A Strong Force

College of Engineering and Technology graduates celebrate milestones

More than 500 graduates of East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology heard their names, crossed a stage and celebrated like they had just destroyed the Death Star during Saturday’s Graduate Recognition Ceremony.

“This is really an auspicious day. In fact, it’s May the 4th,” Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the college said in reference to “Star Wars” day. “On behalf of all the college’s faculty and staff, May the 4th be with you. Now let’s celebrate and go Pirates!”

As the theme from “Star Wars” played, the graduates recessed from the coliseum to thunderous applause.

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For more than 90 photographs from the Graduate Recognition Ceremony, go to the Facebook photo album.

Many of the 2024 graduates entered ECU amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ploehn noted their perseverance and achievements — no Jedi mind tricks necessary — and looked toward bright futures.

“Whether it’s a new job, the next job or graduate school, you all have new horizons waiting for you as Pirates to go and capture,” Ploehn told them. “Based on your accomplishments so far, we have every reason to believe that you will triumph in your next Pirate adventure.”

Deep Dive into Construction

Construction management graduate Brady McKay poses for a photograph.

Brady McKay always had an interest in construction. He even has a mini workshop of his own at his home in Charlotte. Still, his time at ECU wasn’t all about the construction management program.

“I took two scuba diving courses here that were fun,” McKay said. “That was really a good experience that I didn’t think I’d run into while I was in college.”

With his construction management degree firmly in hand, McKay is staying at ECU to get his Master’s in Business Administration. He is looking into residential construction and has thoughts of owning his own business one day.

He describes his time at ECU as “pretty good,” despite taking online courses as a freshman because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to work with professors in the department,” said McKay, named one of the department’s outstanding seniors. “I’ve had some good relationships that I have formed with several of them through clubs or through doing research. I’ve enjoyed the classes and getting to be with my peers, working with them as well. I think it has hopefully set me up for a pretty good future.”

The future has significance for McKay more than most. As he approached his final exams as a junior in high school, he started experiencing severe headaches.

“I kind of figured that it was just stress with applying for colleges and studying for exams,” he said.

The day after his history exam, his vision blurred. The pain was unbearable. A trip to the emergency room revealed the cause — a cancerous brain tumor. He spent the summer in treatment, which included immunotherapy treatment at Duke.

“Knock on wood, I’ve been doing well ever since,” McKay said. “I guess you kind of have a new look on life. I don’t know how much it’s impacted my outlook, but I know I try to stay positive about things.”

Making Connections

Deja Drummond came to ECU from Frederick, Maryland. No one from her high school came with her, and family and friends were hours away in Virginia and Maryland.

That didn’t stop the engineering graduate from making connections to ECU and Greenville, connections that she said made her experience as a Pirate special.

Engineering graduate Deja Drummond stands with family and friends.

“Connecting with not just ECU, but with people in Greenville that are rooted here who I can call family now four years later,” she said, specifically noting her church community at GCF in Greenville.

Those connections included research projects that she began as a freshman. With a concentration in environmental engineering, she published a paper on how recycled concrete could help filter wastewater to keep excess nutrients out of waterways.

“That was one of my goals in doing research,” she said of getting the work published. “I didn’t want to just do something and have it, sort of just hanging in the air, research for research’s sake. I wanted it to be something that people could see and go back to.”

She also connected as a member and then president of the National Society of Black Engineers student organization.

“I was able to support and see people who looked like me in this department, and now that I’ve become the president, that’s been great to be able to do the same for other students,” Drummond said. “That’s been a big connection for me to the engineering department.”

With her degree in hand, Drummond has accepted a position as an environmental engineer with Nutrien, an international company with a phosphate operations plant in Aurora. She said her experience at ECU exceeded expectations.

“My experience has been great,” she said. “I really love how intimate the engineering program is here at ECU. I hear about other universities and how my friends in engineering don’t have the same experiences that I did. There’s less connection for them, so I really enjoy that being here at ECU. There’s just more student-to-student connection but also student-to-professor connection.”

And as she shared hugs with family, Drummond remarked on the biggest connection of all.

“They’ve been pushing me along this whole time,” she said of her family. “They’ve been great supporters of me.”

