Category Archives: Alumni

Driving in style: Alumni association promotes Pirate plates

The East Carolina Alumni Association is part of a renewed push to get more drivers showing their Pirate pride with ECU-branded license plates.

The program, an existing partnership with the university and the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, returns a portion of license plate fees back to ECU and supports student scholarships.

PeeDee shows off a Pirate plate on campus.

PeeDee shows off a Pirate plate on campus. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

“This partnership makes total sense for us,” said Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “A vast majority of our ECU alumni and friends live in North Carolina, so we were excited when this opportunity came about. We want to challenge all Pirates around the state to upgrade their vehicles with a Pirate plate. It is a great way to not only support our deserving students, but to help showcase the strength and generosity of Pirate Nation around our state.”

The specialized ECU license plate with the Pirate logo costs an additional $25 on top of the regular DMV registration fee. Of that amount, $15 goes to the ECU Alumni Scholarship Fund. For an additional $30, the Pirate plate can be personalized with a custom message such as a class year.

Options available for Pirates at the DMV.

Options available for Pirates at the DMV. (Photos by the ECU Alumni Association)

To order a Pirate license plate, go to the nearest DMV office or visit the DMV online. For more information, visit

Only Pirate plates purchased in North Carolina support ECU scholarships. Various states offer collegiate license plates, and those interested in an out-of-state Pirate license plate should check with their local DMV.


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Recent ECU graduate wins national research contest

A research paper by a 2018 graduate of East Carolina University’s Master of Public Health program has won a national contest.

Preventing Chronic Disease, a medical journal established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recently announced that Fei Gao’s paper, “Prevalence of gestational diabetes and health behaviors among women: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2014,” was one of two graduate-level winners of their 2018 Research Paper Contest.

Fei Geo

Fei Gao (Contributed photo)

The contest required papers to be relevant to the prevention, screening, surveillance or population-based intervention of chronic diseases, including arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Two winners were selected from the graduate student category and one each from the doctoral, undergraduate and high school categories. More than 100 papers were submitted.

“My MPH provided many opportunities to practice and utilize research techniques, from our internship to our professional paper to attending research conferences,” said Gao. “My role as a graduate assistant for the diabetes study conducted at the ECU Family Medicine Center also helped cultivate my interest in diabetes. All in all, the combination of great mentors and opportunities helped prepare me in writing this manuscript.

“With much more to learn about diabetes and preventative care, I will continue my research to provide pertinent findings to help reform current interventions and guidelines for diabetes and other related chronic diseases,” Gao added.

The journal will publish Gao’s winning paper later this year. Gao is the first student in ECU’s Master of Public Health program to receive the honor.


-by Kelly Rogers Dilda, University Communications

Alumni Association announces new board members

The East Carolina University Alumni Association announced the addition of five new members to its 28-member board of directors. The new board members will play an active role in guiding the efforts and initiatives of the association, which reaches more than 170,000 ECU alumni worldwide.

The East Carolina University Alumni Association recently inducted five new members to its board of directors.

The East Carolina University Alumni Association recently inducted five new members to its board of directors. (Photo contributed by ECU Alumni Association)

They are:

  • Karen Correa ’92 from Mickleton, New Jersey, received her Bachelor of Science in biology from ECU. She is the senior director of clinical operations for Adare Pharmaceuticals, serves as an editorial board member of Clinical Leader, and is a board member for CAMcare Health Corporation in Camden, New Jersey. Correa said she sees serving on the alumni board as an opportunity to give back to the university that gave so much to her. She wants to help spread the word about ECU so that more people from the New Jersey area consider it as an education option.
  • Dr. Christopher Heery ’06 from Durham received his medical degree from ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. He is the chief medical officer for Bavarian Nordic and head of the clinical trials group for the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology for the National Cancer Institute. He also serves on the Clinical Trials Research Advisory Board for BSOM. “I hope to see Brody and the Greenville community benefit from a stronger commitment to clinical trial research over the next five to 10 years,” he said.
  • Mr. Adam Keen ’05 ’08 from Wrightsville Beach received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and his MBA from the ECU College of Business. He is an active supporter of the college and the ECU Miller School of Entrepreneurship as well as an alumni volunteer for admissions. He is a partner at Tidewater Equity Partners LLC. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a member of the board of directors and I look forward to working alongside my fellow board members as we help connect and engage past, present and future ECU Pirates,” Keen said.
  • Tara Parker ’99 ’02 ’06 from Greenville received her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science, a Master of Arts in education and a master’s degree in administration from ECU. She works as a school administrator with Pitt County Schools and serves on the Pitt County Schools Discipline Task Force. She has previously served on numerous councils and boards serving Pitt County Schools, Pitt Community College and ECU.
  • Valerie Tarte ’98 from Wilmington received her bachelor’s in nursing from ECU. She works with the UNC-Wilmington School of Nursing to teach BSN students the core concepts of leadership and management for professional nursing. She also serves as a clinical instructor for senior nursing students at Cape Fear Community College and is an active supporter of her local Girl Scout troop. “Although I graduated from ECU over 20 years ago, I knew it was time to give something back,” Tarte said. “I am thrilled to become a part of such a committed board. I cannot wait to start building lasting relationships as well as getting into the dynamics of creating new events for our alumni.”

Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, said the board of directors is critical to meeting the alumni association’s mission to inform, involve and serve members of the ECU family.

“The alumni board provides the university with invaluable insight, and each member’s expertise and experience helps us advance our mission,” he said. “I’m excited to welcome our new board members and look forward to their future contributions to ECU.”

Board members serve three-year terms and meet four times a year. The board strives to maintain a diverse and inclusive membership made up of graduates from the many colleges at the university. The board will help provide leadership through advocacy and education and ensure an environment which is open, inclusive and sensitive to the university’s diverse alumni base.


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Miller School of Entrepreneurship students visit, learn from school’s namesake

In 2015, the Miller School of Entrepreneurship was established thanks to a $5 million gift from ECU College of Business (COB) alumnus Fielding Miller and his wife, Kim Grice Miller. The school’s goal is to serve as a regional hub that prepares students to take an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set into their communities.

Students with the Miller School of Entrepreneurship pitch their ideas to Raleigh-entrepreneurs, including COB Alumnus and the school’s namesake, Fielding Miller. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Students with the Miller School of Entrepreneurship pitch their ideas to Raleigh-entrepreneurs, including COB Alumnus and the school’s namesake, Fielding Miller. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Three years later, Miller School students hit the road and pitched their ideas to the school’s regional advisory councils, which include COB alumni and entrepreneurs. The council visits have included Wilmington, Greenville and Raleigh.

On April 6, students with the Miller School visited CAPTRUST Financial Advisors, the Raleigh-based independent investment research andfee-based investment advisory firm. This visit marked the first time that Miller, co-founder, chairman andCEO of CAPTRUST, was able to see Miller School students in action, which included a five-minute presentation and 30-minute Q&A session with three student teams.

Fielding Miller

Fielding Miller

When asked how it felt to see these presentations, Miller said, “I was thrilled with the visit – the student presentations were compelling and showed a lot of creativity, andthe turnout of the experienced entrepreneurs in the Raleigh area was heartwarming to see.”

The Raleigh-area entrepreneurs that Miller mentioned included members of the Miller School’s Triangle Advisory Council. Van Isley, the Triangle Advisory Council’s president, also attended the event. He recently gave $2 million to the COB that will be used to provide a space for business, engineering, technology and art students to collaborate on product innovation and entrepreneurship. The Miller School student presentations marked his first time Isley saw the student entrepreneurs in action. Of the presentations, he said the students’ energy, enthusiasm and passion was exciting and invigorating to witness.

“Several years ago I participated in one of the first shark tank presentations, which was part of a final exam for one of the senior business classes,” said Isley. “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, andit made me want to get more involved. It really speaks to the quality of students the College of Business is producing.”

Student Experiences

The Raleigh-area entrepreneurs were not the only ones in the meeting that were impressed. The participating student teams were also impressed with what they saw and heard.

CAPTRUST’s offices sit on top of the 17-story, CAPTRUST Tower in Raleigh and provide a view of Raleigh’s growing skyline. They heard from Miller, who talked about his entrepreneurial journey and his top lessons learned over the years. And, these students heard pointed, direct feedback from the entrepreneurs in the room.

Senior Chris Allen

Senior Chris Allen

Chris Allen is a pre-med computer-science major who is taking advantage of the entrepreneurial and small business management classes provided by the Miller School. He pitched a health carerelated blockchain idea during his visit.

