Graduate profile: Michael Denning Jr.

Denning smiles as he talks with Dr. Tom Irons at ECU Physicians Pediatric Outpatient Center.

Denning talks with Dr. Tom Irons at the ECU Physicians Pediatric Outpatient Center.

Michael Denning Jr. halfway jokes that he has two goals when he moves north this summer: lose his Southern accent and drop some pounds.

On May 3, Denning – an EC Scholar and Robert H. Wright Alumni Leadership Award recipient at East Carolina University – will earn two degrees: a bachelor’s in public health studies and a Master of Business Administration.

He did it in three years, along with three study trips abroad, a couple of national conferences, research and a commitment to serving children in the community.  

He came to ECU with 91 credit hours after graduating from Wake Early College of Health and Sciences in Raleigh, and earning two associate degrees from Wake Technical Community College. Denning also was guaranteed acceptance in the Brody School of Medicine through the school’s Early Assurance Program.

But first, he will earn his master’s degree in public health at Columbia University before returning to ECU for medical school in fall 2020. This summer, before the MPH program starts, he will be in Boston for a Summer Research Training Program geared at underrepresented students entering medicine. He will be part of a team studying racial disparities, and surgical decision-making and treatment plans.

It’s all part of his plan to become a pediatrician – a goal that fosters his drive and passion for education.

His goals mirror those of Brody – serving the underserved, caring for people in rural areas, and improving overall health and well-being while decreasing health disparities. The physicians and faculty he has met are here because they really want to take care of people, he said.

“Brody’s mission is literally what I want to do,” Denning said. “I grew up in a very large, Southern, African American family – if you name a disease, somebody’s got it.”

Denning has succeeded at ECU even while his mother, Renita, has battled breast cancer and subsequent surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

ECU, in turn, has supported him, and he can’t imagine being anywhere else. “I applied to nine colleges, but there was a specialness and comfort that I felt here,” Denning said.

He said he could name at least 30 people — just in the Honors College, public health studies and business school — who have mentored him along the way.

But he’s also given back. Since his freshman year, he has volunteered and tutored at the Third Street Education Center in West Greenville, helping host an annual community and health fair at the center. He’s organized visits to ECU for kids from the center and Wahl-Coates Elementary School of the Arts. “If you can see you, you can believe it; therefore, you can achieve it,” Denning said.

ECU graduate Michael Denning, center, learns about working with children at ECU Physicians Pediatric Outpatient Center.

Denning, center, learns about working with children at ECU Physicians Pediatric Outpatient Center.