Scholarship endowment honoring retiring ECU nursing dean already college’s largest

A scholarship endowment established in honor of Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the East Carolina University’s College of Nursing, is already the largest in the college to date — and it’s still growing as her June 30 retirement date approaches.

Brown, whose nursing and leadership experience at ECU spans almost 44 years — 47 counting her time as a nursing student — was instrumental in the growth and expansion of the ECU College of Nursing’s programs and facilities and through her impact on North Carolina as both a faculty member and administrator. She has served as dean since 2009.

The Sylvia T. Brown Scholarship Endowment and its growth are testaments to Brown’s leadership and her ability to bring out the best in the nurses around her — from students and new nurses to faculty and staff, career professionals and nurse leaders.

“Dr. Brown leaves an impressive legacy,” said Dr. Ron Mitchelson, interim vice chancellor for health sciences, during a recent ECU Board of Trustees meeting. “She and her colleagues have built one of the very best colleges in the nation.”

Investing in excellence

Established through the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation and the College of Nursing, the Sylvia T. Brown Scholarship Endowment honors Brown’s tenure in ECU nursing and the transformation she brought to the school by

way of scholarships, funding programs, new degree programs, state-of-the-art facilities and space for more students.

Brown’s leadership has brought growth and transformation beyond campus, allowing the college and its students, faculty, staff and alumni to make a true difference in health care across North Carolina. The college’s mission focuses on caring for the underserved and those in rural areas; an average of 84% of ECU nursing alumni practice in-state, while 40% of those serve in the east, according to college records.

Brown helped create funds and programs over the years that open doors and provide opportunities for students. She was instrumental in establishing the Nursing Student Emergency Fund in 2007 and the Nursing Hall of Fame program in 2011.

Brown’s namesake endowment was created during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its upward trend already serves as an analogy for Brown’s impact on the College of Nursing, ECU and the region. It also comes at a time when the critical need for nursing is evident all over the world and when the importance of the nursing profession is better understood by communities and countries alike.

The Sylvia T. Brown Scholarship Endowment will provide scholarships for future Pirate nurses who will one day fill crucial roles in health care settings. The scholarship will be awarded to undergraduate nursing students from North Carolina who demonstrate financial need.

The official dollar amount the endowment has reached will be announced June 23 at an event honoring Brown.

“The endowment is something that I really cherish,” Brown said. “I can’t think of anything else that I would rather have happen to really honor my time at ECU. It’s a way of giving back to the future of nursing, and it really means a lot to me that people have chosen that way to honor the time that I’ve been at ECU.”

Brown said the endowment’s success is a nod to the strength of the school and those who believe in its mission and work.

“I think it says that we are a Pirate nurse family,” she said. “Our faculty and staff are truly committed to this college and to the profession of nursing, as well as our alumni and donors and friends of the College of Nursing, so I think it’s really saying, ‘We want to give back and we want to make sure we have an excellent nursing work force for the future.’”

A leader among leaders

Brown is considered a true native daughter who represents the best of ECU’s mission to serve the east.

She grew up in Beulaville, North Carolina, and received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from ECU in 1975. She worked briefly at Pitt County Memorial Hospital as a medical surgical nurse; after receiving her Master of Science in Nursing in Medical Surgical Nursing and Nursing Education in 1978 from ECU, she became an instructor in the College of Nursing. She taught nursing in Tampa, Florida, during her husband’s residency there. She received her Doctor of Education in 1982 from North Carolina State University. 

Dr. Sylvia Brown knew very early in life that a career in nursing was her calling.

Dr. Sylvia Brown knew very early in life that a career in nursing was her calling. (Contributed photo)

Under Brown’s leadership, the College of Nursing experienced a 51% increase in enrollment and has seen nearly 7,300 degrees conferred, more than all previous nursing deans combined, according to University Advancement data. During Brown’s tenure, 10 new specialty programs or tracks were introduced in the college, including the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Seven new countries — Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Finland, Peru, Zambia and Botswana — were added to the college’s global initiative reach. The College of Nursing earned four consecutive honors as a National League for Nursing Center of Excellence, effective from 2008–2024, each honor in four-year increments. 

