Purple and Gold Bus Tour continues in online environment

East Carolina University’s fourth annual Purple and Gold Bus Tour saw its wheels grounded this year, but the journey across eastern North Carolina continued for Pirate faculty and students in an online format.

Traditionally, the bus travels hundreds of miles through the eastern portion of the state for two days, introducing ECU faculty, staff and students to the region’s people and culture in hopes of spurring new research projects and partnerships.

Organized by the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement and funded by a College of Nursing Health Resources and Services Administration grant led by Pamela Reis, the tour has led to interdisciplinary connections across a range of schools and colleges within the university.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the bus tour went virtual last month, featuring five workshops that focused on specific areas of concern in eastern North Carolina instead of specific locations. During a five-week journey, the tour covered health access and equity, biopharmaceuticals, natural resources and the environment, rural education and oral healthcare, and unique partnerships in agriculture and science, technology, engineering and math education.

“Like many programs over the past year, we had to pivot due to the pandemic,” said Sharon Paynter, assistant vice chancellor for economic and community engagement. “It would have been easy to just cancel the bus tour and try again next year, but quitting isn’t in our Pirate DNA. Along with willing and creative partners, we were able to capture the spirit of the bus tour while keeping our students, faculty and staff safe.”

View this video on YouTube for closed captioning.

At each workshop, participants were introduced to the topic by a video featuring interviews and images of the region before partaking in a panel discussion with topic experts. Panel hosts ranged from ECU professors and medical professionals to regional farmers and mental health counselors.

Panelists and tour participants discussed the barriers and challenges related to health care and caring for diverse populations; growing workforce needs and ECU’s role in eastern North Carolina’s biopharma sector; ECU’s Water Resources Center and the role water plays in the region’s history, culture and economy; ECU-led mental and oral health care programs in K-12 institutions in eastern North Carolina; and the university’s partnership with the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute and its role in assisting farmers statewide.

Robin Tutor Marcom, director of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, said the tour gave her a chance to reach a new segment of faculty and share the institute’s mission.

“We were so pleased to be a part of the bus tour this year,” Tutor Marcom said. “Having the opportunity to share the great work of our state’s farmers and how we help keep them safe through our research studies and safety programs is vital to the mission of the institute. I hope we’re able to establish some new partnerships with faculty and students after the tour.”

Danielle Stuessel, a doctoral student in the College of Nursing, said the experience was eye-opening.

“The Purple and Gold Bus Tour was an invaluable experience for me as an advanced practice registered nurse student,” Stuessel said. “The tour provided us with workshops filled with wonderful information including challenges, insights and innovations about rural eastern North Carolina. This program showed us how individuals and groups can come together to combat health care disparities, improving our vulnerable and underserved rural areas. I believe being a part of this program stimulates and creates metamorphic changes.”

To accommodate those who were unable to attend the workshops in person, REDE provided panel recordings and tour videos online through the Purple and Gold Bus Tour website. Participant bios, research cluster descriptions, and economic, housing and population data pages for eastern North Carolina counties are also available on the site.