Former ECU faculty member makes science fun for all generations
John and Nancy Bray are many things — educators, environmentalists, advocates and philanthropists.
To East Carolina University and residents of eastern North Carolina, they are an inspiration for their motto, to get people “Experiencing Nature – Doing Science – Having Fun.” The Brays’ dedication to the environment and science education has made an impact on the region, which will continue for generations.
“As a member of the ECU and Greenville communities, I have seen our students of all ages thrive because of the Brays’ generosity,” said Allison Danell, dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “The sustained and impactful philanthropy exhibited by the Brays has been truly transformational for our university and our region.”
The Brays met as college students. John attended Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Nancy was nearby at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. After earning their bachelor’s degrees, the pair continued their education in Maryland, where John earned a master’s degree in chemical oceanography and a doctorate in geochemistry from Johns Hopkins University and Nancy a master’s degree in reading specialties at Loyola University Maryland.
John worked for a Maryland-based environmental consulting firm before joining the Brody School of Medicine Department of Surgery faculty in 1978 to conduct trace element chemistry research. During his 16 years at ECU, John also served as an adjunct professor in biology, chemistry, geology and environmental health — supporting student and faculty research in those areas.
Nancy worked as an educator — first teaching language arts and later teaching hands-on science in North Carolina classrooms.
“When we first came to eastern North Carolina, I was a French and English teacher. But after being approached by my school principal — who had heard that John was a scientist — I was put in charge of science education at the school,” Nancy said. “It was a completely life-changing moment.” She went on to obtain her advanced degree in science education from ECU.
In 1994, John co-founded Metrics Inc., a pharmaceutical development services company. The Greenville-based company started with four employees and grew exponentially over the years — providing pharmaceutical research and development support to ensure safety, stability and formulation on nationwide drug products.
“While at Metrics, I also worked closely with Phil Hodges and Dr. Chia-yu Li to develop a good manufacturing practice (GMP) lab for pharmaceutical analysis, quality control and safety,” John said. “In addition to the establishment of the lab, I also supported the development of coursework for chemistry students to learn GMP best practices.”
In 2012, nearly two decades after its founding, Metrics had grown to nearly 300 employees with a global reach. Upon the sale of Metrics and John’s retirement, the Brays decided it was time for a new chapter. They purchased a home along Contentnea Creek in Grifton and began a new venture, taking the couple back to their science education roots.
“Once we moved to Contentnea Creek, we began accumulating additional acreage around us — roughly 400 acres — and putting the land into a conservation easement so that it could never be developed,” John said. “We wanted to ensure that the land would be preserved long after we were gone so that regional students and residents could continue to enjoy it.”
Launching A Time for Science
The Brays launched A Time for Science (ATFS), a learning center that provides outdoor recreation, and science and environmental education to children and families in eastern North Carolina. Like Metrics, ATFS had humble beginnings, but it continued to grow over the years.
In 2009, they established the Bray Hollow Foundation and donated much of their Contentnea Creek acreage to A Time for Science. The foundation owns and operates the Nature and Science Learning Center at Contentnea Creek and the Museum and Science Center in Greenville. ATFS has recently partnered with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to further their combined missions in eastern North Carolina. The Brays also funded an endowment with the N.C. Coastal Land Trust to cover the cost of staff to monitor and care for the land in the conservation easement.
Emily Jarvis, director of ATFS, said the Brays’ passion for science and education and their generosity impact more than 25,000 people each year.
“A Time for Science continues to grow, offering an abundance of science education and literacy resources to people throughout eastern North Carolina,” Jarvis said. “All of this would never have been possible without the dreams, passion and love of these two very special people.”
Their support of the environment and their community hasn’t stopped with A Time for Science. The Brays established funds supporting scholarships and programs at ECU.
In 2013, they established the John and Nancy Bray Green Chemistry Endowed Fund to support undergraduates in ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences chemistry department with activities, events and research projects that advance green chemistry and address environmental concerns. Funds from this endowment are supporting work at ECU in subcritical water extraction and chromatography.
In recognition of their 50th wedding anniversary, John created the Nancy Jane (Glaser) Bray Endowed Fund for Biodiversity Research. The endowment, which recognizes Nancy’s career as an educator and mentor, provides support for the purchase of lab equipment and supplies, graduate student stipends and other research-related expenses in the Department of Biology.
“John and Nancy have played a significant role in support of environmental education and research in eastern North Carolina,” said David Chalcraft, chair of the biology department.
Chalcraft said the Brays’ contributions toward the East Carolina Biodiversity Initiative allow the department to offer public lectures from prominent environmental authors and develop outreach materials to facilitate a better understanding of the environment by the public.
A partnership between ATFS and the Biodiversity Initiative allows ECU faculty and graduate students the opportunity to connect with the public and local students, and conduct research to advance understanding of ecological systems, Chalcraft said. The Brays also provide support for various needs in the College of Engineering and Technology.
The Brays are supporters of ECU’s Friends of the S. Rudolph Alexander Performing Arts Series, ECU School of Music, the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center, and the Emerge Gallery and Art Center in Greenville. They also support a program with Warrior Family Ministries, in Wilmington, providing therapy for veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD. They have established an endowment through the Community Foundation of NC East to ensure long-term support for these and many other interests.
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.