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By ECU News Services

Student perseverance and community and industry partnerships were highlighted in special presentations at the East Carolina University Board of Trustees’ February meeting.

The board also welcomed Brandon Frye, vice chancellor for student affairs, who officially joined ECU this week.

On Thursday, four students spoke during the University Affairs Committee meeting about their struggles and how ECU programs helped them continue to move forward. The students and the programs are: George Cherry Jr., Students’ Treasure Chest; Nellyana Cordero-Cisnero, Pirate Promise; Adam Harrison, Pirate Academic Success Center; and Iyaira Williams, Purple Pantry. Chris Stansbury, associate vice chancellor and senior operating officer for student affairs, moderated the panel.

Julie Oehlert, Chief Experience Officer at ECU Health, participates in a discussion during the ECU Board of Trustees meeting.
Julie Oehlert, Chief Experience Officer at ECU Health, participates in a discussion during the ECU Board of Trustees meeting.

In introducing the students, Provost Robin Coger said earning a degree requires students to persevere even when faced with challenges. ECU provides a range of support for student success. “Ultimately they come out of ECU ready for successful careers, but there are a lot of steps in between,” she said.

Cherry, who is earning three degrees and plans to attend medical school, put 24,000 miles on his car driving to class last year from his Bertie County home, where he helps take care of his younger sister. He was able to get help from the Students’ Treasure Chest when his car needed repairs. He is working to give back to the university through service and his involvement in different organizations, including the Student Government Association.

Cordero-Cisnero is a first-generation student from Raleigh who attended community college before transferring to ECU for a degree in elementary education. She said an ECU alum introduced her to Pirate Promise, which gave her a path to a four-year degree. “It opened a new door for me,” she said.

Harrison said he commuted from his home in Williamston his first year, and the connections he made at the Pirate Academic Success Center helped him become a stronger student. He now is a mentor to other students at the center.

Williams, from Raleigh, has volunteered at the Purple Pantry since her freshman year. As an ambassador, she helped the organization win a collegiate hunger challenge and $10,000, and she continues to work with the pantry to combat food insecurity. A recent partnership with the SGA has yielded almost 90 meals donated from unused meal swipes. The SGA also provided funding to purchase a freezer for the pantry to provide frozen meals.

The panel encouraged trustees to continue hearing from students and provide opportunities for conversation. They also suggested continuing to bring awareness to the resources that ECU offers.

In another committee Thursday, the trustee’s Committee on Strategy and Innovation heard an industry workforce panel discuss how partnerships can lead to innovation and economic prosperity in eastern North Carolina and beyond. Participants included representatives from ECU Health, Fly Exclusive and MrBeast. Topics ranged from the importance of building and strengthening partnerships and pathways to identifying ECU student and graduate talent to recruit to their businesses.

Panelist Julie Oehlert, chief experience and brand officer at ECU Health, said both the university and the health system can benefit from working more closely to integrate student experiences into education in a wide variety of disciplines in health care and beyond.

“We share a community, we share learners that we both love deeply, in a variety of settings,” she said. “We share the responsibility of caring for eastern North Carolina; for educating eastern North Carolina and for advancing all the people that live in eastern North Carolina in their learning and in their health. That’s why we are ECU Health now; never before has the imperative for a strong partnership been more relevant or more necessary.”

The panelists and committee discussed ways to encourage partnerships based on innovation and thinking outside the box that will push students to create real-world solutions in situations that prepare them to enter the workforce with concrete foundational experience.

The committee also adopted a resolution on freedom of expression for faculty and students, which was unanimously approved by the full board on Friday. The resolution reaffirms the Board of Trustees’ commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression in which faculty and students can “teach, learn, seek and speak the truth” in an environment where “academic freedom flourishes” and the campus community is given “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn except insofar as limitations to that freedom are necessary to the function of the university.”

Trustees also received an update on refreshing the university’s strategic plan. Committee co-chair Sharon Paynter presented a list of internal and external strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities that impact university initiatives and ways ECU leadership, faculty, staff and students continue to navigate them.

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