A Dedication to Nursing

Issue Date: 
May 26, 2009
Margaret E. and James WilkesMargaret E. and James Wilkes

Bashira Charles wanted to leave a full-time nursing career to return to school and earn her doctorate. But there was one factor that was key to making that happen: “I knew that it would not be possible to accomplish my goal without scholarship support,” she recalled.

Thanks to the Margaret E. Wilkes Scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, Charles (NURS  ‘03G, ‘08G) received exactly the kind of help she needed.

The scholarship was created and generously funded by James (A&S ’59) and Margaret Wilkes, longtime Pitt supporters who met while Mrs. Wilkes was working as a nurse at the Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic.

After graduating from nursing school, Mrs. Wilkes landed a job at Western Psych and met her husband James, who was a Pitt student working as an attendant in the hospital. “I didn’t work as a nurse for very long, maybe a year or so, but my time at the hospital had quite an impact on me. To this day, I have an affinity for nurses. I find myself reading newspaper articles and books about medicine or attending lectures about health care, so I’m still very interested in the field,” she said.

The Wilkes Scholarship was designed with these interests in mind. “I know that there’s a real scarcity of nursing educators today, so when my husband and I thought about creating this scholarship, we wanted to provide money specifically to support a nursing student who was pursuing a PhD. Then that person could one day use the education to teach other nurses,” Mrs. Wilkes added.

Charles, the most recent recipient of the Wilkes Scholarship, seized the opportunity offered by the scholarship. Instead of working part-time to make ends meet, Charles was able to immerse herself in her studies and research in Pitt’s School of Nursing. “My research is focused on the genetic basis of complications of diabetes, particularly diabetic retinopathy,” she said. “And during a research conference following a presentation of my work, someone from the NIH [National Institutes of Health] invited me to talk with them about continuing my research at their facilities in Bethesda, Md., after graduation.”

Speaking from her new apartment in Washington, D.C., where she is a research fellow at the National Institute of Nursing Research, Charles reiterated her thanks to the Wilkeses for their generosity. “Without scholarship support, none of this would have been possible,” she said.

“We knew that we wanted to continue supporting Pitt,” Mrs. Wilkes said. “My husband is a proud alumnus, and we feel very connected to the University.” By creating the Margaret E. Wilkes Scholarship, the Wilkeses will enhance the lives of nursing students in perpetuity.