College highlights student, faculty research during event

The East Carolina University College of Engineering and Technology recognized student and faculty research during its 2020 Research Day Monday in the ballroom of the Main Campus Student Center.

Students presented more than 60 research posters, and faculty provided updates on projects ranging from safety in road construction work zones to premature births.

Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the college, called it “a day to celebrate research and scholarship” that leads to student success.

ECU Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson gives the opening remarks during CET Research Day. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Dr. Ron Mitchelson, interim chancellor at ECU, opened the event with a greeting for students and faculty.

“We’re all about the success of our students and the success of our region, and we get particularly excited when we intersect those two things because we see the kind of energy that stems from that effort,” Mitchelson said. “And this college, the College of Engineering and Technology, is right out there at the forefront, making sure that those two things are at work in an integrated fashion to benefit our students and our region.”

Mitchelson cited the success of students like Alex Hardt, who recently won a national cybersecurity competition, and faculty like Bill McClung, who spearheads efforts to teach youth about robotics and recently helped guide an ECU student team to victory in a national robotics competition.

“This college is not done and this university is not done, and we have a very bright future in the domain of student success and regional success,” Mitchelson said, pointing to the creation of the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building and the Isley Innovation Hub. “I’m excited, and I’m excited by the leadership of this college as we move this part of our lives forward — the success of our students intersecting with the success of the region. Keep it up.”

Guest speaker Dr. Wendy Nilsen, program director for the National Science Foundation Smart and Connected Health program, took notice of what Mitchelson said.

“I’ve seen nothing but excitement since I’ve been here,” she said.

Patricia Butler talks about her research during CET Research Day. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Nilsen said students and faculty conducting research at ECU are at the forefront of making a smarter health care system.

“We need efforts like what you’re doing here to bring new thoughts and new ideas into the system,” Nilsen said. “… What you’re doing is a small version of what the world needs to think about in connecting the pieces.”

She noted the amount of health data that is available thanks to technology, but said data won’t necessarily fix behaviors that can lead to poor health. She stressed a user-centered approach in which health care is made easier and a multidisciplinary approach that can produce impactful results.

She said cheaper and easier fixes aren’t clear, which is why the research taking place at the college is crucial.

“It’s easier to let people die. That’s cheaper, but not one of us in this room would endorse that, and no one wants a system like that,” Nilsen said. “That’s why it’s so important to get health care right.”

Student William McKeel presented a research poster on the impact of hurricane-force winds on homes in preparation for the HurriCon conference later this week at ECU.

“The hope is for someone to come in and use my research and validate it through experiments, or civil engineering can use it to predict when the roofs of houses will blow off,” McKeel said, adding that improved connections between roofing elements are needed.

Jeremiah James, a biomedical engineering student, talks about his research concerning the delivery of medicine through hydrogels during Research Day. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Student Jeremiah James is looking at the delivery of medicine through hydrogels and said research day provided him some good feedback.

“They’re saying they can see the relevance of my research and how this can be taken much further and they can see the future applications of this research,” James said. “That just gives me more motivation to keep on learning and keep on making progress with my research.”

Ploehn closed the event with special recognition of 16 faculty members — as nominated by department chairs — for collaborative research involving undergraduate and graduate students.

“It’s amazing to see all the posters in that room,” he said. “It’s a credit to all the faculty and the involvement of all the students. We appreciate all of the hard work.”