ECSU awaits Tom Joyner spotlight


Vice Chancellor of University Advancement John Michael Lee Jr., welcomes the gathering during the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours held at the pharmacy building at Elizabeth City State University, Monday, January 22, 2017.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Elizabeth City State University students and staff joined local business leaders Monday evening to celebrate the publicity and fundraising support ECSU will get in February as the Tom Joyner School of the Month.

Chorn Poyner, a junior majoring in business administration and accounting who serves as vice president of finance for ECSU’s Student Government Association, said the Tom Joyner School of the Month designation not only would help raise money for financial assistance to students but also would bring national attention to ECSU through profiles of students on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Poyner himself will be one of four Hercules Scholars, young men receiving $1,500 scholarships through the Tom Joyner Foundation. The effort also is raising funds for scholarships for 20 additional students.

Poyner spoke during a Business After Hours event sponsored by the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce at ECSU’s pharmacy building.

John Michael Lee Jr., ECSU’s vice chancellor for university advancement, said during an interview before the program that nine lead donors already have contributed about $40,000 toward the scholarship effort. Those donors and the students who will be receiving the scholarships will be profiled on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Lee explained.

There will also be publicity through the radio show for the N.C. Promise tuition discount program, according to Lee.

”It really will align with all the things that the campus is doing now,” Lee said.

Chancellor Thomas Conway thanked Chamber members for attending the event and said business leaders need to be advocates for the university.

“The backing of the business community is essential to our success,” Conway said.

Conway, who has been at the helm of the university for two years, last week announced he will be retiring at the end of May. He reviewed some of ECSU’s highlights from the past couple of years. Leading the list was this past fall’s largest freshman class in five years and first enrollment increase in seven years. 

The chancellor mentioned that the university contributes more than 1,500 volunteer hours a semester in the community. He also pointed out that ECSU students designed banner and sign concepts for Viking Way, the pedestrian pathway being developed from the campus to the downtown district.

“We are engaged with the community,” Conway said.

Conway said ECSU now has its first degree offered entirely online, which is in interdisciplinary studies. A degree in emergency management also has been added.

The university’s National Alumni Association launched a $10 million student success initiative last year and already has raised $500,000, Conway said. Plans also have been made to restore the Rosenwald School on campus for use as a regional African-American Heritage Center, he said.

Echoing comments made previously in the program by Chamber President Mike Hindenach, Conway said the university has always been part of Elizabeth City and the region.

“It has been in your neighborhood since 1891,” Conway said of ECSU. “We are inseparable from the communities that surround us.”

Hindenach made the point in strong terms in his brief remarks.

“We are one community and we’ve really got to stop thinking of ourselves as separate,” Hindenach said. “It’s not ‘you and me,’ it’s not ‘us and them’ — it’s just ‘us.’”

Deborah Malenfant, executive director of Elizabeth City Downtown Inc., said in an interview before the program that there is now much more communication in all directions between the university, the city and downtown businesses.

“We’re building positive relationships,” Malenfant said.

She said she was surprised at Conway’s retirement announcement last week but understands the reasoning that he put forward for his retirement.

“He did great things while he was here and I believe his successor will continue that trend,” Malenfant said.

Doug Gardner, a local businessman who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of College of The Albemarle, said in an interview that Conway has provided good leadership to ECSU.

“I would have hoped he would have stayed on longer,” Gardner said. “He has done a lot for the university. I’m glad he’s staying in the community and I hope he won’t be a stranger to the Chamber of Commerce.”

Student Eyricka Johnson told the crowd that February will be a great time for the nation to hear about ECSU through the partnership with the Tom Joyner Foundation and the Tom Joyner Morning Show.