Nontraditional ECU mathematics graduate student continues family legacy of Pirate alumni


Name: John Chester Calhoun

College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Major: Mathematics

Age: 34

Classification/Year: Graduate student

Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida

Hobbies/interests: Reading, kettlebell and steel mace training

Clubs and Organizations: I teach math to students that are majoring in non-mathematical fields, so I enjoy the challenge of showing them interesting mathematics. I am looking to be a math teacher since that will allow me to use math for the rest of my life.


Favorite hangout: Reading in the bathtub

Favorite place on campus: Austin 104, where I teach my classes

Favorite place to eat: Cinnamon Bistro Indian Cuisine

Favorite class: Topology

Professor who influenced you the most: Dr. Michael J. Spurr, professor of mathematics


Dream job: SAS Statistical Programmer

Your words to live by: “This too, shall pass.”

What advice do you have for other students? Do your homework so that you don’t end up lost in your late 20s.

Best life lesson learned at ECU? Never give up.

East Carolina University mathematics graduate student John Chester Calhoun is a nontraditional student from a long line of Pirate alumni.

Calhoun grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, and first came to ECU in 2006, knowing from an early age that he would attend the same university that many of his family attended.

“I have had Pirate wear since I was a little baby; I always knew that I would go to ECU,” he said.

Calhoun’s mother, father, aunt and uncle all attended ECU, with his grandfather teaching American history at the university until the early 1990s.

Calhoun’s mother, father, aunt and uncle — all originally from Greenville — attended ECU in the 1970s. His grandfather, Walter Thomas Calhoun, taught American history with a focus on the American Civil War at ECU until his retirement in the early 1990s. His 95-year-old grandmother was a teacher at Elmhurst Elementary School.

When Calhoun began his academic career at ECU, he said he did not focus on his classes.

“I was not mature enough to understand that I needed to do all my work,” Calhoun said.

He soon left ECU, moved out of state and worked several jobs before he realized he wanted to complete his degree. Calhoun held jobs as a bartender, a pool attendant, and as a lawn technician and bare ground sprayer, which is when he said he realized he was very unhappy.

“I was weed-whacking 5-foot-high thorn bushes, covered in poison ivy blisters,” he said. “I looked up in the sky and said, ‘I am going back to finish school.’”

He moved in with his grandmother and re-enrolled at ECU, earning his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics through the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2020. This month, he will complete his master’s degree in mathematics.

“I learned a lot during my time away from school. I learned how to work hard. I matured a great deal. I stopped worrying about the things that I cared about during my early 20s. I learned that my family is the most important thing that I have in my life, since they have always stuck by my side, and I wouldn’t be here without their support,” he said.

While pursuing his graduate degree, Calhoun is giving back to students. He teaches math to non-mathematics majors through a graduate assistantship position and said he enjoys the challenge of showing them interesting concepts. Because of his deep affinity for the subject, Calhoun plans to continue to teach math and pursue his programming and statistical interests following graduation.

“Being in school at 34 years old is hard, and I have had to make many sacrifices,” he said. “I am ready to get out on my own so that I can be self-sufficient.”