ECU students complete long journeys to commencement

Commencement is normally the culmination of a long four years.

For Drew Mewborn, Friday’s commencement at East Carolina University marked the end of a 48-year journey.

Mewborn, who turned 70 on Thursday, was among a record of more than 800 graduates from the College of Engineering and Technology. He was set to graduate in 1972, but a seasonal job that worked him 60 hours per week as well as obligations on the family farm prevented him from resubmitting a required report that resulted in an incomplete in his final class.

Drew Mewborn received his industrial technology degree on Friday, more than 50 years after he started his education at East Carolina University. (Submitted photo)

His seasonal job turned into a full-time opportunity and a 44-year career in industry that took him to countries throughout the world. He retired in 2016 but never forgot the purple and gold running through his veins.

He contacted Karen Rupp in the registrar’s office, and she worked with Jason Denius in advising and Dr. Tijjani Mohammed, chair of the Department of Technology Systems, so Mewborn could get his Bachelor of Science in industrial technology.

“Honestly, I cannot express my feelings in words, especially coming one day after my 70th birthday. This is the best birthday gift I could have ever received,” Mewborn said of receiving his degree. “I am so thankful to those who have made this possible. When Karen Rupp gave me the good news, tears came into my eyes and I was filled with such emotion I could not tell my wife. I will always remember that moment.”

The Goldsboro resident said he had always been a fan of ECU as a child, and with the university less than an hour from his home, attending the university made sense. He remains a fan, attending three football games last year. He is the married father of two daughters and two grandchildren.

Mewborn said though he did not have a degree, the courses he took at ECU such as technical writing, industrial safety and engineering graphics contributed to a successful factory management career that included work in such places as South Korea, China and the Philippines.

While many graduates may be seeking career advice, Mewborn is in the unique position to offer it, stressing the importance of communication, planning and safety.

“In any Industrial manufacturing or work related environment, safety is a key element,” he said. “If there is any possibility of an accident occurring, it will, maybe not this year or next but somewhere in the future.”

Seth Pierce is an industrial technology graduate. (Submitted photo)

Many of the more than 800 graduates of the college expressed disappointment that they could not walk across a stage on Friday, but still relished the accomplishment of obtaining an ECU degree.

“If you had asked me when I began my journey at ECU where I would be today, I can guarantee that having my parents take photos of me in preparation for virtual graduation would not have been my answer,” said Seth Pierce, a graduate in industrial technology. “Even still, donning my cap and gown represents years of hard work, late nights, making new connections, and growing into the person that I am today.”

Dylan Kerkhoff received his degree in information and computer technology.

“I have truly enjoyed my time at ECU,” he said. “I got the chance to work with great people on great projects where I learned things I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Gabriel Iyore, an information and computer technology graduate, said he appreciated the support of faculty.

“I am very excited to finally get the degree,” he said. “The degree means a lot to me because I am a first generation student, so this is the first degree in my family.”

For information and computer technology graduate Paul Cornelius, his educational journey will continue at ECU as he pursues a masters in network technology.

“My time here has granted many great opportunities and experiences that were unlike any other, and I am forever grateful for these,” he said.

Drew Thomas graduated ECU with a design degree. (Submitted photo)

Design graduate Drew Thomas believes ECU provides opportunities that will lead to success.

“During my time here at ECU, I have learned so much through different research projects and being involved within my department,” he said. “I found that one of the best parts about this university is that there were so many opportunities to grow as an individual and scholar while pursuing my degrees.”

Industrial distribution and logistics graduate Justin Soifer got a job as a supply chain analyst in January and worked full time while completing his degree.

“This program has provided me with essential skills and a strong network of peers and faculty that I will carry on with me throughout my professional career,” he said.

Design graduate Jason Hayden will pursue a masters in architectural design and plans to practice architecture in North Carolina.

“ECU has done an amazing job to prepare me for higher education and success in my career,” he said.

Julia Catlin, an outstanding senior in design, summed it up.

“I’ll always be a proud ECU alumni,” she said.