Cornerstone Summer 2023

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Greetings, alumni and friends! I am delighted to bring you another issue of Cornerstone, and I am excited to send this newsletter to even more people as our network grows. Did you know that at Spring 2023 commencement, more than 1,000 people joined the long list of ECU graduates who studied in Harriot College? In fact, we are already working hard to recruit the next generation of graduates, as you can see on page 3 of this newsletter! Are you looking to help spread the good word about how #HarriotCollegeWorks? Follow us on LinkedIn and share our posts and your experiences! Not only will that positively influence recruitment of students, but of employees as well. We are welcoming dozens of new employees each year across the spectrum of the many job functions needed to keep our college competitive and innovative.

Of course, our students are at the forefront, like Elizabeth LaFave, winner of the 2023 Pirate™ Entrepreneurship Challenge for Invenire, an app that will bring collections from museums in our region straight to your phone. Elizabeth, a doctoral student conducting bioanalytical chemistry research, has always maintained quite a multidisciplinary portfolio of studies and activities – from complementing her science majors with one in history to an internship in ECU’s Office of Licensing and Commercialization. We feature another student I had the pleasure of teaching on page 4, as well, which brings me great joy and pride! So much additional good news is coming soon, too, like our 2023-2024 Voyages of Discovery slate and the inaugural winner of the Harriot College Military and Veterans Scholarship, thanks to supporters on our Advancement Council and readers like you!

Javier Limon Political Science major

“One of the major reasons I chose ECU was because of its commitment to service; it’s not just students serving their community but ECU serving its students. Harriot College, the Department of Political Science, and the Honors College have played a crucial role in my personal growth.”

Elected student body President for ECU’s Student Government Association and student Vice President for the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society

Earned a prestigious Honors College Brinkley-Lane Scholars award, formerly known as EC Scholars, and is a recipient of the Senator John P. East Scholarship in the political science department

Studied abroad in Italy comparing their educational policy choices to those of the U.S. and where we can improve

Plans to pursue a Master of Public Administration degree to work on Capitol Hill and serve the public by focusing on health or education policy and government relations

Ms. Jennifer Sisk

Senior Teaching Instructor, Department of English ECU Mentoring and Inclusion Faculty Fellow (2022-2024)

“I appreciate the leadership at Harriot College and the ways they have encouraged and supported my work connecting students with community-engaged learning, and the opportunities I’ve had to serve faculty across campus.”

Incorporates multicultural texts into freshman composition course materials and shares research on Native American and African-American literature, Women’s literature and ethnic literature

Strengthens community and engages faculty by creating an inclusive culture of mentoring and support for all faculty

Works with the Office for Faculty Excellence to present faculty mentoring workshops, including professional development

Supports and advocates for students by helping them navigate the challenges of higher education and find leadership opportunities on and off campus

Summer 2023
Dean Danell (right) with Elizabeth LaFave


ECU faculty and students are studying the impact of erosion on Sugarloaf Island


There’s nothing like being at the beach in the summer. The sun is shining, the water is sparkling and the science is flowing. Yes, summertime at the beach is synonymous with science, at least when researchers from Dr. Hannah Sirianni’s Coastal Geography and Terrain Analysis Lab are out in full force.

Sirianni, an ECU assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment who specializes in geographic information science and technology, is leading a team of researchers and ECU graduate students in studying the erosion of Sugarloaf Island, a popular recreational beach located off Morehead City’s downtown waterfront.

“Sugarloaf Island is important to Morehead City because it provides a natural defense from severe storm impacts. Unfortunately, there are growing concerns over the island’s severe erosion problem,” Sirianni said.

Since 2014, the island’s shoreline has eroded about 3 meters per year and lost nearly 10,000 cubic meters of sand. It would take 800 average-sized dump trucks to hold the amount of sand lost from the island.

“Sugarloaf Island is clearly disappearing at an alarming rate, and something needs to be done,” she said.

