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Pivotal Moments for students: An enduring legacy

December 07, 2015

The Wayne State University School of Medicine improved in numerous ways thanks to philanthropic investment received throughout its history. From state-of-the-art facilities like the Richard J. Mazurek, M.D., Medical Education Commons and the Kado Family Clinical Skills Center, where our students learn and hone their skills; to research funds that advance biomedical science; or endowed faculty positions that create opportunities for physician educators to provide quality care to the people of southeast Michigan while training new generations to follow in their footsteps. 

While philanthropy will continue to improve the School of Medicine’s scholarly and physical infrastructure, for some, its greatest gift has been scholarship. For many students at the School of Medicine, the generosity of a stranger made it possible for them to pursue their dream of a career in medicine. The financial realities of attending medical school can present insurmountable barriers for talented students who would make excellent physicians. Scholarship support, like the James N. Skupski, M.D., M.P.H. and Dianne Widzinski Endowed Scholarship, counteracts this reality, allowing the school to recruit talented applicants regardless of their ability to afford tuition.

An enduring legacy

In the words of longtime friend and Wayne State alumnus Kurt Kazanowski, M.S. ’81, James Skupski, B.S. ’76, M.D. ’80, was “a true Wayne State guy.” After earning his degrees, Skupski became a faculty member and academic leader at the School of Medicine, and treasured and enjoyed every minute of the experience.

Skupski’s wife, Dianne Widzinski, B.S. ’79, knows why her late husband was devoted to Wayne State. “It was because Jim felt he garnered the finest education possible at WSU, an education he firmly believed served him most admirably as he pursued a successful medical career,” she said.

Perhaps Skupski had another reason to reflect fondly on Wayne State – it is also where he met Dianne, his wife of 32 years. The two enjoyed a life of great joy and love before Jim passed away in 2011 at the age of 58.

According to Widzinski, the pinnacle of Skupski’s career was in 2005, when he received two teaching awards from the School of Medicine. “Of all the pursuits he enjoyed, Jim was a teacher first,” she said. “His kind spirit and generosity as he shared his knowledge with students was profound.” 

Skupski also had quite the comedic wit. “Jim had a very unique sense of humor,” Kazanowski said. As a medical student, Skupski loved participating in the end-of-year lampoon tradition, during which students performed skits poking a bit of fun at faculty members. “Jim loved that. His creative juices just flowed,” Widzinski added. “Plus it provided an entertaining relief from the toils of med school.”

In 2014, Widzinski established the James N. Skupski, M.D., M.P.H. and Dianne Widzinski Endowed Scholarship to further support the pursuit of the medical profession for those whom Dr. Skupski most loved – students. Their generous $2 million gift provides a full-tuition scholarship for students through their four years of medical school.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to honor Jim,” Widzinski said. “His life and legacy will live on through these students, as well as those they serve, throughout the years.”

More about the campaign

Pivotal Moments: Our Campaign for Wayne State University is an opportunity to celebrate the moments that have defined our history and help to inspire new pivotal moments for our students, our university, our city and the world. Funds raised during the Pivotal Moments campaign will provide immediate resources to support students, faculty and research, with an additional goal of securing future pivotal moments through permanent endowment funding. The primary areas of support for the School of Medicine during the Pivotal Moments campaign involve concentrations of strategic importance, including:

Student success and achievement Academic excellence and faculty advancement Research innovation and discovery Community health and wellness

Each priority area has associated fundraising initiatives that will advance the school’s academic, research and clinical endeavors to improve the health of our communities. To learn more about the campaign, visit: