Donor helps fund the next generation of nurse scientists

December 02, 2019
Spiro Vallis, left, with his scholarship recipient Samantha Bernstein, and friend Phyllis Moseley.
Spiro Vallis, left, with his scholarship recipient Samantha Bernstein, and friend Phyllis Moseley.

It is a common occurrence to see the MUSC College of Nursing development staff having lunch or coffee with a donor and the recipient of their scholarship. Recipients often want to meet their generous benefactors. They are curious about the scholarship's criteria, why they were selected, and ways to express their gratitude. Many scholarship donors and recipients go on to keep in touch, making the pairing even more special.

When Spiro Vallis began the Olimpia “Bia” Vallis Nursing Scholarship at the MUSC College of Nursing, he did so to honor his mother and without expectation of meeting his recipient. The scholarship was awarded for the first time in 2019 to Samantha Bernstein, MSN, R.N., IBCLC, CNL. Bernstein was in her first year of the Ph.D. program when she met Vallis for lunch in July.

During their lunch, Vallis presented Bernstein with a letter. As she read the message, Bernstein let out an audible gasp. The letter notified her that she had received an unexpected gift, the Olimpia "Bia" Vallis Nursing Scholarship, funding half the cost of her Ph.D. program.

Vallis created the scholarship in memory of his late mother, Bia, a Belgium refugee who came to the United States after fleeing war-torn countries during World War I. After settling in Charleston, his mother worked in the MUSC Department of Surgery as an executive secretary, a job she truly loved. After Bia died, Vallis decided to make a planned gift to the college in her honor. He determined that his contribution would be a merit-based scholarship that would support nursing students who demonstrate a financial need. Vallis chose to award the first Vallis Nursing Scholarship to an incoming Ph.D. student after learning of the critical need for Ph.D. scholarships.

The nursing profession needs more Ph.D. prepared nurses to stem a growing shortage of nursing faculty members and researchers. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the national shortage of faculty members will soon reach critical proportions, significantly impacting educational programs and their capacity to educate future generations of nursing students.

Because of the urgent need, Vallis started a scholarship through his estate while still contributing annually. This structure allows the funds to be awarded during Vallis’ lifetime. It also means he gets to see the impact of his generosity.

"This scholarship isn't just helping me," Bernstein said. "It is helping the students I will teach, the patients I will treat, and it is helping fund the next generation of nurse research."

Bernstein, whose research is in obstetric patient safety, was overwhelmed that someone she had never met would want to support her education. "Being able to focus entirely on my studies is a tremendous gift," she shared. "Mr. Vallis's generosity is just incredible. It's hard to put into words just how his gift changes my life and the lives of all future expectant mothers I will treat.”


Keywords: Winter 2019