“I never had an experience that was that invigorating, and that allowed me to learn so quickly and connect with so many people that could influence my future,” said Allen.

Brady Hillhouse of the Charlotte area is a freshman that is pursuing a double major in finance and entrepreneurship. He is already an entrepreneur who owns a foreign exchange education company.

He viewed the experience as a working lunch to receive mentorship and guidance from entrepreneurs from multiple industries. According to Hillhouse, his projected career path is very similar to Miller’s. He wants to become a stockbroker and open his own financial advisory firm, andHillhouse says what he heard at the event was valuable.

“That was justincredible feedback and mentorship on the next steps to take in life and his company,” said Hillhouse. “It’s feedback I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else even if I paid for it.”

According to Dr. Mike Harris, director of the Miller School, the April event, as well as the previousevents, were designed to help establish mentoring relationships.

“The Miller School is very fortunate to have four advisory councils with active statewide members who are willing to help nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Harris.

“I was astounded by the quantity and quality of successful entrepreneurs who were willing to give of their time, energy and experience,” said Isley.

After the event, Miller was not only pleased with what he witnessed but is excited for the future.

“I want to participate in as many as I can,” said Miller. “It is fascinating to see the students in action, and I came away more enthusiastic than ever about the potential of the program. So far, it (the Miller School) has exceeded my expectations.”

According to Harris, the Miller School will plan a similar event in Charlotte during a Fall 2018 meeting of its Piedmont Regional Advisory Council.

Van Isley, CEO and founder of Professional Builders Supply, speaks with Miller School students during their recent visit to Raleigh’s CAPTRUST.

Van Isley, CEO and founder of Professional Builders Supply, speaks with Miller School students during their recent visit to Raleigh’s CAPTRUST.


-by Michael Rudd, University Communications

Clinton’s lead surgeon returns to Brody for lecture

The chest surgeon who led the team that once operated on former President Bill Clinton gave a lecture at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

The surgeon, Dr. Joshua Sonett, graduated with honors from East Carolina University’s medical school in 1988. He is chief of general thoracic surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, professor of surgical oncology at CUMC, and the director of the The Price Family Center for Comprehensive Chest Care and the Lung and Esophageal Center.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

In the 2005 surgery on Clinton, Sonett and his colleagues removed scar tissue that built up following Clinton’s quadruple bypass operation earlier that year.

“That was a privilege to get to know and treat President Clinton, and it was just like every other patient, believe it or not,” Sonett said. “I like going to my patients’ bedside and chatting about things, getting to know them as a person, and it was the same with Clinton. He did talk about the Middle East maybe more than other patients,” he added with a chuckle.

The importance of getting to know his patients was instilled in him at Brody. Sonett recalled having to write pages of patients’ social histories as a medical student.

“It was just as important to get to know them as it was to know their health needs,” he said.

Now, he loves being close with his patients.

Sonett’s lecture was part of the Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences grand rounds, which are weekly topic-and case-based presentations by members of the faculty providing up-to-date knowledge about timely issues in medicine. In it, he described his involvement in a 10-year study on a disease called myasthenia gravis that can make it hard for people to breathe and walk around.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

“Surgeons for years had been taking out the thymus, although it wasn’t clear if that surgery improved the patients’ lives,” Sonett said. “This study definitively proved that the surgery helped. That’s one of the highlights of my career that I was involved in that.”

Although Sonett now works for a different medical school, he said he is thankful for his education from Brody.

“There are so many good med schools around the country, and I think I was blessed to come to ECU. It was a very young med school at the time…it was a great learning environment. There’s no limits to what you can do here, graduating from here.”


Related: Clinton’s lead surgeon is ECU medical school graduate 


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Alumni road race raises $5,800 for student scholarships

The 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race and Fun Run raised $5,800 for student scholarships, according to the ECU Alumni Association.

More than 300 runners and walkers gathered at the start line in downtown Greenville on April 21 and were treated to a new 5K route through campus. Runners scampered up Fifth Street, then wound their way past Joyner Library, the Cupola, Trustee’s Fountain and Wright Auditorium. It was a sunny and temperate Saturday, and campus was quiet save for birds chirping, the fountain bubbling, and runners’ breathing heavily. As they made their way back to the finish, they were greeted by high fives from PeeDee, music from a DJ, and vendors like Smash Waffles and JuiceVibes ready to offer post-run fuel.

