New leadership council engages students in the college

Dr. Harry Ploehn walked into a room full of students, but it wasn’t to teach or lecture. It was to listen.

Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, speaks to the college’s Student Leadership Council.

The dean of East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology welcomed around 20 students who make up the college’s first Student Leadership Council, the goal of which is to give students a voice in academic and other matters.

“We need to build programs and invest our time and energy to try to reach as many students as possible as early as possible and get them engaged in trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and trying to turn on those lightbulbs and help them be successful,” Ploehn said. “On our own, we can go and create these programs and try to do these great things, but unless we really hear the voices of the students, we may just be wasting our time. We need to hear from the students to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that’s going to be effective and reach as many students as possible.”

In the council’s first meeting, Ploehn asked the students how they became involved in student organizations and how they learned of internships, things he said often occur outside of the classroom. 

“Our mission is to maximize student success, and we believe that occurs through student engagement in all these other things you do besides what you do in all of your courses,” he said. “What I tell incoming students and freshmen, if you come to ECU and you take all your courses and you get a 4.0 GPA and graduate with the highest honors but you don’t do any of the other things beyond the classroom, you will have missed out on all that we have to offer.”

Ploehn emphasized that engaged students take advantage of Living Learning Communities, student organizations, internships, career fairs and research opportunities outside the classroom — all of which leads to successful opportunities after graduation. However, student voices are needed not only to make sure all are aware of such opportunities, but also to ensure that all the opportunities are working well.

“We want to invest our time and our energy and our lives as faculty in doing things that are going to get as many students as possible engaged across the entire college,” he said.

The council is comprised of students from the departments of computer science, construction management, engineering and technology systems. During the meeting, they broke into teams and discussed with Ploehn, faculty advisors Natalie Aman and Ricky Castles and academic advisor Dave Bucci a wide variety of topics that included engagement with professors, communications from the college and with professors, and student organizations.

Sidney Wantland and Jonathan Murray attend the Student Leadership Council meeting.

The students were asked for their opinions, but also were tasked with getting the thoughts of their friends and classmates about what the college does well and what it can do better.

Sidney Wantland, a bioprocess engineering major, said one of her professors recommended her for the council. As a senior, she hopes to pass on what she’s learned in four years at ECU to younger students through the council.

“The idea of being able to help people out and give what I have learned has always made me happy,” she said. “That’s why I’m also a tutor.”

Jonathan Murray is a junior mechanical engineering major but said he remembers listening to older students as a freshman, an experience he said gives him insights that he thinks will be helpful to the council.

“I think I’ve had a unique experience, just overhearing their opinions about things with the CET program but also not really knowing everything yet,” he said. “When I was taking freshmen courses with the freshmen, I heard from the upperclassmen about what they think about the college, but I also know how the underclassmen experience the college.”

Murray said one of the issues he sees is students who are undecided about their majors — or in the case of engineering — undecided on their particular concentration. He said those students can become lost.

“I think it’s important to connect with students who aren’t as confident about their career choice,” he said.

In the case of engineering, he said an event highlighting the concentrations could help students decide.

“Maybe implement some sort of showcase to show what each concentration really is,” Murray said. “I think most students will look up what type of engineering they would like to go into online, but having the professors who are actually in that field give a little talk about what that concentration really is and what their experience is with it could help.”

Murray said his experience with the college has been positive, specifically noting the work of professors who relate their real-world experiences to the subjects that are taught in the classroom.

“That’s been the best thing,” he said. “I’ve always liked teachers who are enthusiastic about the subject.”

For students interested in offering opinions about the college, email Bucci at

MD Hasibul Hasan Rahat speaks during the Student Leadership Council meeting.