ECU teaching instructor to get Ph.D., share commencement walk with students

When East Carolina University graduates in the industrial distribution and logistics program walk into Minges Coliseum on Friday for commencement, they’ll be standing next to a familiar face. No, it’s not one of their friends. It’s one of their professors.

Teaching instructor Natalie Aman is receiving her doctoral degree during graduation ceremonies on Friday and will be walking right next to some of the students she has taught.

“That’s pretty cool, right?” Aman said. “I saw one of my students on the graduation list, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to graduate together,’ and he thought it was really great that we’re going to walk together.”

The College of Engineering and Technology Graduate Recognition Ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday in Minges Coliseum. It is available via livestream here.

Aman is receiving her Ph.D. in technology management with a concentration in quality systems through a partnership between ECU and Indiana State University. As a first-generation college graduate, Aman said her drive to obtain a doctorate degree came from her family.

“I wanted to show my children that learning is a lifetime thing. You should never stop learning. You should always try to continually improve yourself and expand your knowledge,” she said. “My dad is from Lebanon, and he was not able to complete the eighth grade because he had to start working to help support his family, and so for my father to see me graduate with a Ph.D. is something — I don’t even know how he would describe the feeling that he gets to be able to see his daughter realize this dream and accomplish this amazing goal that he was never given the opportunity to do.”

Beyond that, she sees her doctorate and the associated research and dissertation helping the students she teaches.

Teaching instructor Natalie Aman demonstrates equipment inside the Student Service Learning Lab that is at the heart of ECU’s industrial distribution and logistics program in the Science and Technology Building.

“I was able to expand my own knowledge and take things that I learned and relate them back to the things that I was teaching in class,” said Aman, whose dissertation on creating cultures of excellence in higher education is being considered for publication. “It’s helped a lot in expanding my lesson plans and expanding the things that we talk about in class, and I’m hopeful that through research and grants and all of these great things that come with this honor of getting your Ph.D. that I’ll be able to expand my own knowledge, help the industry and also help students to expand their knowledge with the things that I’ve learned.”

Aman graduated with an undergraduate degree in marketing and a Master of Business Administration from ECU. She was working as a graduate assistant when she interviewed for a position with Coyote Logistics, admitting she knew little about distribution and logistics at the time.

“I was able to work with their team for the day in Raleigh and kind of fell in love with it,” she said. “I just found this love and passion for how things move from one place to another. How do we get these things? How do we help the system and how do we improve it?”

She started teaching part time at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh and then full time. She was there seven years before she accepted a position with the College of Engineering and Technology at ECU, where she’s been teaching for five years.

“As much as I love industry and love distribution and logistics, I felt like I wanted to do more to help people, and I wanted to take it to the next level,” said Aman, who is a member of the Epsilon Pi Tau technology honor society. “I didn’t want to just work in it. I wanted to be on the other side of it where I was able to research different things and try out different things and expand my knowledge and contribute back to the industry through the upcoming workforce. I wanted to take it to the next level to teach and help people. I didn’t realize at the time when I started teaching how much I was going to love it.

“To watch students and help them along their journey and send them to the next chapter in their lives is something I don’t take for granted. To be able to be on this journey with them, watch them grow and help them realize their dreams is an absolute privilege for me. And it’s very fulfilling, and it’s just the best feeling in the whole world.”

She cherishes the bonds and relationships she has with her students, calling commencement the culmination of her work as a teacher and a proud moment. She can’t imagine what she’ll be feeling on Friday when she walks into Minges Coliseum for commencement with her students.

“I get emotional when I watch my students graduate, so I don’t know what it’s going to feel like,” she said. “Normally at graduation, I get emotional because it’s such an accomplishment, and it’s such a big deal, and it’s so overwhelming sometimes, that experience of graduating, so I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I hope I don’t get up there and cry or trip. But I get emotional watching them, so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when I walk.”

As for juggling the obligations of work, family and her own education, Aman jokingly credits caffeine and her calendar. But most importantly, she thanks her family, coworkers and Dr. Tijjani (TJ) Mohammed, chair of the Department of Technology Systems, for supporting her.

She knows the way to show her appreciation for that support is to use her Ph.D. to help others.

“Everything that I do, I want to use it to give back,” Aman said. “To be able to use this Ph.D. to give back to others, to give back to the students, to take this knowledge that I’m learning to give back to companies, to give back to ECU, to give back to my coworkers — I want to use this gift to help other people.”