ECU CONnection Newsletter – May 2023

The Message From The Dean



A few short weeks ago we closed the books on another season in the history of the College of Nursing. Hundreds of newly graduated Pirate nurses will soon take their NCLEX certification exams and we are confident that they will uphold the College’s tradition of extremely high first-time pass rates. Our graduates are well trained and have the first-hand clinical experiences that will count them among the best new entry to practice and advance practice nurses in the nation.

Changes continue within the faculty leadership at the College as well. Many of our stalwart leaders are retiring and we thank them for using their tenure to build the College of Nursing into the state’s top, and I’d argue best, producers of nurses. Their departures give an opportunity for emerging leaders to step up and help steer the College into the future. Our profession is constantly evolving to meet the healthcare needs of our region and state, and these leaders will bring new ideas to meet evolving challenges.

The new leadership includes:

  • Donna W Roberson (PhD, FNP-BC, CDP, CADDCT), Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affair

Nursing Science Department: 

  • Linda P. Bolin (PhD, RN, ANP, BCB, FAHA), Assistant Director, PhD Program

Advanced Nursing Practice and Education Department:

  • Shannon Powell (PhD, RN, CNE), Interim Director, Advanced Nursing Practice program
  • Jan Tillman (DNP, MSN, RN, FNP-BC), Assistant Department Chair, Doctor of Nursing Practice and will oversee DNP Core
  • Julie M. Linder (DNP, RN, ACCNS-AG, CCRN-K), Assistant Department Chair, Master’s of Science in Nursing and will oversee the MSN Core
  • Chelsea Passwater (DNP, APRN, AGCNS-BC, OCN), Clinical Nurse Science Concentration Director
  • Alison Swift (PhD, MSN, RN, CNE), Interim Nursing Education Concentration Director

Baccalaureate Education Department:

  • Misty Brown (MSN, RN), Assistant Department Chair
  • Gina Firnhaber, Director (PhD, RN), RN to BSN, ENCRIBN and aRIBN Options

I have the utmost confidence in these leaders’ professionalism, forward thinking and dedication to Pirate Nurse Nation. I also believe in their ability to prepare the next generation of nursing professionals to meet the needs of the underserved populations in North Carolina. Please join me in congratulating them on their advancement.

Through the summer, we will continue teaching, conducting important research, and refining how we will implement the evolving national standards of nursing education into our curriculum.

The future is bright here at the CON, and we look forward to you joining us on our journey.

Have a great summer,

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)

W. Leigh Atherton from the Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies in the College of Allied Health Sciences and Chandra Speight from the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice and Education in the College of Nursing were awarded a $380,000 grant from the University of North Carolina Collaboratory Opioid Abatement and Recovery Research Program.

The ECU study has two main goals. Atherton and Speight will investigate the differences between the encouragement offered by addiction professionals and peers already in recovery who work to connect with those in need of recovery support. Second, they will analyze the challenges and successes to implementing peer-delivered treatment strategies in community organizations.


Dr. Julie Linder

Drs. Julie Linder, Clinical Nurse Specialist Concentration Director, and Chelsea Passwater, Clinical Associate Professor, presented a podium presentation titled "integration of interprofessional education into an online APRN curriculum" at the UNC System Innovation and Technology symposium in Charlotte in April.

Dr. Alison Swift

Dr. Alison Swift, interim Nursing Education Concentration Director received funding from the Sponsored Activities and Research Catalyst (SPARC) Program as the Primary Investigator for a $10,000 research study titled “Chronic stress biomarkers, adverse childhood experiences, and psychological distress in predicting infertility and infertility treatment outcomes”.

The chronic stress biomarkers for the study will include hair cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) concentrations, and telomere length (repetitive DNA sequences at the end of the chromosome) to measure hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation. The purpose of the study will be to examine chronic stress biomarkers, adverse childhood experiences, and psychological distress to determine if these variables are associated with infertility and infertility treatment outcomes.

College of Nursing faculty at a conference in Orlando.

Pirate Nurse Nation was well represented at the 49th National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) Annual Conference at the end of April in Orlando. Drs. Janet Tillman, Alexis Hodge, Margaret "Megan" Dillon and a special congratulations to Dr. Chandra Speight on her presentation titled “Enhancing Opioid Use Disorder Education in Nurse Practitioner Curricula: A Population Health Approach To Reduce Stigma, Promote Equity, and Improve Treatment Access.” Great job, Dr. Speight.

In addition, Dean Bim Akintade was elected to the NONPF Board of Directors, to serve on the NONPF Finance, Capital Development and Marketing Committee and as liaison of the committee to the Board.

