From West End to East Carolina and Beyond

McKenziesMill1By Jackie Drake

Brothers Justin Harris ’02 and Ryan Harris ’05 have been busy touring across the country as the country-rock band McKenzies Mill, but now they’ve found time to return to where it all began.

McKenzies Mill will return to Greenville this Saturday February 28 to perform at the Buccaneer Music Hall, a new country music venue located at 2120 E. Firetower Rd. in the Harris Teeter shopping center, formerly a bar called Live.

Originally from West End, a small town near Pinehurst, the brothers named their band McKenzies Mill after the road where they grew up. They started the band in 2005 after Ryan graduated from ECU. They released their first album in 2007 and the second in 2010.

The duo is currently working on their third album, produced by New Voice Entertainment, which recently worked with Parmalee, another band with local connections.

Justin and Ryan describe their sound as “southern fried rock ‘n roll.” The brothers reside in Nashville, TN, which is where the band is based. They mostly tour in the southeast but they have performed in about 30 states from California to New York.

McKenzies Mill has received many honors in recent years. In 2014, the Country Music Awards named the band a “New Artist to Watch.” They won the national Bud Light Battle of the Bands in 2012. They’ve performed twice in Las Vegas as the official after party band for the National Rodeo Finals. In 2011, they won Nashville’s Wild Horse Saloon Battle for the Saddle.

“Justin began playing guitar and writing songs while at ECU,” Ryan said. “I had grown up singing my whole life. So, it kind of all started hanging out with friends around ECU playing and singing songs. Shortly after my graduation, Justin had moved back home and we played a while in our hometown, and eventually moved to Nashville to pursue it on a greater scale. I love stepping on that stage and pouring my passion into singing and entertaining.”

“When people start singing songs you wrote, it’s a powerful feeling. We were hooked,” Justin said. “That’s my favorite part of being in a band, the freedom of it all, and the ability to turn an idea into a song, and to then have people like that song so much they sing it back to you… it’s a hard thing to describe.”

The first time Justin ever performed one of his original songs live was at Ham’s. While at ECU, Justin majored in business and Ryan majored in criminal justice. While the brothers are primarily focused on their music, they both feel that ECU prepared them well to pursue other careers if they ever tire of performing.

“Our uncle, who we are very close with, went to ECU, so I always gravitated towards going there. I’ve always liked to have a good time, and ECU is kind of known for that,” Justin laughed. “But really, I couldn’t be prouder that I went to ECU. All partying jokes aside, I truly love ECU for the “brotherhood” that I felt there. It’s cool meeting people on the road who went to ECU. You can feel the pride and its like you instantly bond.”

Ryan followed his uncle and older bother’s leads. “ECU had a lot of family support. I loved attending ECU. I had some of the best times of my life there. I learned to just be myself and grow as an individual. I received a great education, made a lot of really awesome friends, and matured through my experiences with others. As far as my career in music goes, meeting and connecting with people is a huge benefit.”

Justin says being back in Greenville to perform is “awesome. We had a lot of good times here and haven’t been back in a few years. We’re looking forward to visiting our old stomping grounds.”


Alumni Spotlight: Paul Alar ’78

Paul AlarBy Jennifer Brezina

Paul Alar ’78 has led the way as a top investor for 30 years, focusing primarily on various alternative investment strategies. He founded his own Atlanta-based fund, West Mountain Partners LP, in 2002, which was soon recognized as the number one Emerging Manager Fund of Funds by InvestHedge magazine. By 2013, West Mountain Partners had become the best performing fund of funds in the world according to the Barclay Managed Funds Report.

Alar says the success he’s had as an investor is the immediate ability to “see through” a manager’s pitch and determine whether he or she truly understands a strategy or is simply reading from a script. He credits ECU with helping him to hone that skill, which stems from his exposure to a broad swath of students from different areas of the country and different economic backgrounds. He earned his bachelor of science in business administration with an emphasis in marketing from the ECU College of Business.

Before launching West Mountain Partners 12 years ago, Alar managed risk arbitrage portfolios for institutional and private clients at Bear Stearns, developed hedging strategies for Oppenheimer’s Alternative Asset Group, and introduced domestic private placement insurance to Deutsche Bank as a strategy for making hedge fund investments more tax efficient.

In addition to investing, Alar is passionate about running, which is what brought him to ECU in the first place. Growing up in New Jersey, he says he wanted to move to the south for its warm climate. His cross country coach, who was also his guidance counselor, suggested East Carolina.

“ECU offered an outstanding cross-section of students, which I found stimulating,” Alar explained. “I use this term loosely, but ‘anyone’ can get a good formal education, at almost any college, if they apply themselves. ECU’s advantage in my view was being able to assimilate one’s self to a truly diverse student body. This was ‘real world’ training and can’t be duplicated.”

Alar says he also enjoyed becoming a member of TKE fraternity and all of the related Greek activities.

Today, Alar lives in Smyrna, GA with his wife, Donna ’78, who also graduated from the College of Business. Their son John attends Rhodes College in Memphis, where he runs track and field; Mark is a freshman at Texas Christian University.

In his free time, Alar serves as the community coach in track and field at Whitefield Academy. During his 10 years of coaching, he has had three State Champions who have won 12 individual State Championships.

Networking Events in South Carolina

The East Carolina Alumni Association is coming to Charleston and Columbia, SC for networking events in March. Make some great connections with fellow ECU alumni and friends to build your professional and social networks!

