ECU CONnection Newsletter – April 2023

The Message From The Dean


This is a poignant moment for me. In a few days, my fellow faculty members and I will don our graduation regalia and watch as our students walk across the stage at our commencement ceremony and take their places as full members of Pirate Nurse Nation. I have had a full academic year now as the Dean – a full year of watching our students dart in and out of classes and getting reports from our faculty about student progress in their clinical rotations in hospitals and community clinics across the East. A year of putting names to faces and watching individual successes build upon the legacy of excellence embodied by our alumni.

I am particularly grateful that we will have another graduation that we can share with our students, their families and friends. The students are the ones writing papers and taking tests, of course, but they didn’t make it to graduation alone. Trust me, I know. I have done quite a bit of schooling myself. Our students’ loved ones – especially parents – have been the best cheerleaders, assuagers of doubt and home-cooked dinner makers. They have had a huge role in getting our students through to graduation. The tear-filled faces and beaming smiles that shower down on our graduates at commencement belong to those who are just as much a part our successes, even if they’ve never worn purple scrubs.

Students: make sure you thank your loved ones at graduation. Look them in the eye, say thank you and then give them a big hug. It means more than you know.

While our undergraduates are moving on to their new lives or taking the summer off, the work here at the CON continues. Our graduate students will double down with their studies, particularly our future CRNAs who remind us through the summer that learning continues apace. Our faculty will be busy teaching online courses but more importantly, they will have some time and space to delve into research that is oftentimes sidelined by lectures and grading. The CON has a proud tradition of being leaders in nursing research and developing nursing theory. I’m thankful for the opportunity for our staff and faculty to take a break and reset.

What my first year leading the College of Nursing has taught me is fairly simple – Pirate Nurses are the most dynamic, engaged and intelligent members of our profession, and I am very excited to celebrate its newest members.

I hope to see as many of you as possible at graduation and our College’s recognition ceremony on May 5.

Dean Bim

Faculty Spotlight

Yerlin Villegas, from left, Jennifer Perry, Chandra Speight and Leigh Atherton (left to right) work at a Hope Exchange needle exchange outreach event in Williamston. (Contributed photo)

Kim Larson, an East Carolina University professor of nursing, learned in February that she would be the first member of the College of Nursing to receive a Fulbright Scholar award, a prestigious federally-funded award that will support her research on how health care professionals can best support the needs of the war-driven diaspora from Ukraine.

Larson’s Fulbright project, a partnership with Polish nursing colleagues, will determine how to best prepare European nurses to care for the Ukrainians who were forced to flee their homes after the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Read More About Fulbright


Dr. Nellie Droes, a former member of the CON faculty, passed away on Friday, April 7th. Dr. Droes came to ECU originally to teach Community Health Nursing. She was the first director for the Family Nurse Practitioner program at ECU College of Nursing. She maintained her own NP skills in a clinic in a local correctional institution. Her colleagues remember her as one who always "thought out of the box" and could intellectually challenge the brightest minds. She believed that all knowledge was meant to be questioned.

Though online programs were not truly a reality during that time, she worked with other future-minded faculty to put the ECU FNP curriculum online where it was then accessible to many more nurses from rural areas.

Dr. Droes represents the best of the College of Nursing and our commitment to the University’s mission of Service.    

The College of Nursing was well represented at the North Carolina Nurses Association Spring Symposium this week. The annual state nurse practitioner meeting was held in Wilmington and featured speakers from the CON included Drs. Torica Fuller, Alex Hodges, Michelle Taylor Skipper, Wendy Smith and Chandra Speight. Also in attendance to promote programs and recruit preceptors were Drs. Ann Bell, Megan Dillon and Jan Tillman, and clinical placement team Debby Naughton and Caroyn Borel.


Please help to welcome our new counselor in the Student Development and Counseling Center, Esther Smith. Esther brings a wealth of experience in helping others to the CON as a licensed clinical mental health counselor associate and a licensed clinical addiction specialist associate.

