Pirates tour the region on a mission

Wheels returned to the road this year for the annual Purple and Gold Bus Tour on March 7, hosted by ECU’s Research, Economic Development and Engagement Division.

The Pirate buses rolled through five counties making nine stops in two days during the university’s spring break. The program encourages partnerships that result in scholarly activities for the long-term benefits of the people and communities of eastern North Carolina.

East Carolina University faculty, students and staff board for the two-day Purple and Gold Bus Tour (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

“ECU strives to be a good partner across eastern North Carolina,” said Sharon Paynter, assistant vice chancellor for economic and community engagement. “To do that, we need to understand what communities and industries need and how we can engage with them. This tour encourages ECU stakeholders to learn firsthand how research and scholarly activities can be leveraged to address critical issues in our region.”

This year’s participants included 43 ECU faculty, staff and College of Nursing students whose research interests or whose occupational activities align with the region’s rural, health care, economic, academic and industry concerns.

The bus tour is funded by a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Program. The HRSA grant aims to strengthen the availability of health care in rural and underserved communities in eastern North Carolina.

Dr. Pamela Reis, associate professor and Ph.D. program director in the ECU College of Nursing, is the project director for the grant. She attends the trip each year with students participating in the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Rural and Underserved Roadmap to Advancement Scholars Program.

“Our advanced practice nursing students may be practicing in areas all across the state. This tour provides them with experiences they would not otherwise be exposed to in the curriculum, particularly opportunities to engage with members of the communities we serve,” said Reis.

The tour began at the edge of Pitt County in Conetoe at Ragged Edge Solutions (RES). Specializing in prolonged field care and special operations medicine for American armed forces and others, RES highlighted its collaboration and partnership with Brody School of Medicine’s Clinical Simulation Center.

In New Bern, participants were introduced to one of the state’s most successful free health care clinics. MERCI Clinic provides quality health care — including dental work, vaccinations and pharmacy services — at no cost to those in need and uninsured in the Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties. The clinic is staffed by volunteers and survives through constant fundraising. The clinic provided approximately $5 million in care in the past year with a $500,000 budget.

ECU faculty, staff and students talk to farmers at Howell Farming Company in Goldsboro as part of the Purple and Gold Bus Tour. (Photo by Kim Tilghman)

Additional stops on the tour included an up-close look at the operation of Fleet Readiness Center East at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The center keeps military aircraft working and extends the lifespan of aircraft by periodically taking them apart and putting them back together, piece by piece.

From the base, the bus tour took a direction toward a slightly more traditional spring break location – Cape Lookout National Seashore. Getting the chance to ferry to the island off season and explore the historic lighthouse, glimpse the wild horses and wander the pristine beach was a treat for participants. Other coastal stops included the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center followed by Jarrett Bay Boatworks.

Before heading to more rural destinations, the tour stopped at New Bern’s VOLT Center, a unique training facility that duplicates real worksite experiences in various trades to help produce a successful and viable workforce.

For some faculty, it was an exciting and eye-opening tour at the Global TransPark complex in Kinston. The opportunity to see the various operations housed at the GTP revealed flyExclusive, a world-class private jet service; Draken International, offering operational readiness training, including tactical fast jet exercises, helicopter academy and search and rescue training; and the chance to see military aircraft practicing touch-and-goes.

Jean-Luc Scemama, associate professor of biology and dean for academic programs for the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, said he was most impressed by the development of the Global TransPark. “I did not realize the extent of their development and potential.”

Wrapping up the bus tour, participants saw a large family farm production at Howell Farming Company in Goldsboro, the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the state. The final stop provided presentations on unique STEM programs offered at Wayne County Public Library. The library and ECU have recently partnered for the State Employees’ Credit Union Public Fellows Internship program. Library leaders boasted how interns from ECU have made great improvements to their programs and offerings.

Back on the campus of ECU, the travelers were weary from a full and informative two days but also mulling the possibilities and opportunities available just outside of Pitt County.

“In my 23 years at ECU, it is one of the most memorable activities that I have done,” said Dr. Timothy Reeder, executive vice chair of the department of emergency medicine. “The opportunity to meet the variety of people and organizations over the two days was incredible. It certainly has deepened my understanding of the impact that ECU has on our region and the role that we play in improving many aspects of ENC.”

One of the tour stops included the Global TransPark in Kinston. (Contributed photo)

REDE Bus Tour