Second annual bus tour partners researchers, regional leaders

East Carolina University’s second annual Purple and Golden Bus Tour rolled out of Greenville on March 4, making 10 stops while traveling 423 miles over two days in eastern North Carolina.

The tour, hosted by the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, carried nearly 50 ECU faculty researchers and staff leadership across the region. The event is designed to introduce researchers to the culture, geography, heritage, economy and assets of eastern North Carolina. The program encourages partnerships that create long-term benefits for the people and communities of the region.

New Bern Walking Tour

ECU researchers gather around New Bern Alderman Sabrina Bengel (center) during a walking tour of the city. New Bern received significant damage from Hurricane Florence last fall.

The tour began at the Conetoe Family Life Center before making its way to the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie, Café 45 and WJP Farm in Colerain, ECU Outer Banks Campus and the Coastal Studies Institute, and Mako’s Beach Grille + Bar, owned by former ECU trustee Mike Kelly. On the second day of the tour, the group stopped at Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and met with Hyde County Manager Kris Noble before taking a tour of New Bern to examine some of the destruction caused by Hurricane Florence last fall.

“We look forward to hosting the ECU bus tour every year,” Noble said. “There is no better sight to a fellow Pirate than to see that purple and gold bus pull up in your own community.

“The introductions and knowledge sharing accomplished during the tour turn into partnerships and projects that make our communities stronger,” she said. “It truly demonstrates how mutually beneficial the relationship is between Hyde County and ECU.”

Ten ECU schools and colleges were represented on the trip, including faculty from Allied Health Sciences, Nursing, Brody School of Medicine, Health and Human Performance, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Business, Education, School of Dental Medicine, and Fine Arts and Communications. Directors from ECU’s biomaterials, big data and analytics, and natural resources and the environment research clusters participated as well.

The diverse selection of faculty members was designed to strengthen ECU’s commitment to interdisciplinary research, giving potential collaborators a chance to meet.

“The Purple and Golden Tour afforded me the opportunity to really see and experience more of eastern North Carolina,” said Elijah Asagbra, assistant professor of health services and information management in the College of Allied Health Sciences. “The two-day tour was eye-opening. I was exposed to areas of need and potential research opportunity.

“The tour also allowed the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with fellow researchers,” he said. “I plan on taking advantage of this experience by exploring areas of possible research collaboration. I hope this leads to fruitful collaboration with fellow researchers, community partners, and members of our community.”

Projects in mind

Before the bus returned to Greenville, faculty members already had ideas in mind. Elizabeth Hodge, assistant dean for innovation and strategic initiatives in ECU’s College of Education, saw opportunities to connect with the Conetoe Family Life Center. The center seeks to improve the health of the youth in Conetoe by increasing access to healthy foods, boosting physical activity and providing health services.

Rev. Joy Speaks at Conetoe Family Life Center

Conetoe Family Life Center founder Rev. Richard Joyner shares the center’s mission with ECU researchers.

“At the Conetoe Family Life Center we learned about the grassroots effort the center is undertaking to teach youth about healthy living through farm-to-table projects,” Hodge said. “It was easy to see the possibilities this initiative could provide our K-5 students at the ECU Community School who are learning about healthy living through the school’s garden program.

“In addition, a partnership between Conetoe Family Life Center and ECU’s College of Education could provide our science education preservice teachers (student teachers) with hands-on experience in the field where they could apply concepts learned in class to impact the health and well-being of a community.”

The tour ties into ECU’s Rural Prosperity Initiative by creating connections between researchers and regional partners that can improve health, economic development and educational disparities in eastern North Carolina. While the tour’s overall mission is to orient ECU faculty to the communities the university serves, REDE Vice Chancellor Jay Golden hopes that the connections forged during the trip will lead to new projects and grants that benefit the region.

“Our vision for the bus tour has always been to put ECU’s talented researchers together with our community partners so the two can work together to find common areas of need,” Golden said. “We want our research to make an academic impact, but it also should be relevant and useful to the communities we serve. The tour allows our researchers to connect with communities and find out first-hand what resources our surrounding counties need so we can work in partnership to develop solutions.”

Learn more about the tour online through the Office of Community Engagement.