Laura O’Neal ’97 Leads School Steel Drum Band (VIDEO)


By Jackie Drake

The metallic and melodic sounds of the steel drum are synonymous with the Caribbean, but you don’t have to cross an ocean to hear them; they’re being played right here in Pitt County.

Laura O’Neal ’97 has led a steel drum ensemble at Pactolus School since she began teaching there in 1998. The ensemble is open to all students in Pitt County Schools, with members ranging from elementary to high school. Around 30 students, divided into two groups, practice once a week after school. The group travels to local competitions like the PANorama Caribbean Music Festival in Virginia each spring, where they have won championships and gold and silver medals.

“They get a lot out of this. They make friends, learn how to be part of a group, and shoot for a goal,” O’Neal said. “They also learn the history of a culture and about the birth of the steel drum and the traditions that follow. Music also helps with math and English skills. Basically, music stimulates learning.”

O’Neal discovered the steel drum while pursuing a music education degree at ECU. While interviewing for the job at Pactolus, she was surprised and excited to find that the previous music teacher happened to have gotten a couple steel drums through a grant.

“I told them, ‘I know just what to do with those.’ I think that’s why I got the job.”

Over time, O’Neal was able to expand the instrumental selection through donations and grants. There are now about 25 drums available. Students take turns on the various types of drum to better understand the music.

Seventh-grader Jennifer Ramon has been a member of the band since she was in third grade. She plays bass and sometimes lead drum. “I’ve heard other steel drum groups and I like the sound, so I thought it would be cool to play,” she said. “My favorite part is playing the different kinds of drums. It’s a little hard, but one you get used to it, it starts to get easy. I like learning new music, and I have fun with the other students.”


“I wish someone had told me about the steel drum when I was this age,” O’Neal said. “I never even knew about it until college.”

Originally from Farmville, O’Neal came to ECU to study music, and while there decided to teach.

“ECU provided me with many skills, such as developing children’s music skills in kindergarten through 12th grade. ECU also provided me with the knowledge to play and teach all the concert band instruments including the steel drum.”

O’Neal is proud to share her knowledge gained at ECU with Pitt County students.

“Music helps you learn,” she said. “It opens up your mind.”

Alumna named Special Needs Art Educator of the Year

By Jackie Drake

Alice Zincone ’89, ’98 was named the 2014-2015 Special Needs Art Educator of the Year this past fall by the North Carolina Art Education Association.

“As anyone would be, I was very happy, pleased, and proud,” said Zincone, who teaches art and music to visually impaired students at Governor Morehead School in Raleigh.


In addition to her teaching duties, Zincone brings various artists and performers to her school through the Artists in Schools program from the United Arts Council. Each summer, she runs a three-week summer program for visually impaired students from all over the state.

“I try to give students unique art and music opportunities,” she says. “It’s very rewarding to give these students opportunities that they probably wouldn’t have in their home communities.”

“My favorite part is interacting with the kids,” she continued. “We’re a residential school where the students stay from Sunday night to Friday noon, so we’re like a big family.”

Since her mom worked as a physical therapist for those with special needs, Zincone was able to see the importance of learning adaptations and modifications for people of all ability levels.

Zincone initially earned a bachelor of fine arts in design from ECU in 1989. After working as a jewelry designer for seven years, she wanted to switch gears and try something new. She decided to get an education degree. As a Greenville native, she knew ECU would again be the right choice.

“I had the art background and wanted to teach. I thought it would be a good next step. I’ve always enjoyed learning and gaining new experiences,” she said.

Since she had completed all her general course requirements, it didn’t take her long to complete her second degree.

“Campus was still fairly similar. I just slid right back in,” she said.

She taught elementary school in Johnston County for three years and in Wake County for five years before starting at Governor Morehead School in 2006.

She became a certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired in 2009 and earned National Board Certification in early and middle grades art in 2010.

Pirate Socials in Florida

Attention, Florida Pirates! You’re invited to two upcoming socials hosted by the East Carolina Alumni Association. Open to all alumni and fans of East Carolina, these fun, casual socials will take place in Tampa on Sunday, February 15 and in Orlando on Monday, February 16.

The Tampa social will be held from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Chart House, located at 7616 Courtney Campbell Trail.

The Orlando social will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Kasa Restaurant, located at 183 S. Orange Avenue.

For both events, the cost is $15 for alumni association members and $25 for non-members, which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Those who wish to join the alumni association to get the member discount for these and future events (like tailgates and networking events) may do so as part of registration.

Advance registration is required for both events by Wednesday, February 11. As with all our events, these socials are contingent upon adequate registration numbers. Events that do not have enough people signed up are subject to cancellation (in which case refunds would be issued). However, it is also possible that some events may reach maximum capacity before the registration deadline due to demand. In either case, early registration is strongly encouraged!

Don’t forget to wear your purple and gold!

Networking Events in New Bern and Wilmington

The East Carolina Alumni Association is coming to New Bern and Wilmington for networking events in January. Tap into the power of the ECU alumni network and meet fellow Pirates in your area!

The New Bern, NC networking reception will be held Tuesday, January 27, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Lawson’s Landing Café. The café is located inside the NC History Center at 529 S. Front St. The cost is $17 for alumni association members and $28 for non-members, which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Register by January 23. Featured alumni will be:

  • Sabrina Bengel, emeritus member and past chair of the East Carolina Alumni Association Board of Directors
  • Thomas L. Southern ’74, insurance and financial services at Mass Mutual Financial Group

The Wilmington, NC networking reception will be held Thursday, January 29, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Dockside restaurant at 1308 Airlie Rd. The cost is $17 for alumni association members and $28 for non-members. which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Register by January 27. Featured alumni will be:

  • Scott Diggs ’89, business, hotel, and parking consultant
  • Melanie Welsh ’86, president, Envision Mortgage Corporation

Our networking events are open to all alumni and friends of East Carolina. Members of the alumni association are eligible to pay a reduced price. Those who wish to join the alumni association to take advantage of member pricing on these and future events may do so directly on the event registration form. Please note that advanced registration is required before the deadline. Early registration is strongly encouraged, as space is limited depending on the venue.

Our networking events are a great way for alumni to build their professional and social networks. Each event is led by featured alumni who are leaders in their industries and communities. We hold networking events in various cities throughout the year, so be sure to check out all our events listed on our networking event page!