Summit Success

Computer science, business students put on ECU's first Technology Summit

Rather than driving 90 miles to Raleigh for a technology and business conference, students at East Carolina University decided to create their own.

The Technology Summit in March featured 18 speakers from 16 companies such as Google, J.P. Morgan, SAS, Lenovo and Nvidia. About 250 students from the College of Engineering and Technology and the College of Business attended the one-day event.

Students listen and take notes during a session at the Technology Summit.

Savanna Pulver, a senior management information systems student from Fayetteville, came up with the idea for the summit last summer. As president of the College of Business Student Leadership Board, she recruited her vice president, Cole Miller, for help. They reached out to Matthew Lewis, chair of the Association of Computing Machinery, and vice chair Kevin Cruz-Torres in the Department of Computer Science. Together, the four of them worked eight months to solicit and confirm speakers, recruit volunteers, develop topics, plan an agenda, set a date and secure locations for the event.

“It was a lot of work,” Pulver said. “… All of us are fulltime students with our own respective student organizations, so there were definitely moments where we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.”

At the heart of all the work was the development of a conference for students, by students, a conference that would be on ECU’s campus and benefit business and technology majors.

“We wanted to provide students with the opportunity to delve into the ever-evolving landscapes of technology and business,” Cruz-Torres said. “We were committed to provide a platform where students could engage with and learn from distinguished industry leaders and foster a community of innovation and leadership.”

Packed sessions addressed technology trends, business strategies, leadership development, and what jobs look like today and will look like tomorrow. Pulver said the topics came from the speakers as well as student interests, with particular focus on early careers, leadership and cybersecurity.

“These were three popular topics with students and so we knew we had to have them,” Pulver said.

Pulver said response to the event has been positive.

“I think the event went amazingly, for what it was and for all the hurdles we had to go through,” she said. “We have gotten amazing feedback throughout the hallways on the day of and even weeks after. One thing I heard a lot was ‘this is what I have been looking for,’ which really meant a lot to me.”

Gabrielle Stein, a computer science graduate student from Raleigh, made a point of attending the conference’s keynote address by Robert Daigle, the director and global artificial intelligence business leader at Lenovo.

“I think it’s a great networking opportunity, and it’s also fun to hear things from an industry perspective,” Stein said of the conference. “In our sphere, we’re used to hearing things from an academic perspective like research and learning aspects rather than what the industry is looking for.”

Angelena Brack, executive director at J.P. Morgan, speaks to students during a panel discussion at the Technology Summit.

Daigle, an ECU alumnus whose mother, sister and brother are also Pirate graduates, said he was glad to accept the invitation to speak at the conference.

“Any chance I get to support ECU I’m happy to,” he said. “It was really exciting for me to participate and almost like a homecoming for me too to come back.”

Angelena Brack, an ECU alumna who is an executive director with J.P. Morgan, participated in the leadership discussion panel in which students were advised to be confident but humble, develop good mentorship and remember the importance of personal growth.

“I like to be an asset to these students, and I like to tell them how it is,” Brack said. “I want to be able to share that with them so they can learn from having a peek into what is post college.”

Though many of the student organizers are set to graduate, they’ve set the stage for the technology summit to become an annual event.

“I think the next generation of the Tech Summit team should run with everything we have done here and continue to raise the bar for the university,” Pulver said.

Cruz-Torres said he enjoyed working with Pulver, Miller and Lewis to turn the idea of the summit into reality.

“Our teamwork and dedication turned it into a monumental success, surpassing all our expectations and setting a new standard for future Tech Summits,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”