A look back at East Carolina University's biggest news of the year

Pirate Nation made great strides in 2021. After a rocky 2020, this year brought great promise as Pirates hoped to leave the pandemic behind and start fresh. The pandemic didn’t go away, but students, faculty and staff made their triumphant return to campus — and stayed.

ECU’s health sciences experts continued to fight COVID-19, while researchers in other fields made important scientific breakthroughs. Students continued to shine in the classroom, while faculty and staff pushed for continued inclusion, equity and diversity initiatives across campus. Pirate alumni made headlines as caregivers and philanthropists, helping the university raise a record $48 million this past fiscal year. Oh, and ECU welcomed Chancellor Philip Rogers and his family back to campus to steer the ship.

This year was a great one, Pirates. Let’s take a look back at the highlights of ARRRGH 2021.



University Milestones

ECU welcomed Dr. Philip Rogers home this spring as he became the university’s 12th chancellor on March 15. Rogers grew up in Greenville and served as ECU’s chief of staff from 2008-13. His wife, Dr. Rebekah P. Rogers, is a two-time alumna from a family filled with Pirates.

ECU moved toward full clinical integration with Vidant Health and the creation of a distinctive health system brand — ECU Health — to serve the 1.4 million residents of eastern North Carolina.

ECU’s new $90 million Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building represents the future, serving as an interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021, highlighting university leadership, faculty, students, and more than 350 alumni who have walked through its doors.

Gold-colored shovels turned ceremonial dirt as Intersect East kicked off its first phase of redevelopment of ECU’s former warehouse district — a $40 million project that’s part of ECU’s Research and Innovation campus.

Health Sciences

ECU’s Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health have launched a new Rural Family Medicine Residency Program that will equip physicians with specialized training in caring for patients in rural and underserved communities. The program is designed to give recent medical school graduates interested in serving as family medicine physicians in rural communities first-hand experience in caring for patients in the kind of under-resourced settings they plan to practice in upon completion of their residency training.

Across eastern North Carolina, conversations are cropping up about health and health care. The Brody School of Medicine and the ECU Division of Health Sciences are bringing health care to people in the East who have more difficulty accessing the care, resources and information they need to live a healthy life.

A team from ECU’s Brody School of Medicine is collaborating with health care providers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth to understand the extended effects of COVID-19, and to provide resources and guidance to patients whose symptoms persist beyond the usual duration.

ECU nursing students are playing a crucial role in helping to slow the global COVID-19 pandemic. This spring they administered vaccines at Vidant Health’s large-scale COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Greenville Convention Center.

Wherever Dr. Thomas G. “Tom” Irons goes, his reputation precedes him. Irons was awarded the 2021 Jim Bernstein Community Health Career Achievement Award on Oct. 22 by the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, a nonprofit that develops and supports innovative partnerships.

Fourth-year medical students at the Brody School of Medicine learned where they will spend the next several years of their lives. As part of the annual Match Day event, medical students across the United States were notified where they will complete their residency training.

The Brody School of Medicine officially welcomed 86 new medical students — the most diverse class in the school’s history — during the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony.

It’s not uncommon to see civilians thank military veterans for their service, but it is not every day when the veteran replies by thanking the civilian for their service as well. These interactions happened repeatedly at the ECU Smiles for Veterans event.

After a hiatus last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECU’s pediatric summer camps — designed for children with specific health conditions — once again served their eager clientele through experiences that mirror routine summer camp.


Could the biblical description of the destruction of Sodom be explained by an exploding meteor? A research team including ECU’s Dr. Sid Mitra, professor of geological sciences, has presented evidence that a Middle Bronze Age city called Tall el-Hammam, located in the Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea, was destroyed by a cosmic airburst.

ECU tested wastewater from residence halls this year in an effort to detect coronavirus as early as possible to reduce transmission and avoid outbreaks where students live. The efforts were seen as a “game changer” to help identify clusters early.

