Pathways program helps create smooth transitions for students

A “D” in calculus at a community college nearly derailed Ryan Joyner’s bid to become an engineering student at East Carolina University.

“It really helped me out because it was the kick in the butt I needed,” Joyner said during the North Carolina Engineering Pathways fall meeting at ECU.

Dr. Ricky Castles, right, associate professor in ECU’s Department of Engineering, speaks with ECU engineering transfer student Garret Freeman.

With renewed commitment, Joyner took calculus again, made an A, got accepted into ECU’s engineering program and even completed an internship with NASA this past summer.

“Pretty much where I’m at right now and the respect I have for myself, I wouldn’t have half of it if it weren’t for this program,” Joyner said of ECU.

Engineering pathways is a joint project of the N.C. Community College System and engineering programs in the University of North Carolina System. The goal is to build and develop opportunities for students to begin engineering studies at a community college and then transfer seamlessly into one of the system’s engineering programs.

At ECU for example, 27 of 138 new engineering students this semester are considered transfers. Of the remaining 111, many attended an early college high school or took classes through a community college before enrolling at ECU.

“We have a lot of our students who have been touched by the community college system in one way or another,” said Dr. Ricky Castles, associated professor in the ECU Department of Engineering and host of the meeting.

Castles and other presenters offered an overview of ECU’s Department of Engineering and the College of Engineering and Technology. Attendees toured labs and facilities within the college and listened as transfer students detailed their move to ECU from their respective community colleges during a panel discussion.

“I looked into ECU, and it was similar to Wayne Community College where the class sizes for engineering are particularly smaller than others, and that’s why I liked it because of the one-on-one, more personal connections and the community here,” Alex Ferro told them.

He said support from his family as well as the faculty at ECU will help him graduate in December and set him on a course to work in sustainability.

“I want to go out there and make something with what’s out there right now, so like solar panels, wind energy,” he said. “All of these things, I want to be a part of. I want to help expand it because it will be better for everyone.”

From right, ECU engineering students Alex Ferro, Hugo Sanchez-Delgado, Garret Freeman and Ryan Joyner talk about their experiences as transfer students.

Hugo Sanchez-Delgado came to ECU from Lenoir Community College in Kinston. He said the staff there as well as at ECU made for a smooth transition to the university.

“That did kind of put my mind at ease that I was going down the right path,” he said.

Garret Freeman attended Pitt Community College before transferring to ECU. He said some financial aid issues caused some initial headaches before he could start his journey.

“It wasn’t necessarily the smoothest transition, but once we got all the kinks worked out, there wasn’t a moment where Dr. Castles and Dr. (Chris) Venters didn’t have my back,” he said of ECU’s engineering faculty members.

Freeman came to ECU as part of the PIRATES engineering scholars program, which provides financial and other support for engineering students coming to ECU. The program hosts events for ECU students and those from partnering community colleges.

“It’s a great time to network and to converse with other engineering students,” Freeman said. “The first one, I was able to meet Dr. Venters and Dr. Castles, and just from having a conversation with them, I knew for myself that this was where I wanted to end up and this is where I belonged.”

He said ECU has provided co-op and research opportunities, but he’s also gotten to volunteer and join student organizations as part of the program. 

“It’s a lot of the small things that I think people take for granted,” he said. “The co-ops are nice, the research opportunities are great, and they all help push you forward in your career, but it’s some of these small skills that you pick up along the way that to me I feel are a lot more beneficial.”

He said ECU’s Department of Engineering has created an atmosphere that’s hard to beat.

“The community here for engineering is such a tight knit but great community,” Freeman said. “It’s that family community. Here, we kind of all look after each other.”

Attendees share a laugh during a break at the North Carolina Engineering Pathways fall meeting.