“I am truly humbled and honored to serve as an ambassador for East Carolina University College of Nursing and to contribute meaningful to our profession in this capacity,” Akintade said. “I look forward to our great work and many accomplishments.”

Dr. Nancy Dias on the cover of a professional journal

Did you see the June 2023 edition of the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing? On the cover is our very own Dr. Nancy Dias, highlighted for her continuing efforts in the research of palliative and bereavement care. Dias is an active member of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and is currently a member of their DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) committee and was instrumental in developing a Style Guide for inclusive language for HPNA.

Dr. Dias is a strong example of the tradition of research, scholarship and service that thrive here at the College of Nursing. “I am truly humbled and honored to serve as an ambassador for East Carolina University College of Nursing and to contribute meaningful to our profession in this capacity,” Akintade said. “I look forward to our great work and many accomplishments.”

Read more


An image welcoming Sheldon Jenkins to the College of Nursing.

Sheldon Jenkins (MBA, MHA, FACHE) will join us July 3rd as the Executive Director of Business and Administrative Affairs for the CON. Jenkins is a Financial Healthcare Administrator and operations-focused leader with experience working in multiple healthcare settings analyzing financial metrics and developing associated measurable and objectives goals. He has an excellent track record of establishing professional supportive relationships with senior leadership and external customers to provide highly reliable, efficient, and quality healthcare across the entire healthcare spectrum. He completed a baccalaureate degree with honors in Occupational Therapy from ECU College of Allied Health Science, a masters degree in Healthcare Administration with honors from Webster University School of Business and Technology and a master of science in Business Administration with honors from the Navy Postgraduate School Graduate School of Business and Public Policy.

Jenkins is married to Kristin Jenkins who is also a graduate of ECU. She graduated from ECU’s College of Education with emphasis in Elementary Education in 1996. They have three children: Holden, Mallory and Avery. After graduating from ECU, they lived in Greenville until he re-entered the Navy in 2000. During their 23 years in the Navy, Kristin and Sheldon have considered Greenville home. In his spare time, Sheldon enjoys cycling, golfing and of course spending as much time possible with his family.

Katy Locke will join the CON on June 29th as the Inaugural Director for Alumni Affairs. The CON has over 13,000 alumni members and has the potential to create an active community of Pirate Nurses. Additional responsibilities of this role includes updating and maintain a CON alumni database, implementing a CON Alumni Board, implementing a CON Advancement Board, facilitating activities of the CON Hall of Fame, bringing together Pirate Nurse Nation cohorts housed in different hospitals, and facilitating alumni engagements to promote social and professional networking.

Katy Locke currently serves as the Assistant Director for The Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement at East Carolina University (ECU) where she has several leadership and administrative responsibilities including designing, executing, and administering the curriculum and programmatic elements for ECU Leads, a co-curricular and curricular leadership program. Prior to this role, she served as the Director of Student Activities at Barton College where she had an array of responsibilities including all aspects of student activities operations including budget development, vendor contracts, marketing, logistics, accreditation, and development of student learning outcomes and assessment. Prior to her role at Barton College, she worked as a K-12 Educator in Wilson County Schools.
Please join us in giving Katy Locke a proper Pirate welcome – we are lucky to have her as part of our team.

Student Spotlight

Esther Olajide walked across the stage as a Pirate nurse earlier this month, having completed all the requirements of her bachelor’s in nursing science degree: research papers, end of semester exams, day after day of clinical rotations.

However, Olajide had an extra challenge that none of her peers shared before being able to turn her tassel — nearly a year in military uniform supporting counterterrorism missions on the east coast of Africa.

Olajide and her family moved from Nigeria to Charlotte when she was old enough to be completely culture shocked by the change in just about every part of her life.

Read More


Future Pirate nursing students tour Laupus Library.

On April 13th, freshmen students in the college’s Future Pirate Nurse Living & Learning Village participated in Laupus-Palooza, an event started last year in partnership with Laupus Library. The event teaches FPNLLV students about the academic resources available in the Laupus Library that can support their academic success. Students received an in-depth tour of the library and tried out the Virtual Reality Lab. They visited the historical collection and viewed books, artifacts, and archives relevant to the history of nursing in eastern North Carolina.

The event concluded with pizza and a Q&A session with former FPNLLV students who are now in nursing school. Special thanks to Michelle Bone and Carrie Forbes for a great event!

Senior CON students at an event in Nashville.

