A career in academia offers educators abundant opportunities to touch lives and shape futures. If anyone can attest to this, it’s Mary Wilby, Ph.D., BSN ’86, MSN ’90, MPH ’18.
There are countless moments crystallized in her memory, like when she arrived to a classroom at La Salle University only to see a familiar face among her newest students—a unit secretary from a floor Wilby had worked on during her time in the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
“I don’t know that it was just me who encouraged her to pursue a degree,” said Wilby, an associate professor of nursing, “but it was a great surprise—a wonderful surprise—for both of us.”
A La Salle University educator for nearly two decades, Wilby is the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Lasallian Educator Award. Nominated and chosen by a panel of La Salle faculty and staff, the Distinguished Lasallian Educator Award recognizes a University faculty or staff member who represents a steadfast dedication to the Lasallian mission of education and pastoral care, both inside and outside the classroom.
“For me, being a Lasallian educator and living the Lasallian mission is an opportunity to be part of something that’s so much bigger than you,” Wilby said. “It’s a way to connect with others all over the world, and a way to give opportunity to those who might not otherwise have them. Some of my greatest joys have come from students, particularly those who I’ve worked with in the past.”
Wilby returned to her alma mater in August 2002 following years of professional experience in clinical care in the Philadelphia region. Her research interests include diversity in nursing and nursing education, integrating end of life care in nursing education, and the influence of disability on risk for cardiovascular disease. A specialist in the care of adults with chronic, often life-limiting illness, Wilby has been practicing nursing for more than 40 years. Her more recent clinical experience is in the area of hospice and palliative care, working as an advanced practice nurse caring for patients and families experiencing the effects of advanced illness including cancer.
“Throughout her career at La Salle University, Dr. Wilby has demonstrated a strong commitment to Lasallian education and the University’s mission,” said Kathleen Czekanski, Ph.D., dean of La Salle’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Whether it is serving as an integral member of the Pandemic Preparedness Task Force, as a nursing faculty member, or in her contributions to the Lasallian Women of Hope and the ministry in Haiti, Mary embodies the heart and soul of a Lasallian educator. She is a knowledgeable, kind, caring, compassionate, and humble professional who is a role model for all of us and so deserving of this recognition. I am so pleased that Dr. Mary Wilby is being recognized as this year’s Distinguished Lasallian Educator.”
Wilby’s commitment to the University extends beyond the classroom, evidenced by more than a year of service to La Salle’s interdisciplinary COVID-19 response. She continues to provide subject-matter expertise aimed at ensuring the health and safety of La Salle’s community through the pandemic.
In addition, she has provided countless hours of on-site support at the University’s on-campus COVID-19 testing center. There, Wilby has conducted rapid antigen tests during the entry, surveillance, and symptomatic testing phases of La Salle’s Spring 2021 semester, working closely with the University’s contact tracing team and overseeing and providing support to student volunteers at the center.
The COVID-19 pandemic suspended clinical experiences for students in the sciences, an inflection point for Wilby and a key driver for her work in La Salle’s testing center.
“One of my thoughts was to give them experience to continue to complete required clinical hours and provide support to our community,” Wilby said. “You just do what you have to do to make it work for your students and, thankfully, it evolved into something else, something much greater. I was able to make sure, as much as possible, the students on campus were safe. That was of greatest importance of all.”
Wilby recounted another favorite story from her years at La Salle.
“One student had dropped out of high school and later earned his GED. He had a guidance counselor who said he’d never amount to anything,” she said. “He got his bachelor’s degree and, on a whim, called us about our master’s in nursing. The grad program director said, ‘Classes start tonight. Why don’t you come down?’ He ended up in my class, graduated from our program, established his own clinic, and has mentored our students ever since. We have so many students like that—they’ve managed to hang in, persevere, graduate, and then accomplish great things. To get a glimpse of that, it’s truly the best part of the job.”
—Christopher A. Vito