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Virtual training helps student-athletes communicate

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ECU tennis player Diogo Marques engages in a virtual exercise aimed at improving communication skills with a job recruiter.


By ECU News Services

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Today’s student-athletes are more technologically connected than ever before, yet research shows many struggle to initiate difficult conversations.

East Carolina University faculty members are joining with American Athletic Conference colleagues to help students improve communication skills through Mursion, a virtual training tool at ECU.

“It’s (communication) almost a taken-for-granted skill. If they (student-athletes) have an issue, will they bring it to someone and communicate it?” said Stacy Warner, associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance and co-primary investigator for a research project titled “Tackling Difficult Conversations: Improving the AAC Experience with Critical Dialog.”

Co-primary investigator Todd Fraley, Christine Wilson, director of the Mursion lab in the College of Education, and Mike Catalano in the School of Communication are on the research team with Gareth Jones from Temple University.

Warner and Fraley, associate dean and director of the EC Scholars program, are recruiting 100 ECU student-athletes from all sports for the study.

“The athletic department has been very supportive,” said Warner, who has worked with Danielle Morrin, director of life skills and community services liaison in ECU Athletics, and Cal Christian, faculty athletics representative, to help relay the opportunity to student-athletes.

Recently, ECU tennis player Diogo Marques participated in several simulated scenarios in the Mursion lab.

In one, he talked about life after sports. An avatar playing the role of job recruiter asked Marques if he had attended any career fairs and what his interests were away from the court.

In another exercise, Marques met with his avatar tennis coach who was eager for him to return after a recent injury.

While Marques had been medically cleared to play, he was not ready because he still felt pain with some movements. While the coach appeared understanding at first, he eventually mentioned possibly having to cut him from the roster. Following more discussion, Marques agreed to attend three light practices before they talked again about his condition.

Marques, a freshman from Portugal, heard about the study from teammate Austin Allen, an ECU Student Athlete Committee representative.

Allen said his Mursion training, which included talking with a professor who was irritated by his team travel schedule, was a valuable experience.

“I haven’t encountered a faculty member who was that aggressive before, but I think preparing for the worst is good,” said Allen, an Honors College senior from Asheboro. “The technology is so lifelike. It feels like you’re talking to a real person.”

Funded by a $10,000 AAC research grant, student-athletes will practice their communication skills by choosing three out of five hypothetical scenarios from academic or financial issues to playing time. Students will spend five to 10 minutes discussing the issue with an avatar who will play the role of a professor, job recruiter, coach or administrator. A brief survey will be given before and after the experience.

Researchers want to see if Mursion@ECU will improve a student-athlete’s willingness to communicate, self-efficacy, and increase confidence related to their interpersonal communication skills.

Results from the study will be presented at the third annual American Research Symposium this spring. A final summary with best practices for athletic departments will be distributed to AAC member institutions and posted to the conference website in late August 2019.

Hybrid master of social work degree program

Beginning in May, ECU’s School of Social Work will offer a part-time hybrid program for people interested in earning a master of social work degree.

The three-year program will include online, hybrid, and some face-to-face classes that will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays on the ECU campus. The program starts on May 13.

Prospective ECU students must apply for admission by Jan. 8 to be considered for the program. More information is at http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/gradschool/Admissions-Information.cfm .

Requirements for admission into the MSW program include: a bachelor’s degree from an accredited undergraduate institution; a satisfactory GPA; a satisfactory score on either the MAT or the GRE unless a test waiver is granted; and a broad-based liberal arts foundation with a minimum of six courses in basic social and behavioral science. An advanced standing pathway for BSW graduates and a regular pathway for other undergraduate majors will be offered.

A part-time Rocky Mount class will begin in May 2020, while a part-time New Bern class will begin in May 2021. Each will be hybrid, take three years to complete, and will include some Saturday classes.

For more information on the MSW program and admission procedures, contact the ECU School of Social Work at 328-5650, visit the website at https://hhp.ecu.edu/socw/msw/ or email msw@ecu.edu .

Harriot College hires director of Water Resources Center

ECU’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by rural communities in receiving fresh water is one issue the director of the Water Resources Center plans to address. Stephen Moysey has been hired as a professor of geological sciences and director and lead scientist for the center.

The center, which is housed in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, is a cross-college initiative that includes scientists and faculty from Harriot College, the College of Engineering and Technology, and the College of Health and Human Performance. Members of the center include Randall Etheridge, assistant professor of engineering; Charles Humphrey, associate professor of health education and promotion; associate professors of geological sciences Alex Manda and Siddhartha Mitra; and Michael O’Driscoll, associate professor of coastal studies.

“Eastern North Carolina faces a wide range of water-related challenges and opportunities for a sustainable and resilient future,” Moysey said. “The activities of the center will pursue fundamental science that has real-world consequences. By empowering rural stakeholders through inclusive research and education initiatives, we will strive to improve the role of science-based decision making across these communities.”

Moysey comes to ECU from Clemson University, where he most recently served as an associate professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences; associate professor of engineering and science education; and co-director of the Clemson Center for Geospactial Technologies, the Center of Excellence for Next Generation Computing and Creativity, and the graduate program in Resilient Infrastructure and Environmental Systems.

Moysey’s short-term goals include identifying strengths and interests among the ECU faculty, centers, and university research clusters and to align these with funded research opportunities within the ECU Water Resources Center.

To support this effort, he will lead recruitment efforts for three new faculty hires who will play key roles in building focus areas for the center – one each in chemistry, engineering, and geography, planning and environment.

In addition to his role as director of the center, Moysey will teach a hydrogeology and environment course (GEOL3500) beginning this spring. He also intends to increase opportunities for student engagement though research, outreach and study abroad opportunities.

For more information about the center, visit https://ecuwater.org .