She’ll be settling into her new position over the coming weeks and starting to assist students after the long weekend. Please extend a warm welcome as you see her around the campus.

Student Spotlight

We had one of our DNP post masters presenting at the North Carolina Nurses Association Nurse Practitioner Spring Symposium in Wilmington this month. Melissa Harmon, who will finish coursework this summer and graduate in December, presented her research “Pillars in Heart Failure Treatment.”

“Speaking at the NCNA 2023 NPSS was an honor and an opportunity for me to conquer one of my fears of public speaking,” Harmon said.

After 17 years as a home health nurse, Harmon obtained her family nurse practitioner certification. After two years of practicing in internal medicine, she accepted a position to care for veterans in their homes with Home Based Primary care at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville.

Melissa is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and graduated with her master’s in nursing from Western Carolina University. She has served as adjunct faculty at Western Carolina University. Her DNP project focuses on heart failure management and transitional care. She has an extensive background in caring for the geriatric population of western North Carolina, particularly those with heart failure and comorbid conditions.


Dr. Angela Ciuca successfully defended her dissertation titled “Early Identification of Perioperative Acute Kidney Injury Utilizing Novel Renal Biomarkers u[TIMP-2]*[IGFBP7].” 

From her dissertation committee chair, Dr. Linda Bolin: I would like to acknowledge her outstanding committee members - Dr. Maura McAuliffe, Dr. Mel Swanson, Dr. Gulya Evans, and Dr. M. J. Barchman - all contributed their expertise and time as Dr. Ciuca explored these two protein biomarkers that are released when kidney cells become stressed. This research and her findings are making significant contributions to the state of the science surrounding renal health and patient outcomes. It has been an honor to serve as her Chair.

A number of our faculty and students participated in Nurses Day at the Legislature in Raleigh at the end of March. The goal of the day was to engage North Carolina’s lawmakers with current and future nurses from across the state (but especially Pirate Nurses) to reinforce the value of the nursing profession to the state and to give our students a better understanding of the state’s legislative processes.

One of the roles of a professional nurse is to advocate for patients by staying aware of, and engaged with, the rules and laws that define health care.

Thanks to the NCNA for organizing the event and for the legislators who took time to meet with our students.

The National Council Licensure Exam, the #NCLEX, is the test that, when passed, grants #nurses the right to be called a Registered Nurse and practice as such in clinical settings. While it’s not foolproof, the NCLEX is a fairly reliable gauge of how well a nursing education program prepares nurses, not only to take the test, but to be effective as members of a health care team their first day on the job.

We just got the results in from the most recent round of Pirate Nurse NCLEX testing and we couldn’t be more proud of the results. 

In February, NurseJournal reported that the national testing rates for the third quarter of 2022 had fallen to the lowest rate in 10 years: just under 80 percent of nurse candidates passed on the first try.

Our students who took the exam in December 2022 had a 97 percent pass rate. Read that again – 97 percent.

From 2012 to 2022, our graduates’ first-time pass rates averaged 97 percent.

When we say that the East Carolina University College of Nursing is a national leader in entry to practice nurse education, we mean it. We produce the most, and we like to think the most well-prepared, nurses in North Carolina because we select the right students, we have the right faculty and our clinical partners value our mission of meeting North Carolina’s health care needs.

Be proud, #PirateNurseNation!

In the photo: (bottom row left to right) - Kaitlin Banasiewicz and Lynnz Brewer;  (top row left to right) - Thekra Hindi, Grayson Hull, Chelsea Bratton.

Kaitlin Banasiewicz and Chelsea Bratton are two College of Nursing students who were members of the winning interdisciplinary team for the 2023 Health Sciences Leadership Case Competition. Sponsored by the ECU Health Sciences Leadership Council, teams were tasked to find ways to reduce the impact of Type 2 diabetes on one eastern North Carolina county with a budget of $3 million for a three year grant.