Senior Undergraduate Nursing Students presented three posters at the 2023 National Student Nurses Association Annual Meeting in Nashville. Student included Anna Beavans, Rachel Northcutt, Katie Harris, Emma Lewis, Emily Thomas, Carly Hebert, Rob Dawson, Lexi Anderson and Megan Bonilla. Students were accompanied by Dr. Thompson H. Forbes and Mrs. Candace Jenkins. A portion of travel was supported by the Truist Center for Leadership Development.

Students also spent an evening with Dr. Julie Oehlert, Chief Experience Officer at ECU Health, discussing the future of nursing and innovative ways to reshape the profession for the future.
Thanks to the NCNA for organizing the event and for the legislators who took time to meet with our students.

An image congratulating NNP graduates.

Congratulations to our May 2023 ECU Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program graduates.

From the program director Dr. Amy Jnah: “You embraced the rigor of learning to manage the care of critically ill neonates, excelled and achieved. You now enter the workforce as alumni of the #1 NNP program. Your knowledge, skill and work ethic will lead you to even bigger successes in the years to come. Cheers to the start of your new and exciting APRN careers.”
Congratulations, NNP grads!

Sarah Grace Aldridge

When you come from a family that bleeds Purple and Gold, it’s hard to shake the call to join Pirate Nation. For Sarah Grace Aldridge, continuing her family’s legacy at East Carolina University comes with an added honor — being named a Brinkley-Lane Scholar, the university’s highest undergraduate award for academic excellence and recognition of potential to serve the university and the broader communities of eastern North Carolina.

Aldridge will begin as a nursing-intended freshman in the Fall. We are excited to have her join the College in a few short years.

Read More

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

A list of DEI Observances during May

A Message from Dr. Michael L. Jones, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I would like to reintroduce myself some and introduce myself to others. My name is Michael L. Jones, and I am honored to serve as the inaugural Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion here in the East Carolina University College of Nursing. Please visit the East Carolina University College of Nursing Faculty and Staff Directory to learn more about me.

According to the National Association of Counties (2019), DEI consists of three key components, which are obviously, “diversity”, “equity”, and “inclusion”.

Additionally, inclusion refers to the creating and environment that affirms, celebrates, and appreciates, the experiences and perspectives of others. As such, I would be remiss if I did not mention observances during the month of May.

If you are directly impacted by one of the aforementioned observances, we celebrate you and the contributions you have made to not only to East Carolina College of Nursing, but also to society as a whole.
Michael L. Jones, PhD, MBA/HCM, RN Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


Dr. Wysocki with the NY governor during a law signing.

When new nursing students receive their Lamp of Learning pin when they arrive at out College, they pledge, in part, that they “will seek to influence public policy to promote social justice for all.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Annette Wysocki*, dean of the University of Buffalo School of Nursing and a Pirate Nurse (BSN ’78, MSN ’80), joined New York governor Kathy Hochul in Albany during a ceremony to sign into law a bill that would allow nursing students to use high-tech simulation to cover one third of their required clinical hours prior to graduation. The law recognizes the challenges that most nursing education institutions are facing – a dire need for nurses and too few clinical placement opportunities to keep pace with nursing education.

Dr. Wysocki may be leading nurse educators in the snowy north, but she still has the #Pirate spirit to advocate for the health care of her region by training and empowering her students.

* Wysocki is CON Hall of Fame member and a Distinguished Alumna. She has two endowments named for her parents – the Frances Overton Wysocki Memorial Scholarship and the Robert J. Wysocki Research Endowment.

To mark National Nurses Week we asked some of our alumni to recount stories of Pirate Nurses who have made significant impacts on their careers and lives. Here are some of their remembrances:


Bridget F. Rogers and her husband

Bridget F. Rogers (’77 BSN) had made a Faculty Support Endowed Gift a couple of years ago and has recently increased her endowment to $250,000 which will provide the College annually with $10,000 to use to support faculty needs. Faculty support needs include things like, but are not limited to, tuition for faculty development courses which further the faculty’s teaching or research abilities, teaching award for outstanding service, conference travel and registration fees to present their work, money for students to be teaching assistants (hoping to foster future professors), money for students to be research assistants (hoping to foster future nurse researchers) and so on.

Bridget’s most generous gift will be combined with other faculty support funds from Patricia Morris (’81 BA; ’85 BSN), Susan (’78 BSN) and Dr. Chris Blake, and Melissa (’95 BSN) & Martin Anderson. In this way, the College can provide support packages to faculty which greatly help to retain the excellent faculty we have and to recruit excellent future faculty. There is also an additional planned gift for this category from Dr. Deitra and Ed Lowdermilk.