Sirianni’s team includes a group of multidisciplinary scientists, engineers and policymakers from ECU, as well as leaders and representatives from local government, academic and business entities that include the Town of Morehead City, North Carolina Coastal Federation, UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, Sea & Shoreline LLC, and Quible and Associates P.C. The group is working together to design and implement a restoration project of shoreline stabilization techniques to help mitigate the erosion issue on the island. Stabilization techniques may include wave attenuation devices, living shoreline oyster reefs and terrestrial/ aquatic plantings.

This summer, to aid the project, Sirianni’s lab will use cutting-edge geospatial technologies, including GPS, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), modeling software and drones to map and monitor seasonal changes to the island.

“The Sugarloaf Restoration Project provides students with an exciting opportunity to develop real-world field and laboratory skills needed to monitor the success of coastal restoration projects while also giving back to North Carolina’s communities,” Sirianni said.

Sirianni’s graduate students Michael Moody and Sarah Pettyjohn are applying the technological skills gained from the project toward their master’s degrees. Moody, who enjoys field research, has helped design field protocols. He conducted an initial drone survey of Sugarloaf Island in November 2022.

“My experience conducting research on Sugarloaf Island has been both enlightening and challenging. The opportunity to work in such a unique and dynamic ecosystem has not only given me a better understanding of the intricacies of barrier island systems but a deeper appreciation for nature as a whole,” Moody said.

Pettyjohn, who found Sirianni’s lab website and Moody’s drone footage of Sugarloaf Island through a Google search, said Sirianni’s research is what attracted her to ECU.

This summer, Sirianni and Moody will train Pettyjohn, who begins her master’s program in geography in the fall. Pettyjohn will assist in current research, monitor the island’s changing shoreline and participate in another drone survey this summer. She will use Moody’s baseline dataset of Sugarloaf Island, along with repeat surveys over the next two years, to better understand the efficacy of the shoreline stabilization techniques being utilized on the island and support knowledge-based decision-making along North Carolina’s coastline.

In addition to Moody’s continued research in Sirianni’s lab, he is participating in an internship this summer with Florida Fish and Wildlife and intends to complete his master’s degree in geography in spring 2024.

“Dr. Sirianni is an extremely supportive and patient mentor. Through this experience, I have been able to refine my career goals towards habitat restoration, and I am excited for what’s to come, regardless of where I am.”

Given the experience Moody is gaining working with government agencies and industry leaders, he will likely have his choice of where he wants to #MakeAMajorDifference!

Moody operates the GNSS to map Sugarloaf Island. (Contributed photo) Drone image showing Sugarloaf Island and Morehead City’s waterfront captured by graduate student Michael Moody in November 2022. (Photo by Michael Moody)
“My experience conducting research on Sugarloaf Island has been both enlightening and challenging.” – Michael Moody
Consider supporting Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences by making a donation online at
Dr. Hannah Sirianni, left, reviews the automatic flight parameters with Moody before he conducts a scientific drone survey of Sugarloaf Island. (Contributed photo)

EXPANDING YOUNG MINDS Elementary students experience ECU, Harriot College opportunities

This spring, ECU’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and to bring nearly 100 elementary students to tour campus subjects, programs and careers they can pursue through the Sixty students from Benvenue Elementary School in Rocky from Stateside Elementary in Jacksonville visited during the April. The fifth grade students explored many areas of campus. on opportunities and learned how there is an area of study for

“The students had an amazing time. This was a great program and allowed us the opportunity to expand the minds of our students to all the career possibilities and opportunities outside of Rocky Mount that they may not have been able to see and experience otherwise,” said Chelsea Wiggins, Benvenue Elementary fifth grade teacher.

Yanira Campos, former assistant director of outreach and relations for admissions, said her goal in bringing young kids to campus from surrounding rural communities was to demonstrate what is available to them at ECU.

Campos, who is a first-generation Latina college graduate, received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from ECU in 2016. She said many students at ECU are from diverse economic and socio-economic backgrounds.

“We show them college is possible for them,” she said. “You’ll find people here with common interests.”

During the campus visits, students heard from faculty, staff and graduate students from Harriot College’s departments of anthropology, biology, chemistry, criminal justice and criminology, economics, foreign languages and literatures, history, physics, political science and neuroscience studies multidisciplinary program.