“We chose Halifax County. Our proposal involved a walking track with a community garden and kitchen. We also proposed putting up signs with QR codes you could scan to log how much you walked and it would have exercise and nutrition education,” Banasiewicz said. “There would also be a children's playground and outdoor exercise equipment.”

Banasiewicz is a PhD candidate in our BSN to PhD program and Bratton is a BSN student.

The winning team members gets bragging rights as well as a gift card from a major retailer or service business.

In the photo: (bottom row left to right) - Kaitlin Banasiewicz and Lynnz Brewer;  (top row left to right) - Thekra Hindi, Grayson Hull, Chelsea Bratton. 

Alumni Spotlight

Kelsey Pike graduated from East Carolina University's College of Nursing in December of 2020. Originally from Raleigh, she moved to Greenville for school and now lives here permanently with her husband. After completing OB clinicals with Dr. Andrea Sessoms at Vidant Edgecombe Hospital, she accepted a new grad position on their Women's Services floor in January 2021. In February 2022, she took a job closer to home in Greenville and now works on Labor and Delivery at ECU Health Medical Center.

Kelsey was recently nominated and awarded the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses for providing excellent and compassionate care to a fellow labor and delivery nurse in preterm labor with twins. Kelsey is currently enrolled at Frontier Nursing University and is obtaining her advanced practice degree to become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner.


Laya Barley

Laya Barley hasn’t even formally applied to the College of Nursing yet and has already elected to make her support of Pirate Nursing tangible as the first student to make a specific donation this year to the CON during the recent Pirate Nation Gives event in March.

The Hatteras native is carrying on her family’s long tradition of working in the nursing profession. Her great-grandmother, grandmother and aunt were all nurses. She started out at ECU as a pre-nursing major, having switched to pre-med but said that she recently switched back to nursing because “I missed nursing and I knew it was the right decision as soon as I made the switch.”

Why did she donate to support scholarships for nursing students? Pretty simple really:

“I’m going to donate to the program that I ultimately want to go into.”

If the nursing program is in the cards for her, Barely said she wants to spend a few years as a bedside nurse to “just deal with no school for a little bit” but ultimately she wants to attend a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program.

No matter where her path leads, Laya will be part of making Pirate Nurse Nation stronger and better able to support the health care needs of eastern North Carolina with her thoughtful donation.


Nurse 5K 2023

On April 19, 2023, the Dean and select administrators and faculty met with the College of Nursing Advisory Council. A well-attended first in-person council luncheon held since 2019, we hosted 20 members of the council at the College of Nursing for food and conversation. The Council met Dean Akintade and heard about all the plans for the College. Dr. Michael Jones was introduced as the first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Dr. Annette Peery shared the curriculum revision updates based on the new Essentials for Professional Nursing Education. She invited members of the council to join the task force working on revision and two have joined the group. Finally, there was a lively discussion about learning opportunities in the represented agencies for all levels of students. It was a successful networking and discussion time and so very valuable for the continued success of the CON.

On March 31 we inducted the most recent class of the College of Nursing Hall of Fame. We are very proud of the alumni that continue to make ECU one of the nation’s leading institutions for nursing education, from entry to practice nurses through the doctoral level.

The 2023 class of inductees includes nurses that range from community health and clinical professionals to a military health leader. We value the incredible impacts that our inductees have made on the nursing profession and the commitment to excellence that their membership in the Hall of Fame signifies.

This year’s HOF inductees are:

  • Amy Richmond Campbell (BSN '02, MSN '07, PhD '20)
  • Melinda W. Matthews DNP, RN, ANP-BC, CDP  (BSN '87, DNP '15)
  • COL (Ret) Jenifer Meno DNP, FNP-BC, RN-BC (BSN '92)
  • Mrs. Donna Moses (BSN '84, MSN '89)
  • Mrs. Georgia T. Perry (BSN '10, MSN '15)
  • Mrs. Angela Tripp Still (BSN '86)

This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award went to Mrs. Hazel Browning Moore (BSN '72, MSRH '76, MSN '79).