Sharing a special moment from the World Special Olympics


Donna Mooneyham (left) with Abigail Reznek, a swimmer from Maryland who competed on the U.S. aquatics team that Mooneyham coached at the World Special Olympics in Los Angeles. (Contributed photos)


Donna Mooneyham, an adjunct faculty member at East Carolina University’s College of Health and Human Performance, said she experienced many heartwarming moments as a coach of the U.S. aquatics team at the World Special Olympics. Held in Los Angeles July 25 through Aug. 2, the games attracted 6,500 athletes representing 165 countries.

But the one experience she will always treasure, she said, happened after she reached out to another East Carolina University graduate for help motivating an athlete on her team.

“I had an athlete from Kentucky and (at first) he was grumpy and lowly motivated. He wasn’t really gung ho for the competition. As I tried to connect with this individual, I found out he was a big NASCAR fan, and so am I. So we started talking about racing.”

Mooneyham reached out to one of her former ECU students, Greg Morin, who is a pit crew coach at Hendrick Motor Sports in Charlotte. Morin sent the athlete several items donated by NASCAR drivers.

After that, “he started getting very excited about swimming, he smiled more and he seemed to really take off with this encouragement. (At the next competition) he had his personal best time in swimming.”

On the last day of competition, Mooneyham said Morin called to let her know that he had sent something special to the athlete – a video of NASCAR great Jeff Gordon congratulating him for achieving his personal best time in the pool.

“That was such an inspiration that he went out and medaled,” Mooneyham said.

This was Mooneyham’s second time volunteering as a coach at the World Special Olympics. She also was an aquatics coach at the 2011 games held in Greece.

“This time it seemed more special because we were competing here in the U.S., which meant the families of a lot of the athletes could attend. And it was broadcast on ESPN, so there was so much more public awareness about the event. I think it was just really something special that (the parents) could have that experience” of watching their children compete against athletes from around the world, Mooneyham said.

She said a final tally showed that members of the U.S. Aquatics team won 86 medals.

– Steve Tuttle



ECU graduate stars in opera version of “Cold Mountain”

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of Cold Mountain at the Santa Fe Opera.

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of ‘Cold Mountain ‘ at the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel, who earned a degree in music from East Carolina University in 2007, premiered the role of Lucinda in the Santa Fe Opera Festival’s world premiere production of “Cold Mountain” on Aug. 1.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Havelock, North Carolina, Nansteel has performed as part of the American Opera Initiative; with the Seattle, Dayton and Merola opera companies; and with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Milan and the Seattle Symphony. She completed her second season at Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in May.

In its review of the premiere, “Opera Today” wrote that Nansteel “sang with formidable vocal power while expressing the desperation of a runaway slave.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon based the opera on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel. Like the book, the opera tells the story of Confederate soldier W.P. Inman and his struggle to return to his North Carolina home and his wife during the Civil War. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn sing the starring roles.

Additional performances of the opera are scheduled on Aug. 14, 17, 22 and 24. The Dutch recording label PentaTone will release a recording of the premiere.

The opera will be reprised at Opera Philadelphia in February 2016. The North Carolina Opera, a co-commissioner of the opera along with Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, plans to present “Cold Mountain” as part of its 2017-2018 season.

“This piece has deeply ingrained historical and cultural connections to North Carolina that will invigorate our core audience, while inspiring our state-wide community,” said Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor at North Carolina Opera.

– Steve Tuttle

Patriarca named among most influential deans

Former ECU College of Education Dean Dr. Linda A. Patriarca was named one of the 30 most influential deans of education in the United States by Mometrix Test Preparation.



According to the Mometrix web site ( the list was developed as a way to honor individuals dedicated to educating the future workforce.

The list was compiled through analysis of state and national awards and honors, education program rankings, degree program rankings and level of pay received by graduates of the teaching programs.
Patriarca stepped down from the dean position this summer. Dr. B. Grant Hayes assumed the role of dean on July 31.

ECU alum consults on Netflix series

Charlie Cox and Joe Strechay1

Actor Charlie Cox (left) gives the credit to East Carolina University alumnus Joe Strechay (right) for the good reviews of his performance as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who at night becomes a superhero crime fighter, in the new Netflix series “Daredevil.”

