Purple and Gold Bus Tour rolls through eastern North Carolina

For the third consecutive year, East Carolina University’s Purple and Gold Bus Tour rolled through eastern North Carolina in early March, traveling more than 380 miles to 13 locations across eight counties.

The annual tour, hosted by the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement and funded by a grant from the College of Nursing, carried nearly 50 ECU faculty, students and staff members across the state. The event introduces researchers to the culture, geography, heritage, economy and assets of eastern North Carolina while encouraging partnerships that create long-term benefits for regional communities.

The tour has led to new interdisciplinary research projects including a water flow project from the College of Engineering and Technology at Lake Mattamuskeet and a developing proposal between researchers from the School of Dental Medicine and the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences.

The bus tour grew out of ECU’s Rural Prosperity Initiative, which aims to address rural transformation in eastern North Carolina and improve the quality of life, health, education and employment for those in the region.

To do that, however, faculty and student researchers have to get to know the population ECU serves.

“The goal of the tour has always been threefold,” said Sharon Paynter, vice chancellor for economic and community engagement. “We want to introduce our new faculty members to eastern North Carolina; we want them to connect with one another outside of their traditional disciplines; and we want them to forge meaningful connections with our community partners we meet on the tour.

“We’ve seen success introducing our faculty to the region and building connections within academic disciplines. We hope to see those connections lead to meaningful community engaged research projects that directly benefit eastern North Carolina.”

ECU faculty members participating in the Purple and Gold Bus Tour examine bags of hemp flowers during a tour of a processing plant in Windsor. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Ronny Bell, professor and chair of ECU’s Department of Public Health, said getting out of Greenville and into different communities will have an impact on his research.

“I think we have a tendency to be somewhat narrowly focused on Greenville and Pitt County,” Bell said. “It’s definitely important to see the entire region to get a perspective on how ECU serves. Learning about the agencies we visited on the tour will definitely have an impact on my research and the research of the faculty in our department. We will try to establish partnerships with some of these agencies.”

Stops on the tour this year included the ECU Community School, LifeQuest, Inc. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center, the Roanoke Cashie River Center, Greenfield Agronomics and Green Root Extraction Services, the Tyrrell County Visitors Center, and the ECU Outer Banks Campus. On the second day of the tour, the group stopped at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, Regulator Marine, Jimbo’s Jumbos peanut factory, the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, and the ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie.

For the first time, the tour included student researchers. Four graduate-level College of Nursing students participated in the tour thanks to a United States Health Resources & Services (HRSA) Advanced Nursing Education Workforce program grant. The grant program, led by CON faculty member Pamela Reis, provides funding to improve health care to people in geographically isolated or economically vulnerable regions.

“The bus tour perfectly complements the aims of our grant,” Reis said. “We felt that to enhance investment in providing care in rural and underserved communities in eastern North Carolina, it is important for our students to be exposed to opportunities to meet and network with community stakeholders and faculty who provide services and conduct research in the region.”

Reis said that highlights of the tour for her included visiting the ECU Community School at South Greenville Elementary and a hemp farm in Windsor.

“Seeing the remarkable progress students have made (at the community school) in just one year of attending (was amazing),” she said. “Visiting the hemp farm to see how farmers are set up to grow hemp in place of tobacco and learning about the challenges that growing this new crop presents for farmers (was important).”

Reis said those considering participation in future tours should absolutely hop aboard.

“It is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Reis said. “Be prepared to conclude the bus tour beaming with pride when you see how resilient our eastern North Carolina communities are and how some are thriving in the face of significant economic and environmental challenges.”

Read more about the 2020 Purple and Gold Bus Tour from the Greenville Daily Reflector, the Washington Daily News and the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.