“This was a huge eye-opener for our students. It carved ECU — the best university in all of N.C. — into their brains,” Wiggins said. “They’ll remember this experience for a lifetime, and hopefully when it’s time for college applications, ECU will remain first in their mind.”

SERVING THOSE WHO SERVE Harriot College Advancement Council endows scholarship for military students, veterans

During Pirate Nation™ Gives, ECU’s annual day of giving, Harriot College unveiled a new challenge to support a scholarship for military or veteran students in the arts and sciences. With the help of generous gifts by lead donors Mitchell Hunt, Meredith Hinton and Harvey Wooten, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Advancement Council offered a $15,000 challenge gift to kickstart the fund if it received at least 15 supporters on Pirate Nation Gives. The Harriot College Military and Veteran Scholarship fund raised more than $25,000 through the challenge, making it an endowed scholarship.

Students often depend on scholarships to help alleviate the pressure of working a full- or part-time job in addition to their studies. Scholarships are a great way to show how the college, and its friends, alumni and donors, supports our students – especially our active-duty and retired military students.

“I served in the Army for three-and-a-half years. It was a good experience, and I met amazing people and lifelong friends,” said Isaiah Jacques, a recipient of the Mason Family Soldier to Scholar scholarship. “Scholarships like these help students every day. They take some of the stress and financial burden off how we will pay for school, while trying to maintain good grades and balance a job.”

Joe Bulfer, a member of the Army National Guard and cadet in ECU’s Air Force ROTC, said, “Many of my peers would simply not be able to afford higher education without the support of scholarships. They relieve stress, allowing students to solely focus on their studies.”

“This initiative is a powerful example of the impact of challenge, or matching gifts, and what’s possible when we work together to support students,” said Ashley Harzog, Harriot College’s director of alumni relations and outreach.

Interested in sponsoring a Challenge Gift for Pirate Nation Gives 2024? To explore ways to assist Harriot College students, whether via scholarship support, service on an Advancement Council or other avenues, contact Harzog at or by calling 252-737-1753.

Isaiah Jacques Stay in touch with Harriot College by phone at 252-328-6249 or email at
Joe Bulfer (Contributed photos) (Photos by Lacey Gray and Debby Diffenbaugh)



Taj Nasser reflects on his time as an undergraduate in Harriot College as a supportive, transformational experience.

“I was impressed by the emphasis that was placed on cultivating a tightknit community and a safe environment for learning,” he said. His focus led him to a fulfilling career in San Antonio, TX, where he specializes in refractive and cataract surgery.

“Being able to change the lives of fellow human beings is my favorite part of my job,” he said. “The tears of joy I see when my patients are able to gain independence is a privilege that I enjoy every week.”

While attending ECU, Nasser was not only busy meeting the requirements for his major and minor, but he was taking prerequisite courses for medical school and making plenty of time to get involved, grow, and make a major difference at ECU and in the community.

During his academic career, Nasser held several leadership roles, including senator of ECU’s Student Government Association, vice president for the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership organization and president of the Muslim Student Association. Extensive leadership development was a benefit of the four-year scholarship he earned from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Additionally, he volunteered at the Greenville Community Shelter Clinic, Habitat for Humanity and served as a Spanish tutor at ECU’s

Pirate Academic Success Center. He blended these passions for healthcare, leadership and service by completing more than 450 internship hours at clinics and hospitals in Pitt and Wilson Counties. Nasser credits ECU for giving him the skills needed to help others and be successful in his career.

“Many of the professors encouraged me to think critically, communicate effectively and be innovative and adaptable. Dr. Danell was one of my favorite professors, as she fostered a supportive environment that nurtured my growth and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.”

“ECU’s commitment to academic excellence, combined with dedication to developing strong leaders, was instrumental in preparing me for a successful career,” Nasser said. “These skills have been instrumental in helping me to navigate the challenges and complexities of the health care field and to provide the highest level of care to my patients.”

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Dr. Taj Nasser, BS Chemistry with a minor in Hispanic Studies, ’14, MD ’18
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