Conway: ECSU at 'next stages of greatness'

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Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Thomas Conway (left) presents Ronald Blackmon the Chancellor's Legacy Award during ECSU's annual Founders Day Scholarship Gala at the K.E. White Graduate Center, Saturday. See more photos from the event online at DailyAdvance.com.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Thomas Conway said Saturday that ECSU is “at the beginning of the next stages of greatness.”

Conway, who is retiring in May, was speaking at Saturday night’s sold-out Founders Day Scholarship Gala at the K.E. White Graduate Center.

Conway said he wanted to be clear that nothing was coming to an end at ECSU, and accomplishments made during his tenure were achieved the university as a whole.

“What you’ve done,” Conway said, and then repeated for emphasis. “What you’ve done. What you’ve done over the last two years is absolutely amazing.”

Notably, ECSU posted its first enrollment increase in seven years in the fall of 2017. That was after watching enrollment plummet the previous fall. Even stronger enrollment gains are projected for fall 2018, as the NC Promise tuition discount takes effect.

The annual scholarship gala had a goal of $200,000 for scholarships and actually raised more than $210,000, according to John Michael Lee Jr., vice chancellor for university advancement.

Some additional funds came in during the event Saturday evening, as donations were presented in honor of Chancellor’s Legacy Award recipient Susie Sharpless Hodges. A son, nephew, three nieces and a fellow church member of Hodges all presented checks in her honor in a surprise turn at the gala.

Hodges, who was one of five sisters who all graduated from ECSU, told the audience that her great-great-nephew will be enrolling at ECSU this fall.

“The Sharpless legacy will continue,” Hodges said.

Conway thanked ECSU and surrounding community for their support.

“You have blessed me immensely,” he told the audience. “I want to say the two words that I think are the most important of all: Thank you.”

Chancellor’s Legacy Award recipient Helen Muldrow, a centenarian, delighted the crowd with her recollections from decades of service to the university. She recalled, for instance, the moment in the early 1950s when the faculty voted to teach trades, such as cosmetology, bricklaying, electrical and plumbing.

It was shortly after that when the state began opening technical institutes and community colleges that have taken over that kind of career and technical training in North Carolina, she noted.

Muldrow pointed out that she had taught Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker, another Chancellor’s Legacy Award recipient this year.

“So, I’m responsible for the mayor,” she said to laughter and applause.

The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Muldrow, who recently turned 100, and then local musician Wayne James honored her with a rendition of, “Ain’t She Sweet.”

Other Chancellor’s Legacy Award recipients this year were businessman John Shelton Best, professor and administrator Ronald H. Blackmon, educator and scholarship donor Mary Albritton Douglas, Lt. Col. Tyron Wallace Eason, former ECSU Trustee Andy Hartsfield, and former Trustees Chairman Paul Andrew Norman.

Alumni at the event expressed excitement about the uptick in enrollment and the projected enrollment increase under NC Promise.

Glovette Shannon, an Elizabeth City native and 2005 ECSU graduate who works with the Veterans Administration in Jacksonville, said in an interview at the event that she has an overall positive outlook about NC Promise but wants to be sure the tuition discount won’t cause the university to be under-funded. She said the program, which will offer in-state students a tuition rate of only $500 a semster, will make college affordable for a lot of students who otherwise would not be able to attend.

The resulting enrollment increase should help the city grow, she added.

Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, said in an interview at the event that the state is committed to funding NC Promise at a level that will enable the universities involved — ECSU and also Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke — to cover their expenses.

“There remains a very strong commitment to NC Promise,” Smith said, adding she would like to see the program expand to include other schools such as Winston-Salem State University and Fayetteville State University.