Brown has also been active on state and national levels, especially in governmental affairs on behalf of the nursing profession. In 2018, Dean Brown became an Academy of Nursing Education Fellow.

“The impact of her work over the decades as a faculty member and as dean for the last 14 years will be felt by students and their patients for decades to come,” Mitchelson said. “Dean Brown is worthy of our deep appreciation and our collective admiration.”

Fellow deans on ECU’s Health Sciences Campus echo that sentiment.

“The fact that she is so respected, so trusted, by not only the folks here at ECU and not only the nursing community across the state and across the country, but the folks in this area, especially being from Beulaville and from eastern North Carolina just adds an awful lot to her credibility,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine.

That trust extends to those who work alongside Brown in nursing education.

“She has been a friend, a faculty colleague and administrator during my years at the College of Nursing,” said Dr. Robin Webb Corbett, associate professor and chair of the college’s Department of Advanced Nursing Practice and Education. “She has provided strong leadership for the College of Nursing and been a passionate supporter for nursing on campus and in surrounding venues.”

Dr. Annette Peery said Brown guided her on her own leadership journey.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had Dr. Brown as a faculty when completing my MSN here at the College of Nursing,” said Peery, associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs for the college, “to later as a mentor and friend. She encouraged me to enter leadership roles in the college with her steady guidance and support.”

New beginnings and lasting legacies

While Brown’s tenure with the college ends on June 30, her legacy will last a lifetime. Dr. Bimbola “Bim” Akintade takes the helm of the College of Nursing on July 1.

“I’ve had the rare opportunity to really observe her growth and her maturity as a leader and particularly in the role of dean, which she has executed with great precision and a great deal of grace and professionalism,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, past dean for the College of Nursing and ECU’s former vice chancellor for health sciences.

Dr. Sylvia Brown studied nursing at ECU, paving the way for her future as dean of her alma mater.

Brown studied nursing at ECU, paving the way for her future as dean of her alma mater. (Contributed photo)

Brown, too, reflected on her years at ECU and at the forefront of the nursing profession.

“It’s hard for me to believe that it’s time for me to retire after 43 years,” she said. “I remember walking onto campus as a freshman in the nursing building, and boy have things changed.”

Technology, she said, has transformed the way health care is delivered and many ways in which nurses are educated — including the college’s eight simulation labs equipped with lifelike manikins that simulate real patient situations. Online education, she added, has also enabled the college to provide more flexible learning option for career nurses.

Other accomplishments came to Brown’s mind, but she was quick to share credit with those who make the college what it is today.

“It’s not my accomplishment — it’s the College of Nursing, the faculty, staff, alumni accomplishments,” she said. “So, the thing I am proudest of is our alumni, the difference they have made in health care in our region, our state, in the nation and really globally.”

Brown is also proud of the creation of the RIBN program, regionally increasing baccalaureate nursing opportunities with community colleges.

“That’s really making a difference because those individuals traditionally stay in eastern North Carolina to practice,” she said.

The mission-aligned programs and initiatives have strengthened the nursing pipeline toward areas where nurse leaders are needed most.

“One of the things that our college was originally founded on was preparing a nursing work force, so we do prepare new nurses than any program in North Carolina. And we know there is a shortage of nurses, so I think that is a great accolade that our college boasts about frequently.”

Brown will also look back fondly on the commitment of the college’s faculty and staff.

“During these past couple of years with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has taken a lot of grit and resilience and persistence to keep going, and we have done that. Our students have excelled, and we have graduated our students and continued to have high pass rates. It also brought to light the importance of the nursing profession,” she said.

“It’s been a true honor to serve my alma mater not only as a faculty member but as the dean of the College of Nursing. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to be able to say I was the dean of my own alma mater, and I’ve had such a rewarding career.”

For more information on how to support the Sylvia T. Brown Scholarship Endowment, contact Elizabeth Maxwell, ECU College of Nursing Director of Development, at 919-330-6603 or maxwellg17@ecu.edu. ECU is in the public phase of the Pursue Gold campaign to raise half a billion dollars. This ambitious effort will create new paths to success for Pirates on campus, across the country and around the world. Donor gifts during the campaign will keep us constantly leading and ready to advance what’s possible. Learn more at pursuegold.ecu.edu.