Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) and the Elizabeth City State University Foundation, Incorporated will honor six regional, state and national leaders at its Founders Day Scholarship Gala XVI on Saturday, March 11, 2023. The event will be held in person at the K.E. White Graduate Center on the campus of ECSU. Tickets are $150 per person. The gala follows the 132nd Founders Day Convocation, which will be held on Friday, March 10, 2023, in the Mickey L. Burnim Fine Arts Center, beginning at 10 a.m

The 2023 honorees are ECSU trailblazers and supporters, including alumni leaders, former university administrators, a current university professor and a former North Carolina state senator. ECSU Founders Day Galas XIII, XVI and XV raised a combined total of $396,068.42 for scholarships.

The 2023 honorees are:

Eyualem Abebe, Ph.D., is a lifelong educator, mentor and academic administrator with more than 30 years of academic service at four higher education institutions on three continents. A globally recognized nematologist who has earned numerous awards, he has a passion for student mentorship, especially serving those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. He is intentional in securing grants from state and national funding agencies and has been awarded grants totaling more than $4 million; a fourth of the funding has been for mentoring students through research initiatives. To expand academic opportunities by enhancing retention and graduation, Abebe has been committed to the implementation of effective academic interventions at ECSU. He joined ECSU in 2006 and has served in various capacities. Currently, Abebe is the Marshall A.Rausch Endowed Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Natural Sciences.


Ulysses D. Bell, J.D., ’65, began his career as chairman of the commercial training division at Nkumbi International College in Kabwe, Zambia. He has held numerous leadership roles throughout his career, including southern regional director for the National Rural Center. He was appointed as a member of the White House Rural Task Force during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Bell has held senior level positions at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including North Carolina Central University, Bennett College, Stillman College and vice chancellor for Development at ECSU. Bell is co-founder and current Board Chair of the River City CDC in Elizabeth City and served on the Board of Trustees at Lenoir Rhyne College. Since 2009, Bell has led The Bell Group, Inc., a fundraising and marketing firm.


Saundra Sellars Copeland, Ph.D., ’71, is a lifelong educator, having served in education for 48 years. She is a retired associate professor and former coordinator for the Master of School Administration Program in the Department of Education, Psychology and Health at Elizabeth City State University.  She retired in August 2019, after serving at the university since August 2002.  Sellars Copeland was the 2012-2013 first runner-up recipient of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ Teacher of the Year Award for ECSU. In addition to her work as a teacher, Sellars Copeland has worked extensively to support children and families in the community and has been honored by organizations including the NAACP, Portsmouth Pan-Hellenic Council, among others. She has established two scholarship funds. Sellars Copeland was elected as the ECSU National Alumni Association Ms. Alumni for 2021-2023.


Ms. Virginia Lawrence Houston began her 50-year career in public school education in Ft. Myers, Fla. Over five decades, she worked in Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina. In North Carolina, she served for 25 as an educator and nine years on the Board of Education. Lawrence Houston began teaching in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public School District (ECPPS) at Sheep Harney Elementary. In 1994, she was appointed to the position of Instructional Specialist. She has been honored for her work and was selected ECPPS Math Education Teacher of the Year and Regional Teacher for North Carolina. Lawrence Houston is active in a number of civic and community organizations in Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County and northeastern North Carolina.


Mr. Tony E. Lassiter, ’86, was employed with the NC Department of Corrections as a Correctional Officer and Certified General Instructor.  Later, he served as a facilitator for the Family Resource Center South Atlantic and a Dropout Prevention Program Coordinator at Mary E. Phillips High School. In the ECSU National Alumni Association, Lassiter served as second vice president for four years and the southeast region director.  In the Raleigh Durham Wake Alumni Chapter, Lassiter served several roles, including president, vice president and student recruitment chair. He established the 1891 Club to raise funds for scholarships and student assistance in 2002. In 2004, he originated ECSU’s slogan, “Viking Pride, Viking Pride, Viking Pride.”


Former N.C. Senator Bob Steinberg served the North Carolina General Assembly for three terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives and one and a half terms in

the North Carolina Senate, representing District 1 from 2014-2022. While in office during the 2021-2022 term, he was chair of the Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology Committee and Senate State and Local Committee. His appointments included the Senate Appropriations on Justice and Public Safety CommitteeCommerce and Insurance CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteePensions and Retirement and Aging Committee and Agriculture, Energy, and Environment Committee, among others. Steinberg sponsored more than 20 bills and advocated for prison reform. He was a business executive for many years before serving in state government. Currently, he works as a lobbyist.

Media Note: Photos of all 2023 honorees are available here.