A $5 million federal grant will support East Carolina University researchers and students as they work to strengthen resilience in communities along the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary system of coastal North Carolina.

The grant is part of the National Science Foundation’s 2021 Coastlines and People Awards, or CoPe, totaling more than $29 million. ECU’s five-year project is titled “Supporting Environmental Justice in Connected Coastal Communities through a Regional Approach to Collaborative Community Science.”

ECU will serve as the central coordinating hub for more than 20 faculty members from seven universities who will work to create connections within the community, coordinate service opportunities and communicate with stakeholders. Partner universities are the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, N.C. Central University, Clemson University, the University of Virginia, Manhattan College and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“Our communities in eastern North Carolina face major challenges from water-related issues,” said Stephen Moysey, professor of geological sciences, director of the Water Resources Center at ECU and principal investigator on the study. “Increasingly extreme weather conditions are making problems like floods and droughts more common. Discharges occurring throughout our watershed lead to events like harmful algal blooms in our surface waters and long-term impacts on human and ecosystem health. Sea level rise is contributing to increased salinity in freshwater regions, transforming ecosystems and collapsing agricultural productivity.

“These problems are a shared responsibility and burden that impact both coastal and inland communities,” he said. The project will support those communities as they assess the sources of these hazards, their vulnerability to risk and approaches to collaborative decision making to adapt to a changing coastal environment.

ECU geoscientists, social scientists, biologists, engineers and others will work together on these complex problems. Co-principal investigators at ECU are Michael O’Driscoll, associate professor of coastal studies; Natasha Bell, assistant professor of engineering; Jacob Petersen-Perlman, assistant professor of geography, planning and environment; and Poonam Arora, chair of management and marketing at Manhattan College in New York.

“These projects are unique, community-built and embody the CoPe goals of broadening participation in science and fostering societally relevant coastal research,” said Amanda Adams, NSF CoPe program director. “The awards address coastal hazards from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico to the mid-Atlantic and engage communities from the densely populated Eastern Seaboard to tribal and rural coastal communities.”

Coastlines are vital to the U.S. economy, security and well-being, according to the NSF. Nearly 40% of the country’s population lives near a coast. Every year, that number increases. Coastal areas are under threat from extreme weather, sea level rise, coastal flooding, tsunamis, landslides, harmful algae blooms and other natural hazards that can damage housing, businesses, freshwater supplies, the electrical grid and transportation infrastructure, the NSF said.

“We are particularly focused on working with communities facing challenges associated with environmental justice problems caused by social, environmental and economic inequities,” Moysey said. “In addition, the project will partner with a variety of external partners to undertake an unprecedented effort to monitor water quality and flows in the Tar-Pamlico watershed. CoPe is about partnerships that create an opportunity for ECU students to get deeply engaged with the environmental issues faced by communities throughout eastern North Carolina as a generation of science-based advocates and community leaders.”

Those community leaders include representatives from the state, numerous eastern North Carolina cities and towns, as well as the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. Other partners include non-governmental organizations such as Sound Rivers and the N.C. Conservation Network.

More information about the project is at water.ecu.edu/cope. In the past three years, faculty members associated with the Water Resources Center at ECU have secured more than $14 million in research funding to address water-related issues in the region.

ECU, FSU advance partnership to benefit students, region

Leaders from ECU and Fayetteville State University met at the Main Campus Student Center Oct. 15 to take the next step in a partnership intended to promote graduate recruitment and education; undergraduate student engagement and collaboration; and research, public service and scholarship.

“This has been two years in the making,” said LaKesha Forbes, associate provost for equity and diversity at ECU. “There’s a lot that we have in common with Fayetteville State University — student success, community engagement, all those things — that align very well with the two institutions, and so I think that this is going to be a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship that we’re building here together.”

Forbes, along with Dr. Monica Leach, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at FSU, and Dr. Grant Hayes, interim provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at ECU, signed a memorandum of agreement to develop pipelines linking FSU’s undergraduate students to ECU’s professional and graduate programs.

FSU has an enrollment of about 6,700 students, almost half of whom are adult learners, said Leach, so online programs and workforce development could be particularly beneficial.

In addition to identifying connections and pathways between academic programs at the two institutions, intended outcomes of the partnership include:

Exploration of experiential learning opportunities and best practice programming for student success, retention and transition to graduate programs;

The development of early assurance agreements guaranteeing admission of FSU students into ECU’s professional and graduate programs; and

The development of plans to engage and inform FSU students about early assurance opportunities.

Deans and instructors from ECU and FSU had a roundtable discussion about academic programs and how the partnership could contribute to the shared missions of student success and regional transformation. Deans from ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health and Human Performance, and the graduate school gave overviews of their colleges, focusing on graduate degrees of possible interest to students in specific undergraduate programs at FSU.

Following the discussion and signing, the group toured ECU’s campus, had a working lunch and participated in a graduate student panel discussion.

“This is an awesome opportunity for us to expand different pathways for our students to have opportunities for graduate education, and I think what’s even more exciting about it is the history and the mission of our two institutions, both here at East Carolina and Fayetteville State University, being in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties,” Leach said.

“It’s exciting to be able to work with people just as committed to the importance of having our students remain in the state of North Carolina, and to give back and be workforce ready through the undergraduate and graduate programs that both of our institutions offer,” she said.

Contact jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.