International Growth | Eastern North Carolina Now | Ceremony recognizes internationalization at ECU

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Jamie Smith.


East Carolina University students awarded the Rivers Foreign Exchange Scholarship stand with Provost Robin Coger and Dr. Jon Rezek at the 2022 International Awards Ceremony. (Photos by Rhett Butler)

    To help kick off International Education Week, East Carolina University recognized faculty, staff and students for their outstanding work in pursuing international opportunities during its International Awards Ceremony.

    "As you all know, the pandemic was a very difficult time for many of us in higher education. Perhaps no area in higher ed was harder hit than international education. This year, the rebound in international programs at ECU and around the country has been impressive," Dr. Robin Coger, ECU's vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost said during her opening remarks.

    At ECU, 402 students went abroad during the last academic year and faculty members led 20 programs abroad. This was the first group to travel since pandemic travel restrictions were lifted. ECU's robust virtual programs, including the Global Virtual Exchange, provided the opportunity for more than 500 students to engage with students at universities throughout the world.

    To help support student travel, ECU's Office of Global Affairs awards between $100,000 and $120,000 in scholarships each year. The recipients of the most prestigious global studies scholarship, the Rivers Foreign Exchange Scholarship, were recognized at the ceremony. Some of the recipients will use their scholarships to help fund a semester at the ECU Tuscany campus, which has been operating normally for more than a year.

    Many of the award recipients were recognized for their efforts in research and use of virtual opportunities to engage students with experiences outside their own cultures.

    Dr. Susanne Jones, an associate professor of German in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, received the Award for Achievement in International Teaching; Dr. Yu (Frank) Yang, professor in the Department of Chemistry, was presented the Award for Achievement in International Research and Creative Activity; and associate professor of communication Dr. Jin-Ae Kang, received the Award for International Service and Engagement.

    ECU staff member Jeff Evans, assistant director of financial aid, was presented the Staff Award for Achievement in International Service for assisting students wishing to travel abroad.

    This semester, the university saw growth in the number of international students enrolled. According to Coger, ECU has more full-time international students this semester than ever before.

    "We continue to build our reputation as an inclusive campus by supporting programming that creates a welcoming environment for our international students, supports them academically and prepares them professionally," Coger said.

    Two international students were recognized for their service to the community and academic achievement. Konstantinos Raptis Jr., a graduate student in maritime studies, and Gefryde Bikomba, an undergraduate student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, were recognized with the International Student Award.

    Bikomba, a senior majoring in public health, was described by her Global Studies instructor, Melanie Robbins, as someone who is a pleasure to work with and is dedicated to her studies.

    "From the beginning I was very impressed with Gefryde," Robbins said. "She demonstrates strong intercultural skills, working well with the American students in her class."

    Robbins mentioned that Bikomba is often willing to share her experiences as an international student with others to help better understand cultural differences. "As a result, students in the (global studies) class were able to learn more deeply through Gefryde's willingness to share her personal experiences and her perspectives on life in the U.S. as an international student."

    Raptis is a Fulbright Fellow from Greece who came to ECU's maritime studies program with a long list of experience. The son of educators, Raptis is studying the maritime history and nautical archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean. Dr. David Stewart, one of his professors, said Raptis had an impressive resume of archeological field work before arriving at ECU.

    "He's only been here for the fall semester but having him as a student in two classes right now, I can already see the conscientious nature that he has," he said.

    Jon Rezek, assistant vice chancellor for global affairs, recognized ECU's first cohort of Global Fellows during the event. Twenty-four undergraduate students were selected for the new program designed to help develop leaders in our increasingly global world and economy. In addition to a study abroad scholarship, the fellows participate in special activities that will prepare them academically and professionally to be global citizens. Fellows can reside in the Global Fellows Living Learning Community, where students live together in the same residence hall to help ease their transition to college and form relationships with peers.

    Also new to the ceremony this year was the recognition of departments and schools at ECU for having the highest percentage of students involved in studying abroad, participating in virtual exchange, and recruiting international students.

    The Thomas W. Rivers Foreign Exchange Scholarship recipients included Phu Aung, Bailey Ensman, Jacob Hartman, Jordan Kearney, Alexander Moore, Thalia Ousley, Jessica Pracht, Krystian Rogers, Isabella Sardina, Katherine Wagner and Shiloh Waite.

    Another cycle of study abroad scholarships is available within ECUAWard and will close on Jan. 15.
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