The Charleston, SC networking reception will be held Tuesday, March 24, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Stars Rooftop and Grill Room. The restaurant is located at 495 King Street. The cost is $15 for alumni association members and $25 for non-members, which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Register by March 20.

Featured alumni will be:

  • Samantha Blake ’04, ’05, educator at EB Ellington Elementary School
  • Robert S. Baker III ’03, sales manager at Wild Dunes Resort
  • Michael Dudley ’10, surgical prosthetic purchasing agent at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

The Columbia, SC networking reception will be held Thursday, March 26, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Terra restaurant at 100 State Street. The cost is $15 for alumni association members and $25 for non-members, which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Register by March 23.

Featured alumni will be:

  • Duane Grooms ’80, ’82, assistant athletics director for facilities services at the University of South Carolina
  • Dr. Marc R. Hines Jr. ’07, physician at Columbia Nephrology Associates

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 tap into the power of the ECU alumni network and meet fellow Pirates in their area! 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!

Alumni Survey Coming Up


The East Carolina Alumni Association will be conducting another alumni survey this year. We’ve been working hard since the last survey was done in 2012 and we’d like to hear how we’ve been doing!

This 10-minute survey will ask you about your experience with East Carolina as a student and as an alumnus. You can also indicate your expectations for the future. Your feedback will help us develop our programs, services, and communications… but only if we have it!

The survey will be sent via e-mail in late February, so keep an eye on your inbox. The e-mail’s subject will be “How do you feel about ECU?” Click here to take the survey online. The survey will be open until March 23.

Don’t forget to make sure we have your correct e-mail address! You can click here to view and update your information in our records.

Responses will remain anonymous. If you have any questions, please give us a call at 252-ECU-GRAD (328-4723).

Young Alumnus Elected to District Board

matt_aboutBy Sara Strickroot

Matt Overby ’13 was recently elected to the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Overby is one member of a five-member board that governs the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District. The district board helps fund conservation practices that help improve water quality. It also gives support to landowners and land users by assisting in managing water, soil, plants, and animals.

Overby is passionate about protecting North Carolina’s heritage. “I want to preserve North Carolina as our fathers and grandfathers knew it and raised us to love it. I felt that serving as a soil and water supervisor was a good way for me to help preserve that part of who we are as a people,” he says.

His biggest challenge is educating people on why soil and water conservation is so important. “Most people care about the values that we are trying to preserve once they know what it is that we do,” says Overby.

“I’ve always had a love for the culture and people of eastern North Carolina, from everything from country music, to barbeque, to the beach. East Carolina was a perfect fit for me. I also knew ECU had a great liberal arts program which was appealing to me majoring in political science,” says Overby.

While studying at ECU, he was a member of the ECU College Republicans organization.

“I am very proud to be a Pirate. I still have many friends that I met at ECU and keep in touch with some of my political science professors,” Overby says.

Alumni Open Men’s Clothing Store

By Sara Strickroot

Andrew Denton ’13 and Thomas Alligood ’13 are co-owners of Campus Corner, a high-end men’s clothing store located in downtown Greenville.

The co-owners wanted to be close to campus and be a part of the new redevelopment of downtown Greenville. According to Denton, the store attracts a good mix of students, alumni, and Greenville residents.

One of the biggest challenges the co-owners face with their business is online sale competition. “Online sales are big now for shoppers and not as many people go into stores to shop as often now,” says Denton. “We are overcoming this by starting an e-commerce website.”

Denton and Alligood were roommates at ECU where Denton majored in business and Alligood majored in industrial technology. They are currently members of Pirate Club.

“Growing up a Pirate fan and attending East Carolina sporting events made it an easy decision to attend East Carolina,” says Denton. “I love the Pirates, the education I received, and the people I met while attending ECU.”

Campus Corner owners

Andrew Denton (left) and Thomas Alligood inside their store.

ECU Night at UNC-TV is March 21


Calling all Pirates! The East Carolina Alumni Association invites you to volunteer with fellow ECU alumni and friends at ECU Night at UNC-TV on Saturday, March 21.

As a volunteer, you will answer phones and take donor pledges that will help North Carolina’s public television station continue to provide quality, educational programming for North Carolinians. ECU Night is our night of UNC-TV’s annual “Festival” Telethon to show the state how Pirates give back!

All volunteers will receive a short orientation prior to answering phones and accepting pledges. Dress comfortable and casual in your Pirate purple and gold! Do let us know you’re coming by registering for the event.

Volunteers work off-camera while UNC-TV staff and guest stars host the evening’s segments. Occasionally, the camera will show a general shot of the phone room, but will not focus on any one person. Help us fill the room with Pirates! Those who do not wish to be on TV at all can be seated at a phone station out of the camera frame.

Please plan to arrive at the studio at 6:00 p.m. and stay until 11:30 p.m. Dinner will be provided for this event.

Limited transportation will be provided for volunteers traveling from the Greenville/Pitt County area. Reservations for the shuttle are required in addition to registering for the event.

For those with transportation reservations made, please meet at the Belk Building parking lot (off of Charles Blvd., across from Clark-LeClair Stadium) by 4:00 p.m. We should return to Greenville after midnight.

Please contact Shawn Moore at 252-328-5775 for transportation reservations and any further questions.

If you’re not able to come and volunteer, be sure to call in and make a donation to UNC-TV. A fellow Pirate will be the one to take your pledge!