End of the Journey

Dakota Green first came to ECU in 2013. Initially interested in pharmaceuticals, he planned to major in biology and chemistry. But something didn’t feel right.

Graduate Dakota Green is recognized on stage during Saturday’s ceremony.

“I just realized it wasn’t for me, so I swapped through a bunch of majors, changing it and just kind of got burned out,” Green said. “I left ECU just because I felt like I was wasting my time and my money.”

He began working, fell in love and got married. During those years, he found his true calling.

“I found a passion in technology,” Green said. “And right after COVID, I said, ‘Hey, let me go back to school and finish my degree. I have so many credits.’ And so I came back and went into ICT (information and cybersecurity technology).”

He credits his wife, Sophia Green, for her support and inspiration.

“She’s one of the main reasons for coming back to ECU,” he said. “I wanted to excel not only in my career, not just for myself, but for my wife and my family.”

With his degree in hand, the Cedar Point resident is now off to work as a systems reliability manager at Nutanix, a cloud computing company in Durham.

“We learn a lot of foundational work here at ECU, taking that technical knowledge and applying that into the industry,” Green said. “These classes also try to help build those soft skills, like working as a team, presentations, talking to other people, interacting in a collaborative environment. A lot of these classes really help with those soft skills.”

He said he also enjoyed working as a lab monitor at ECU, using his knowledge and skills to help younger students in the program.

“I liked helping the freshmen and sophomores just starting to learn technology and networking, and helping them solve problems and working with them on growing in the department,” Green said.

Named as an outstanding senior in the Department of Technology Systems, Green said he leaves ECU with great memories of classmates and professors who supported him along the way.

“I knew interacting with my professors and my fellow students and creating a core friend group here would help me later,” he said. “That was what I really wanted to do was not only excel academically, but really get to know my professors. I’m going to keep connecting with them on LinkedIn.”

Pirate Family

Madison Rose grew up in the shadows of ECU. A native of Greenville, her dad is an ECU alumnus and works at the university. She counts uncles, aunts and cousins among those with ECU degrees.

“There are lots and lots of Pirates in the family,” Rose said. “I always kind of knew I was coming here.”

Master’s graduate Madison Rose is hooded during Saturday’s ceremony.

Already a graduate with a bachelor’s in computer science, Rose received her master’s in data science this spring as part of the accelerated master’s program. Students can begin their graduate work while still an undergraduate, reducing the amount of time it takes to complete a master’s degree.

“The accelerated program here is fantastic,” she said. “Being able to get the master’s degree just one more year after undergrad was an opportunity I didn’t think I could pass up.”

Rose decided on a thesis option for her master’s, defending her work just a few weeks before commencement. She won ECU’s 3-Minute Thesis competition, advancing to the national competition in South Carolina, and presented her work during an international conference in Rome.

“The thesis was definitely challenging, but I think it was challenging in a really good way,” she said. “It made me learn how to do research and take initiative, and I got to do some really cool stuff as part of my thesis. I published a paper, and I competed in 3-Minute Thesis. I got to go on trips because of that, giving me a lot of really cool opportunities. The connections, networking, working with professors and seeing that side of research was awesome.”

Her work focused on using machine learning to help predict breast cancer recurrence based on tissue scans. She admits results are mixed but promising enough that she believes a fellow ECU student will pick up the project now that she’s graduated.

Beyond the classroom, Rose worked several jobs on campus, from being a student assistant in the college’s dean’s suite to a position at Information Technology and Computing Services, helping students, faculty and staff use technology to make their jobs better.

She also enjoyed a football game or two — or three or more.

“I’m a huge football fan,” she said. “Getting to go to tailgates and football games with all my friends will always be something that I enjoy, and I hope to keep doing that even after graduation. I’ll just be in a different section of the stadium now. I’m going to miss the Boneyard.”

Plenty of family helped Rose celebrate on Saturday, but she did take a little time to think about all she has accomplished.

“It’s just such a good feeling to know how all my hard work has paid off,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of really cool opportunities at ECU.”

Graduates celebrate with faculty as they leave Saturday’s ceremony.