Our Giving Story: Jerry and Bev Wilkinson
(Left to right): Heather Wilkinson Deguire ’98; Hayley Wilkinson Brammer ’00; Bev Wilkinson P’98, P’00, P’03; Jerry Wilkinson B.S.E.’67, P’98, P’00, P’03; and Hilary Wilkinson Bayer ’03
“My experience at Duke not only formed me as a person, but transformed me,” said Jerry Wilkinson B.S.E.’67, P’98, P’00, P’03, who received a degree in electrical engineering from Pratt School of Engineering. “Engineering is a discipline that develops problem solving skills, and Duke prepared me to build those life-long skills, to further my engineering studies, and pursue my career.”
Hailing from a small town in eastern Tennessee, Wilkinson remembers that Duke immediately challenged him, both academically and socially. He relished his undergraduate experience in and out of the classroom, and above all, building relationships with classmates.
“Duke prepares and also demands that its graduates lead by making the world a better place,” said Wilkinson. “My classmates and professors opened my eyes to a national and international view that I found very diverse and fascinating.”
In gratitude for his education, together with his wife, Beverly (Bev) P’98, P’00, P’03, the Wilkinsons established a charitable remainder unitrust to support Duke and their future. They made their gift after a careful evaluation of their personal and philanthropic goals. In addition to supporting Duke, the Wilkinsons appreciate that the annual income from their trust can also support them throughout their lifetime.
They also made a second planned gift by including Duke in their will. They designated their support to scholarships and fellowships for future engineers to address humanity’s biggest challenges.
“I want to encourage more students, especially women, to pursue engineering degrees in the United States,” said Wilkinson. “An engineering degree prepares one to focus on major grand challenges of the future including health care, clean water, and the environment.”
Why did you choose to focus on an engineering scholarship and fellowship?
Jerry: I focused on engineering scholarships as one way of giving back to the school that I attended. I was a recipient of a need-based scholarship, so providing support for students who cannot attend Duke otherwise resonates clearly with me. Duke can and does make a difference in lives. I want to ensure our future engineers have access to the same transformational education I received.
Why is giving important at a place like Duke?
Bev: The practice of giving is always good. Giving back to help ensure that a positive experience can be replicated for others is even better. Discretionary funds that can be used for scholarships, for a dean or professor, to support a program, or meaningful research are critical to making a good university great.
Any advice for undergraduate students?
Jerry: My advice to any undergraduate is to take their time to enjoy Duke—your time here is brief and fleeting. Get to know the entire physical campus, and appreciate the history. Invest time and energy in people—your classmates and your professors—for those relationships are what lasts and are meaningful. Always have the desire to learn as much as you can about everything you can. Read for both edification and pleasure. Do not ever believe you have all the answers. Keep your connection to Duke throughout your life.
The Wilkinsons’ daughters share in their parents’ pride and appreciation for their alma mater. Heather Wilkinson Deguire ’98, Hayley Wilkinson Brammer ’00, and Hilary Wilkinson Bayer ’03 all received their undergraduate degrees from Duke and have served on their reunion committees, organized and participated in Duke Alumni in Atlanta club events, and have interviewed prospective students. Here, the Wilkinson daughters shared reflections of their Duke experiences.
What was your experience at Duke like?
Hilary: Reflecting back on my time at Duke can certainly be called four of the best years of my life. During this time, I grew in ways that have helped me navigate every area of my life. Duke teaches so many things beyond the classroom and shapes the whole person. The skills that I learned while balancing a rigorous academic curriculum have allowed me to succeed in my professional life. In addition, the relationships that I made continue to be some of the most valuable in my life.
What hopes do you have for the university?
Hayley: My hope for Duke University is that it continues to develop the “whole” person. I envision a Duke that continues to encourage the academic-minded person through challenging classes, hands-on learning labs, and collaborative projects. Furthermore, I hope Duke also balances out the academics with opportunities for community service, study abroad, athletics, and social engagement. The balanced student is the one who will know how to face the challenges of our world today.
Why do you think philanthropy is important?
Heather: Philanthropy is important because it is a way to make an impact on our society and in the world. It not only benefits society in the short term, it also paves the way for future generations. Philanthropy is about caring for education, performing arts, and the environment—and then doing something impactful. It’s about being able to make a real difference in the areas that are meaningful to you and creating a lasting change in society.