Researchers at the Brody School of Medicine found a new way to detect the virus that causes COVID-19 by testing the air passing through building ventilation systems. The discovery could lead to earlier detection of the virus.

Since 2016, a team of researchers led by Dr. April Blakeslee of the Department of Biology has monitored mud crab populations in two rivers to study the prevalence and impact of a parasitic barnacle native to the Gulf of Mexico.

When MTV launched in 1981, it was billed as a 24-hour video jukebox. Associate professor of film studies Dr. Amanda Ann Klein’s new book explores how MTV shifted its programming toward identity-based reality shows and what that shift tells us.

Rigorous rehearsal schedules combined with heavy course loads can sometimes overwhelm music majors. How students across the country cope with those demands was the focus of research by two School of Music faculty members.

ECU researchers and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center are working together to bring new technologies to the marketplace, leading to new product licenses, startup companies, patents and industry partnerships.

A crew of 16 undergraduates and two graduate students in the Department of Anthropology went back in the field this summer help recover and catalog abandoned cemeteries across eastern North Carolina.

They end up in the trash. They end up in waterways. They end up on the ground in parks, at the beach or in yards. Thanks to ECU researchers, disposable masks may end up reinforcing the asphalt used in road construction.


Being the first in a family to attend college can be exciting and challenging all at once. ECU’s resources can make things easier. In recognition of ECU’s commitment to first-generation student success, the university was selected as a member of the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort by the Center for First-generation Student Success.

ECU students in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences often carry out impactful work in the classroom, but it is not every day that it leads to an international publication and nearly $300,000 in grant funding from the National Science Foundation.

When Octavia Miller visits home in Duplin County, her purpose goes deeper than simply returning to her roots. A student in the School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2023, Miller takes every opportunity she can to go back and share information and resources on oral health care.

As ECU recognized the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the date held extra significance for offensive lineman Sean Bailey. Bailey’s dad was a firefighter who responded to the World Trade Center during the attacks.

Preserving history and heritage is a prominent goal in the field of archaeology. ECU’s Maritime Studies Program helps students gain the knowledge to meet that goal through real-world experiences and supportive professors.

Faculty and Staff

Decades before someone starts experiencing the hand tremors, shaking or loss of balance associated with Parkinson’s disease, changes in their gut could signal potential problems. Faculty at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine are studying this link, and whether Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases start in the brain or the stomach. Parkinson’s affects more than 10 million people worldwide and has no cure.

When Jessie Drymon was an ECU student, she tutored and learned at the Pirate Academic Success Center. Drymon is part of the new PASC alumni advisory board that’s involved in outreach activities while offering guidance to mentors and tutors at the center.

ECU faculty make amazing research breakthroughs every year. Those achievements were honored at the university’s annual Research & Scholarship Awards for originality and excellence in research and creative activities through sustained high-quality work.

Charles Baldwin — “Chuck” as he was known to family, friends and colleagues during his 20 year career as an IT professional with ECU — loved to learn. Baldwin passed away in a tragic motorcycle accident, but his legacy lives on through the College of Nursing.

ECU associate professor Scott Eagle’s “School of Flying Fish” mural made the jump from Greenville all the way to Beijing in a showcase of American street art at the U.S. Embassy. Eagle was one of 23 artists from across the U.S. whose work was selected for the embassy.


When Pirate alumna Brenda McCarthy graduated from aviation school at Naval Air Station Pensacola in May, she received her wings and also made history. McCarthy, who graduated from ECU in 2016, is a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps and the last female Marine to receive her aviator wings as a weapon systems officer.

The ECU Alumni Association recognized six alumni at A Purple and Gold Evening, its annual awards ceremony. The awards, which were postponed due to the pandemic, celebrated alumni and friends of the university who demonstrated outstanding service to the university and accomplishments in their careers.

More than 1,800 students registered with ECU’s Disability Support Services face challenges inside and outside of the classroom. Alumnus Steve Smith ’72 and his wife, Bonnie, created a scholarship to support students with diagnosed disabilities.