Runners participate in the 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race on April 21. (Photos by Caroline Tait)

Runners participate in the 11th annual Pirate Alumni Road Race on April 21. (Photos by Caroline Tait)

Clayton Bauman, a 2008 broadcast journalism alumnus, said the new route was like taking a walk down memory lane.

“When you’re out there and seeing all the purple and gold, all the buildings, the old stomping grounds, it really takes you back,” he said. Bauman even upped the nostalgia factor by running to a special playlist with hits popular during his time in college.

Erica Bell, a former ECU track athlete and current graduate student, ran the race last year while six months pregnant. This year she ran pushing her son, William, in a stroller.

“Normally, he can stay up for the first five minutes and then he falls asleep,” she said.

Bell added that she preferred the new course. “It’s nice that it went through campus, that kind of distracts you along the way. And this weather was perfect.”

All proceeds from the Pirate Alumni Road Race and Fun Run benefit the ECU Alumni Association scholarship fund. The alumni association annually awards scholarships to qualified undergraduates for the following academic year. To date, the alumni association has awarded 297 scholarships totaling nearly $432,000.

Alumni scholar and sophomore Emma Plyer worked the check-in station at the race and said she was extremely thankful for her scholarship.

“It’s a really great opportunity for us students to further our education and not worry about the financial burden that college has,” she said. “We just get to be students.”

For more information about ECU Alumni Association Scholarships, visit


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

ECU alum wins London’s most prestigious theater award for work in ‘Hamilton’

Howell Binkley (contributed photos)

Binkley (contributed photos)

Howell Binkley, an East Carolina University alum who won a Tony Award for his lighting design of the musical “Hamilton” in 2016, has another accolade to add to his collection.

On Sunday, Binkley won an Olivier Award for Best Lighting Design for “Hamilton.” The Olivier Awards are the UK’s most prestigious stage awards presented annually by the Society of London Theatre. This year’s Olivier Awards saw “Hamilton” take home seven prizes, the most of any show, including best new musical.

Binkley has been a Broadway lighting designer since 1992. He grew up in Winston-Salem, where he participated in both high school and community theater. He went to ECU to pursue a degree in architecture and got involved in the theater program. He studied theater at ECU until 1977, but left before graduating to work in New York. His first Broadway show was “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1992. Before “Hamilton,” he worked with the show’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda on a production called “In the Heights,” Miranda’s Broadway debut.

Howell Binkley

Lighting designer and ECU alumnus Howell Binkley joins the cast and crew on stage for curtain call after a production of “Hamilton.”

“ECU totally prepared me for my career,” Binkley told ECU News Services in 2016 before his Tony win. “It gave me a great foundation that took me to where I am now. I’m very proud I went to ECU, and more proud every year as I watch the school grow.”

For several years, Binkley has given a senior theater student from ECU a summer internship with him in New York.

“Hamilton,” an instant Broadway hit, uses rap and hip-hop music to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. The lighting design for the show is continuous and helps move the show seamlessly through 50 songs.


Related: ECU alum wins Tony award


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Grammy-nominated musician visits ECU

Renowned Grammy-nominated musician and ethnomusicologist Dr. Tim Eriksen will speak and perform in classes and other venues at East Carolina University during the week of Feb. 19-23. During the week, Eriksen will lead a film-screening and discussion, present an academic talk and perform a musical concert that are free and open to the public.

“Eriksen is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia,” his online biography reads. “He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and bajo sexton – a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass – creating a distinctive hardcore Americana sound.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 7-8 p.m. in the Science and Technology building, room C-307, Eriksen will screen and discuss two films about the venerable sacred music tradition of shape-note singing, a unique and haunting genre of sacred music that reflects the complexities of identity in the multi-cultural history of the United States.

First, he will show Landon McCrary’s1979 independent film “Dewey Williams, 81st Birthday Singing,” about black shape-note singers in Alabama, followed by an excerpt from Matt and Erica Hinton’s film, “Awake My Soul,” about their white counterparts.

Tim Eriksen, Grammy-nominated musician, will visit ECU the week of Feb. 19-23.

Tim Eriksen, Grammy-nominated musician, will visit ECU the week of Feb. 19-23. (contributed photo)

After the screenings, Eriksen will discuss the history and contemporary practice of shape-note singing and what it has to say about religion, civil rights and racial identity in American history and the present day. Also, he may perform a little singing of his own for the audience.

