Harriot College names 2024 Dean’s Early Career awardees

The dean of East Carolina University’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences has named three faculty members as recipients of the prestigious 2024 Dean’s Early Career Award. Typically awarded to one recipient, this year’s recipients are Dr. Rachel Gittman, assistant professor of biology; Dr. Sara Bryson, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology; and Dr. Hanna Kassab, assistant professor of political science.

Established in 2015 through the generosity of Harriot College’s Dean’s Advancement Council, the award recognizes and rewards exceptional performance by tenure-track assistant professors, honoring their productivity in research and creative activity. It represents the college’s breadth of faculty excellence in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics.

Rachel Gittman

Gittman, center, and student researchers return from sampling natural and restored oyster reefs in Back Sound, North Carolina. (Contributed photo)

“I am honored to receive this award and truly appreciate the support I have received from the Department of Biology, Coastal Studies Institute and Harriot College,” Gittman said.

Gittman began working at ECU in 2018 as a joint hire with the Coastal Studies Institute, which has allowed her to conduct interdisciplinary research and teaching as a marine conservation ecologist. Her research interests broadly include understanding how humans modify the coastal environment and how best to manage or mitigate the ecological consequences of those modifications to sustain ecosystem structure, functions and services.

“I love working with my faculty colleagues, staff and students on highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects. By working with individuals across career stages and disciplines, I believe that we can better address the complex and pressing challenges facing coastal ecosystems and communities,” she said.

“Dr. Gittman has an outstanding record of productivity in research in coastal ecosystems. She has generated a significant body of high-quality work in a variety of publishing outlets, including those read by policymakers and other community partners,” said Dr. Allison Danell, Harriot College dean. “She is an engaging instructor, a successful student mentor and a committed colleague. I truly appreciate her work as a faculty member in Harriot College.”

Sara Bryson

Dr. Sara Bryson, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology, is one of three faculty named as 2024 Harriot College Dean’s Early Career Award recipients. (Contributed photo)

“I am very thankful [to receive the award],” said Bryson, who came to ECU in 2020. “I am a first-generation college student who went to college because my friends were applying, and I wanted to be like them. To have grown from a person who went to college because my friends were doing it, to someone who truly has a passion for research and moving the discipline forward is just incredible. While recognition is never the motivating factor, I am grateful to Dean Danell for her recognition of my work and my commitment to research, teaching and service. I’m also grateful to my department chair, who has encouraged and supported me since arriving at ECU.”

Bryson’s research interests include studying juvenile delinquency, juvenile justice and decision-making, bullying behavior, school victimization, and race and ethnicity. Courses she has taught range from introductory statistics for the juvenile justice system to gender-based violence.

“Dr. Bryson is an exemplary junior faculty member and a role model for new faculty on the tenure track,” said Dr. Heidi Bonner, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. “She is a respected member of the department doing essential work for the discipline, university and community and is deserving of the Dean’s Early Career Award.”

While at ECU, Bryson said she has most enjoyed that interdisciplinary collaborations are encouraged.

“I have been fortunate to work with faculty members and students within and outside my department, which is really special,” she said. “The support we are offered via startup funds, course buyouts and student research assistants is wonderful. It has truly been a pleasure to teach students about the research and writing process. Training the next generation of scholars and watching them gain confidence in their skills along the way is very rewarding. Lastly, I am so thankful to have wonderful colleagues who challenge me to think critically, approach research from various perspectives and make the writing process fun.”

Hanna Kassab

Kassab, third from right, escorted students to the U.S. Consulate General in Strasbourg, France, during a study abroad trip he led in 2023. (Contributed photo)

Kassab began working at ECU in 2018 and is the faculty advisor for the security studies club.

“I am truly honored to receive the Dean’s Early Career Award,” he said. “When I got the news, I immediately thought of my department chair, Dr. Alethia Cook, as she nominated me for the award. She took time out of her day to put my application together. Not only that, but she thought that I was worthy of consideration. That, in itself, is an award.”

Kassab’s research interests include international security, terrorism, weak states and systemic war. He has taught courses ranging from security studies and its theoretical application to comparative politics, foreign policy and war in the modern age. He said what he appreciates most about his job are all his colleagues in the Department of Political Science.

“They have all been supportive and encouraging. Such people are hard to find these days and that makes me cherish ECU even more,” Kassab said.

“Dr. Kassab is off to a great start in his career here at ECU. His classes are challenging, interesting and require critical thinking. He is helpful, knowledgeable and cares about his students. In addition, he enthusiastically engages in service on campus and beyond,” said Cook. “He clearly loves every aspect of his job and excels across the board. Our students love him and so do his colleagues.”

The recipients were recognized at a special reception in April and will be honored at the college’s fall convocation ceremony in August.