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A leader connecting Hopkins Nursing's past, present, and future

Wally Pinkard maintains his family's legacy of service to Hopkins by boosting the School of Nursing's students, faculty, and facilities
Posted September 13, 2017
"The success of the School of Nursing is inextricably linked to the advocacy, philanthropy, and vision of Wally Pinkard (right)," says School of Nursing Dean Patricia Davidson (left).

When Wally Pinkard became the School of Nursing Advisory Board's chair, he wasn't expecting to stay for nearly two decades.

"I figured it'd be a three- or four-year stint," recalls Pinkard, who also serves as a Medicine trustee and is a University trustee emeritus. "As I became more informed about the school and its position in the larger field of nursing, I learned so many things that have kept me committed for a long time."

And in that time, the school has flourished, earning top rankings from publications like U.S. News & World Report and more than doubling its student population.

"Whether personally, or through one of the many nonprofits for which he serves as an officer or trustee, Wally has been an agent of change, voice of wisdom, and guiding force," School of Nursing Dean Patricia Davidson says of Pinkard, whom she nominated for a 2016 Johns Hopkins Alumni Association Heritage Award. "The success of the School of Nursing is inextricably linked to the advocacy, philanthropy, and vision of Wally Pinkard."

Pinkard carries on a family tradition of service to Hopkins that began with his grandfather, Robert G. Merrick, Sr., who was a University trustee. His mother, Ann Pinkard — for whom the School of Nursing's current building is named — was the first woman elected to full membership on Johns Hopkins Hospital's board of trustees. In recent years, Pinkard has leveraged his leadership in two local organizations — the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Foundation and the France-Merrick Foundation — to support a variety of priorities throughout Hopkins. But few areas have been affected as deeply as the School of Nursing, where Pinkard's support has strengthened partnerships with the local community and created crucial opportunities for faculty and student research and learning.

He encouraged the Stulman Foundation to create an endowed professorship, one of the first jointly appointed in the School of Nursing and School of Medicine. The chair attracted Deborah Gross, an expert in child and adolescent mental health, as its inaugural recipient in 2008. Gross, in addition to her duties within Hopkins, has worked for several years to bring the Chicago Parent Program, which she developed at Rush University to serve the mental health needs of low-income parents and their children, to Baltimore. The program has been so successful that Baltimore City Schools has recently decided to contribute funds to sustain the program in high-need schools. 

"This is exactly what you want to have happen as a researcher — to create an evidence-based intervention that not only helps families in our community but can also be sustained through strong community partnerships," Gross says. "It takes a great deal of time to develop meaningful community partnerships. I could never have done this work without the endowed professorship. I have my dream job, and I’m forever grateful to Wally for advocating for this professorship."

Pinkard's family foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, has made several gifts to further connect Hopkins Nursing's faculty and students with the Baltimore community. This funding has supported facilities like Hopkins' Wald Community Nursing Center, Henderson-Hopkins School, and Isaiah Wellness Center for Senior Citizens, as well as the House of Ruth, which serves victims of domestic violence. The foundation has also supported stipends for the nursing students who provide free or low-cost services for low-income and at-risk East Baltimore residents.

"Many of our students come here, specifically, for that kind of experience. To offer those opportunities, we've needed to be embedded in the community, not just behind institutional walls," says Phyllis Sharps, the Elsie M. Lawler Chair and Associate Dean for Community Programs and Initiatives. "Wally's and his foundation's support has allowed us to be out in Baltimore, building those relationships, for more than 20 years."

Today, Pinkard has set his sights on the School of Nursing's future — particularly its ability to accommodate and educate an increasing number of master’s and doctoral students. Since the school's current building opened in 1998, its student body has grown from 500 to more than 1,100. The field of nursing education, too, has changed, requiring more collaboration among students within school but also externally, with peers in the School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. A more than 40,000-square-foot expansion is planned, and the France-Merrick Foundation recently made a $2 million gift to launch fundraising for the building, bringing the foundation’s total giving to the school to more than $11 million.

"I want us to continue to attract great students and faculty, and this building is important in providing an environment that appeals to them," Pinkard says. "We must keep our faculty and students at the field's cutting edge, and to do this, we really need this collaborative space."