Strechay, who works for the American Foundation for the Blind, was a consultant to the series before “Daredevil” began filming last year. He spent several days teaching Cox the subtle movements he needed to be convincing in the role. The show gained an audience in its first season and Netflix has signed up for 12 new episodes to air this fall.

Student and teacher were back together in June at the 2015 Helen Keller Achievement Awards in New York, where Cox was recognized for raising public awareness about the blind.

“He is a genuine guy and he portrays a positive role model any way you look at it,” Strechay said about the British-born actor, who first attracted attention in the 2007 film “Stardust.”

“The amount of time and effort he puts in to provide an accurate and respectful portrayal is amazing,” Strechay said.

Cox said the hardest acting lessons came when Strechay blindfolded him and led him on brisk walks down busy New York City sidewalks. “He was kind of freaked out but he didn’t tell me that initially,” Strechay said. “I just wanted to show him how I travel.”

Strechay came to ECU from West Virginia with his twin brother, Daniel Strechay. He says he lost most of his eyesight to a congenital condition during his freshman year. He and his brother pledged Sigma Pi and were active in Greek life. Joe majored in communication and Daniel majored in political science. Both graduated in 2001.

After graduation Joe enrolled at Florida State for a master’s degree in methods to improve employment prospects for people with limited vision. He joined AFB in 2008 as program manager for CareerConnect, an AFB website that offers free resources and tools for students and job seekers with vision loss.

Daniel Strachey is manager of sustainability communications for PepsiCo and lives in the New York area.

Joe Strechay now lives in Huntington, West Virginia and travels frequently between AFB’s New York headquarters and training program sites across the country. He remains connected to campus through CommCrew, an alumni support group for the ECU School of Communication.

He believes job opportunities are increasing for people with limited vision as technology improves.

“There is progress,” he said. “There are new regulations that require federal contractors and subcontractors to meet utilization goals for employing persons with disabilities. That actually has helped a lot of veterans. What I say is, we haven’t reached the pinnacle yet but I can see progress being made.”

– Steve Tuttle

Curtis attends international meeting on climate change, coastal and marine tourism

Dr. Scott Curtis represented East Carolina University at the first Innovators Think Tank on Climate Change and Coastal & Marine Tourism held July 22-24 in the Dominican Republic.

Scott Curtis

Scott Curtis

Curtis is an affiliate faculty member in the Center for Sustainability and a professor of atmospheric science in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment at ECU.

Experts in tourism, sustainability, business and coastal and marine environments gathered to take stock of the tourism industry in addressing climate change impacts, with a special focus on island states and coastal and marine areas in the Caribbean.

Curtis was the center’s 2014 Outstanding Affiliate Faculty member and has consistently contributed to research and outreach activities and to the learning experiences of students in the master’s degree program in sustainable tourism.

He has published on weather and climate impacts to coastal tourism in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in particular the differences in perceptions of climate change between local residents and second-homeowners and the value and use of forecasts by tourism businesses. He also has researched Caribbean climates and was recently funded by the National Science Foundation to study small farmer vulnerability and resilience to climate change, market stress and the role of water management.

Curtis and Dr. E. Jeffrey Popke, ECU professor of human geography, received a 2015 Sustainability Seed Grant this summer from the center for their proposal titled “Enhancing Sustainability in the Caribbean: The Water-Energy-Food Nexus in an Era of Climate Change.”

ECU graduates to lead State Board of Community Colleges

Two graduates of East Carolina University will serve as chair and vice chair of the State Board of Community Colleges.

Scott Shook

Scott Shook

Scott Shook of Greenville was elected chair of the board at its July 17 meeting in Raleigh. Clyde Higgs of Charlotte was elected vice chair. Both will serve two-year terms in those positions.

Shook is vice president and financial advisor with BB&T Scott & Stringfellow in Greenville. He graduated from ECU in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He is married to Karen Selby Shook, who graduated from ECU in 1989 with a bachelor’s in accounting.

Higgs is vice president of business development at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. He received a master’s degree in public administration from ECU in 1999.

Clyde Higgs

Clyde Higgs

Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Shook to the State Board of Community Colleges two years ago. The governor appointed Higgs to the board four years ago.

“The N.C. Community College System is the largest, most comprehensive higher education system in our state and a leader nationally,” Shook said. “It is an honor to serve as chair with this dynamic group of board members, all of whom have a passion for our students, our colleges and North Carolina.”

