quality of life and making positive differences.

“It helps demonstrate Wells Fargo’s ongoing commitment to the Greenville community…,” Watson said.

“We’re responsible for being leaders to promote the long-term economic prosperity and quality of life for everyone in our communities. If they prosper, so do we.”

The Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center, at 1100 Ward Street in Greenville, is a partnership among the City of Greenville, East Carolina University, Pitt Community College and multiple community-based agencies. The Center is committed to identifying and addressing the health and wellness needs of the community through innovative programs designed for all individuals across the life course.

For additional information about the center and its programs, call 252-328-5800 or visit http://www.ecu.edu/che/igcc/.

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