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No Limits

Walker urges students to set their own course, embrace leadership opportunities

When Donna Walker ’79 was asked to attend a regional student leadership meeting in Memphis as a first-year pharmacy student, she had no idea how saying yes to that opportunity would shape her career.

“You’re all going to have a fabulous education,” Walker said Monday during a discussion about leadership with first-year pharmacy students. “You’re going to be very well-prepared to counsel patients, to work collaboratively with your colleagues, to help make sure that health care is delivered in a meaningful and practical way.

“What I found when I was at the university is my experience outside the classroom was just as valuable to the person I am today to the career I had and to the opportunities that I explored.”

Walker, who in 2013 endowed the Walker Pharmacy Leadership Scholars program at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, met with various student organizations at the college Jan. 23 and 24 to kick off its celebration of USC Leadership Week.

During her remarks to the P1 class — where she encouraged students to apply for the WLS program — Walker shared three major leadership lessons.

  • Say yes, even when you don’t know what you’re committing to. As a pharmacy student, Walker contacted Sen. Strom Thurmond’s office to request help coordinating a campus visit from a U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was surprised when the senator offered her an internship. She accepted, and the experience provided a political education she couldn’t learn in class.
  • You can make a difference right away. As pharmacy students, Walker and her peers debated and developed policy about medicinal marijuana, and their fresh perspective on the issue influenced the American Pharmacutical Association’s national policy. At Carolina, she and an engineering student who served in student government together researched and lobbied for changes to the university’s grading policy, convincing students, faculty and administrators to adopt the plus grading scale still in place today. “You can create anything you want,” she said.
  • Networking and mentoring are key, and you can have them now. Walker told students they didn’t have to wait to be assigned a mentor; rather, she advised them to take charge of their education, choosing their own mentors and determining for themselves the experiences and knowledge they wanted to gain.

Walker said the WLS program was designed to help students gain experience in leadership and bolster their collaboration, problem-solving and planning and organization skills.

Two students from each class are selected for the program, which is the only one of its kind in a pharmacy school in the country. The students receive a scholarship and participate in a wide variety of leadership development activities.

Currently, the scholars gather as a group for monthly luncheons where they engage leaders in pharmacy as well as leaders from outside the profession. They also attend professional conferences to gain leadership and networking experience.

The program provides individualized leadership development through mentoring relationships and differentiated clinical rotations. For instance, rather than observing how practicing pharmacists resolve a problem, the scholars are asked to provide analysis and solutions. The program culminates with commencement when the scholars are recognized as graduates with leadership distinction.  

Walker’s career has encompassed a range of experiences, including community pharmacy practice at her father’s independent pharmacy in Columbia, professional advocacy at the APhA and pharmaceutical sales and marketing and telecommunications management at 3M. She and her husband Mark Pulido formed a family foundation to support youth development and education, and for the past several years they have run a vineyard that produces premium cabernet sauvignon. In addition to her pharmacy degree, Walker earned a master’s in business administration from Carolina in 1981.