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, Eriksen will lead a lunchtime academic talk on “Old Folks Singing in Utopia: How Antebellum Musical Antiquarianism and Calvinist Eschatology Gave Birth to Science Fiction on the Banks of the Connecticut River.” The discussion will be held from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bate building, room 1006.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the public has the opportunity to hear Eriksen perform live. A concert of “Hardcore Americana: Secular and Sacred Songs,” will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Science and Technology building, room C-307.

Eriksen received his doctoral degree in enthomusicology from Wesleyan University. He specializes in shape-note music – specifically the sacred harp – “Old Time” music, American folk, Bosnian vocal and Indian classical music. He has performed and consulted on the soundtrack for the film, “Cold Mountain,” and he has released numerous recordings in genres from folk to jazz to punk.

The events are co-sponsored by the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities and Harriot College’s Religious Studies Program. All are free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

For more information about Eriksen, visit For questions about Eriksen’s visit to ECU, contact Dr. Joseph Hellweg, Whichard Distinguished Professor, at


-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications

Golden LEAF invaluable for current, past students

Recent ECU graduate and current master’s student Jordan Spelce dreams of one day becoming a city or county manager and spurring business and development in places like his hometown of Taylorsville in Alexander County.

But his career path might have looked completely different had he not received a Golden LEAF scholarship and participated in the organization’s internships and leadership programs.

Established in 1999, the Golden LEAF Foundation was created to strengthen the economies of rural or tobacco-dependent communities in North Carolina. Since its inception, the organization has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. LEAF stands for Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation.

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. (Photos by Will Preslar)

Since its inception, Golden LEAF has awarded $38 million in scholarships to 16,000 students across the state, most of whom choose to attend ECU. (Photos by Will Preslar)

“I’m so grateful for Golden LEAF. Its leadership program really helped me almost more than anything else academically in my college years,” Spelce said.

ECU alumnus Jordan Spelce says he wouldn’t be on his current career path without the help of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

ECU alumnus Jordan Spelce says he wouldn’t be on his current career path without the help of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

It was through a paid Golden LEAF internship with an economic development agency that he discovered his passion for business and finance.

“That jump-started me toward what ultimately became the path to my career,” he said.

Each year, Golden LEAF awards scholarships to high school seniors and community college transfer students from qualifying rural counties who express an interest in returning to the state’s rural areas to work after graduation.

“Part of the way we are working to fulfill our mission is to reach young people who have deep roots in rural North Carolina, who are likely to return home, and help them go to college,” said Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach. “Our investment in Golden LEAF Scholars extends beyond their four-year education. We fund a leadership program that helps students connect with internships in their fields of interest in rural communities. Students gain professional experience early in their educational career that they may not have gotten otherwise in the communities we hope they return to and serve.”

Senior education major Tristan Hunter speaks at a luncheon in Greenville for Golden LEAF Scholars.

Senior education major Tristan Hunter speaks at a luncheon in Greenville for Golden LEAF Scholars.

This year, 87 ECU students received Golden LEAF scholarships. One of them was senior education major Tristan Hunter of Rocky Mount, who spoke at a luncheon in Greenville January 31 that ECU hosted for Golden LEAF Scholars, staff and members of the foundation’s board of directors.

“I’m very honored to be one of those 16,000 students” to have received a scholarship, he said. “Not only did Golden LEAF lighten my financial burden, it helped me meet all the goals I set for myself in college.”

Hunter added that he wants to go back to Rocky Mount and teach in a public middle school once he earns his degree.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach and ECU Chancellor Staton attend a luncheon for Golden LEAF scholarship students.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach and ECU Chancellor Staton at the luncheon for Golden LEAF Scholars.

Chancellor Cecil Staton addressed the luncheon participants and thanked the foundation for being one of ECU’s strongest partners in addressing the extraordinary disparities in health, education and economic development in rural and coastal North Carolina communities.

“Our desire for rural prosperity is a key aspect of the mission of both Golden LEAF and ECU. Our missions are synchronous,” he said.

So far, the mission is being fulfilled.

For Spelce, the former Golden LEAF scholar, the decision to stay in-state and work is simple.

“I want to stay in North Carolina. I was born and raised here,” he said. He also wants to keep his Golden LEAF experience going by becoming a coach to other scholars in the future.

To learn more about the Golden LEAF Foundation, visit


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

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