America's Rural Communities Need Our Help

East Carolina University is embarking on an initiative to address inequalities in eastern North Carolina. ECU’s DRIVE East Initiative will harness the intellectual strengths and research resources of ECU to improve the quality of life, health, education and employment for the people of our region and their communities. We’re committed to improving our region by leveraging resources from all corners of the university. We will partner with government, industry and community groups to develop new tools and approaches that drive job creation, health innovation and educational improvements in rural and coastal communities.

Graphic describing statistics of rural america

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These projects are just the beginning…

As we work  to identify new strategies through research we will find solutions for the challenges holding back rural communities.

Outer Banks Campus

ECU is expanding its coastal research commitments with the development of its Outer Banks Campus on Roanoke Island. The campus is home to ECU’s newly created academic unit, Integrated Coastal Programs, which houses the Department of Coastal Studies. Additionally, ECU now operates the $32.6 million, multi-institutional Coastal Studies Institute in the Outer Banks. The 83,791-square foot facility houses ECU researchers and colleagues from other UNC system schools. Our faculty and staff are engaged in coastal economic development and research, putting an emphasis on finding innovative approaches for capturing ocean energy, sustainable designs for coastal communities, and marine ecology, maritime archeology and tourism.

Millennial Campus

ECU’s millennial campus connects the talents of university researchers and partners in industry, government, military and more to discover innovations that boost rural and coastal prosperity. The campus focuses on commercializing research discoveries that benefit regional industries. Millennial campus buildings will feature state of the art lab and collision spaces that foster interaction and stimulate ideas, collaboration and
new discovery. In June 2019, ECU broke ground on its new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building. The building serves as a gateway for eastern North Carolina to ECU, providing a dynamic environment where industry and community partners can engage with university faculty and students, and access university resources, and develop innovative solutions future growth and development.

Miller School of Entrepreneurship

In 2015, a $5 million commitment from Fielding and Kim Miller made it possible to establish the first named school of entrepreneurship in the state. The Miller School of Entrepreneurship serves as the regional hub for preparing students to take an entrepreneurial mindset into their communities. The school’s Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship offers courses in topic areas including entrepreneurial finance, sales and marketing, business planning, small and family business management, and new venture launch, preparing a future generation of entrepreneurs.

RISE29 Microenterprise Program

ECU launched its award-winning RISE29 microenterprise program in 2019. The program is a bold strategy that connects the needs of eastern North Carolina communities to student entrepreneurs. Funded by a $1 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, the program operates in four counties with plans to expand. During its first year, RISE29’s team included 146 student participants serving 36 clients. RISE29 tallied more than 18,000 hours of field work. During Spring 2020, RISE29 brought on 14 interns to drive job growth and economic vitality for the entire region, totaling 60 interns in its first year.

Licensing and Commercialization

ECU’s Office of Licensing and Commercialization assists faculty, students and staff in transforming ideas into real world solutions that can transform the region’s economy. These solutions can have a direct impact on individuals living in eastern North Carolina. The office accomplishes this mission by commercializing university-owned intellectual property, assisting in new venture development, enhancing research and industry collaboration, and providing educational programming to the community. It’s commercialization focused programming, including its NSF-funded Innovation Corps program, has led to numerous new product launches.

Small Business and Technology Development Center

The Small Business and Technology Development Center at East Carolina University provides knowledge, education and supportive resources that enable existing small and mid-sized businesses, emerging entrepreneurs, and local and state leaders to innovate and succeed. The SBTDC at ECU services 12 counties in its Greenville office on ECU’s campus. The center offers dedicated services and educational seminars on business management advice, financial assistance and analysis, research, and marketing assistance. In January 2020, the SBTDC at ECU assisted more than 200 clients in eastern North Carolina, resulting in 10 business starts, $21.5 million in capital formation, and 456 jobs created and retained.

National Security and Industry

ECU’s Office of National Security and Industry Initiatives combines several university programs into one office, helping researchers engage with government and industry entities to advance programs and partnerships. Whether it’s connecting military members to innovation labs and prototyping equipment, or helping regional industries network with academic programs for internship or capstone project opportunities, ECU is ready to meet the needs of the region.

Regional Transformation Council

In 2015, East Carolina University leaders began to form a strategic approach for community engagement and economic development activities in ECU’s 29 county service area. This strategy led to the formation of the university’s Regional Transformation Council. The council’s goal is to use ECU’s internal resources combined with external stakeholder support to align, prioritize and invest in activities that promote economic development and drive innovation.

Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Centers

The School of Dental Medicine embarked on cutting-edge dental education by strategically building eight ECU Dental Medicine Clinics throughout North Carolina in addition to the main dental medicine campus in Greenville. The Community Service Learning Centers bring ECU dental students and faculty to communities in over 40 rural counties that are lacking dental medicine providers.

North Carolina Agromedicine Institute

ECU partners with the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute to promote the health and safety of farmers, fishermen and foresters through research, prevention, intervention and educational outreach.

DRIVE East Data Hub

In support of East Carolina University’s mission to serve rural communities, the Office of Research Economic Development and Engagement has undertaken the development of an interactive data database for ECU faculty and students. The database initially contains Excel files, geographic information system maps and formatted presentations. This data will be expanded to include interactive maps at the county level, as well as aerial and satellite imagery.

This on-going project is designed to provide researchers at ECU with a broad suite of regionally-specific data spanning health, education and economic disparities at the eastern North Carolina county level, state level and national level.

DRIVE East Data Hub