East Carolina University

Written By Jonathan Martin

Greenville native Thomas J. Jarvis, governor of North Carolina after Zebulon Vance, sought to start a school in his home city in the early 1900s. With the approval of the North Carolina General Assembly, Jarvis was able to establish the East Carolina Teachers Training School in Greenville in the year 1907. The main reason for the school’s location was the fact that Pitt County residents offered a significant tract of land and $100,000 to the new school.

The East Carolina Teachers Training School opened on October 5, 1909, with president Robert H. Wright guiding the infant school. Serving from 1909 until 1934, President Wright secured the school’s first four-year study program in 1920, and a year later the school became the East Carolina Teacher’s College. By the start of the 1930s, the college incorporated a Masters of Arts program.

The next president of East Carolina Teacher’s College, Leo W. Jenkins, served as president from 1960 to 1978. He solidified the institution as “a doctorate-granting university of national stature” (Powell, p. 368). Student enrollment tripled its size, and Laura Leary became the first African-American student to graduate from the college in 1963. The Schools of Business, Music, Nursing, as well as the Schools of Allied Health and Social Professions came into existence in the late 1960s. One of Jenkins’s lasting contributions to East Carolina was the institution of the School of Medicine in 1974. In 2011, the School of Dental Medicine welcomed its first students.

In 1967, East Carolina Teacher’s College became known as East Carolina University (ECU), and in 1972 the university joined in the University of North Carolina System of Higher Education. Today, ECU is the third largest university in the UNC-Higher Education system.

Offering over 100 undergraduate degrees and 85 graduate programs, ECU had had about 27,000 students in 2023. According to Powell, the School of Medicine has become “a pioneer in robotic surgery and telemedicine.” In addition, ECU boasts over 123,000 alumni, and some famous graduates include actress Sandra Bullock, NFL player David Garrard, former BB&T (now Truist) chief executive officer Kelly King, and founder of the Golden Corral Restaurant chain James Maynard.