The Distinguished Military Service Society honored service to the nation and to ECU at its annual inductee ceremony. In partnership with the ECU Alumni Association, the society inducted 12 new members as part its 2020-21 and 2021-22 classes.

In a manner of speaking, purple and gold are visiting the red planet. Jackson Tucker, an ECU alumnus, had a hand in designing some of the components NASA’s Perseverance rover is using to explore Mars.


About 130 faculty, staff and students who embody ECU’s motto, Servire — to serve – were honored during the Chancellor’s Horizon Awards for Service. The committee chose to honor recipients for outstanding leadership in their day-to-day work and for their efforts during the university’s response to COVID-19.

The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute was nationally recognized for an exemplary project by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. An inter-institutional partnership that includes ECU, the institute collaborates with organizations throughout the state to address the health and safety challenges facing North Carolinians.

From a computer engineering professor making the intricacies of microprocessing accessible for his students to an English professor providing real-world experience for students, ECU depends on its faculty to provide the best possible educational experience in pursuit of its mission of student success, regional transformation and public service.

ECU is in the top 10% of Best Bang for the Buck schools in the Southeast according to a ranking released by Washington Monthly. In addition, ECU ranked in the top 20% of all national universities and was named one of 204 Best Colleges for Student Voting.

ECU’s Brody School of Medicine is one of the nation’s most diverse medical schools according to a new ranking. In addition, Brody was ranked among the best in the country for primary care in the 2022 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools.


ECU received a nearly $1.9 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation for the creation of a pharmaceutical manufacturing training center. The Eastern Region Pharma Center is designed to teach students and pharmaceutical employees advanced manufacturing techniques and address a need for pharmaceutical workers with four-year college degrees in an area known as the BioPharma Crescent in eastern North Carolina.

A $5 million federal grant will support ECU researchers and students as they work to strengthen resilience in communities along the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary system of coastal North Carolina. The grant is part of the National Science Foundation’s 2021 Coastlines and People Awards, or CoPe, totaling more than $29 million.

For the second year in a row, the University of North Carolina System announced that a team led by an ECU researcher was awarded a grant through the UNC Research Opportunities Initiative. The research project aims to overcome barriers to growth in North Carolina’s aquaculture industry and strengthen the resiliency of wastewater infrastructure throughout the state.

Helping to prevent and address emotional and behavioral problems in elementary schoolchildren is the long-term goal of a nearly $3.8 million federal grant awarded to researchers at ECU. The research team received a four-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences — the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

A core value of ECU’s College of Education is serving rural communities. A partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is helping future educators fulfill that mission. As part of its rural health initiative, Blue Cross NC invested $500,000 in the college’s Partnership Teach program.


Donor support in the last year helped ECU continue its transformative education and regional impact. From multi-million dollar planned gifts to grassroot crowdfunding efforts, donations established scholarships in music, education and occupational therapy; enabled access to better health care for mothers and babies in rural areas; improved technology for students with learning differences; and even started an orchard on campus.

An exceptional $5 million gift to the ECU College of Business will transform the school’s graduate program and attract more students. The donation from alumnus Tom Arthur ’71 is among the largest in the college’s history, akin to the Miller School of Entrepreneurship.

Beatrice “Bea” Chauncey spent a lifetime around music. Her love for music turned into an eye-popping $5.2 million gift to the ECU School of Music that will double the amount of scholarship money the school can award.

ECU alumnus Howell Binkley earned a reputation on Broadway as the lighting master. Now, ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance has pieces of Binkley’s magic on display in the form of his nine Tony nomination letters and posters from his Broadway plays. 

ECU’s College of Business Copeland Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship program gave students the opportunity to meet alumni supporters Mark and Tracey Copeland for the first time in 2021. The comprehensive program celebrates and encourages a culture of diversity and inclusion.