Shook is a member of the board’s Accountability and Audit Committee, the Finance Committee and the Presidential Search Committee. His term on the board expires in 2019.

Higgs is chair of the board’s Personnel Committee and serves on the Cabinet Committee, the Finance Committee and the Presidential Search Committee. His term on the board expires in 2017.

— Steve Tuttle

ECU to host Leadership Learning Exchange

East Carolina University and the Institute for Educational Leadership are hosting the inaugural Leadership Learning Exchange July 19-23 on campus. The four-day institute will draw teams of educational leaders, faculty, students, parents and community members to examine ways to “breathe joy and justice” into communities and schools.

The host team includes ECU Wells Fargo Endowed Chair of Educational Leadership Dr. Matthew Militello and ECU graduate student Carrie Morris, a North Carolina Prinicipal Fellow who is pursuing a master’s of school administration at ECU. From the Institute of Educational Leadership, S. Kwesi Rollins and Lynda Tredway will join in the learning exchange.

For additional information about the event, or to register, visit

In Memoriam – Dr. Linner Ward Griffin

Dr. Linner Ward Griffin, emeritus professor of social work, passed away unexpectedly this past Sunday, July 5.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, July 17, at 2 p.m. at Brown Funeral Home in Greensboro.   A memorial service will be held in Greenville on Saturday, July 18, 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 1400 South Elm Street.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the ECU School of Social Work Scholarship Fund.  Checks may be sent to the ECU Foundation, 2200 S. Charles Blvd., Suite 1100, Greenville, NC.  Please indicate the purpose of the donation.  Cards and condolences can be sent to:  Mr. Bobby Griffin, 311 Beech Cove Drive, Grimesland, N. C. 27837.

Dr. Griffin began at ECU as an assistant professor of social work in January, 1990 and progressed through the academic ranks to professor of social work in 2000.  She served in a number of administrative capacities including interim dean of Social Work and Criminal Justice, interim dean of the School of Communication, interim associate vice chancellor and later associate vice chancellor for academic programs.  In 2010 her title was changed to associate provost for academic program planning and development and she held that that position until her retirement in 2013.  She was granted emeritus professor status upon her retirement.

ECU professors receive national recognition

Two engineering professors at East Carolina University have received national recognition for their work in the areas of diversity and management.

Dr. Evelyn Brown

Dr. Evelyn Brown

Dr. Evelyn Brown has received the “INSIGHT into Diversity” 2015 Inspiring Women in STEM award while Dr. Gene Dixon won the Bernard R. Sarchet Award from the American Society for Engineering Education.

Brown is one of 100 women recognized by the higher education magazine for achievements that encourage and inspire women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM. The magazine will be published in September.

Brown is a charter member of the STEM Girls steering committee, a member of the FIRST Robotics board of directors and faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Engineering Honor Society and Engineering Ambassadors. Brown was the primary investigator on a National Science Foundation grant that secured $540,000 in merit and need-based scholarships for the engineering department. She has spent numerous hours recruiting for the engineering department.

LaKesha Alston Forbes, associate provost of equity and diversity at ECU, nominated Brown for the award with input from Dr. David White, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology.

“Dr. Brown was one of our first hires in engineering and serves as a tremendous role model for our female engineering students and junior faculty,” White said. “She is a great advocate for diversity, particularly in STEM, and she is a tireless supporter of her passionate work for diversity in the STEM fields.”

Brown said she is honored to have been nominated by ECU for the award. “I’m also hopeful that this national recognition will bring attention to ECU and the many good things being accomplished by dedicated faculty in our department, college and university,” she said.

Dr. Gene Dixon

Dr. Gene Dixon

Dixon received a national award named after Bernard R. Sarchet, a founding member and first national president of the American Society for Engineering Management.

The prestigious award is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to the profession and to the engineering management division of the American Society for Engineering Education.

Dixon, who has been at ECU for nine years, oversees all capstone projects required for engineering majors in their senior year. Students work in teams to complete a yearlong project for a local business or industry.

Dixon works closely with industry partners to ensure that ECU students get work experience, leadership and entrepreneurial skills before they graduate. He also helps develop internship and cooperative work opportunities for engineering majors and has written multiple articles and presented at national and international conferences.

“Gene has applied his knowledge of engineering management in his scholarship and his teaching, and we are very fortunate to have him as a colleague,” said Dr. Hayden Griffin, chair of the engineering department at ECU.