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Park, Centennial Scholarships Help Daryn Wilkerson Design a Bright Future

Daryn Wilkerson
Daryn Wilkerson. Photo by T. Burroughs Photography

Education has always been a fundamental part of Daryn Wilkerson’s life. The Durham, North Carolina, native came from a home with two educator parents, so she has seen firsthand twice over where applying herself in the classroom can lead.

For Wilkerson — and for her mother, Monica, before her — that dedication led to NC State.

“My mom went here, too, for her master’s in curriculum and instruction from the College of Education,” Wilkerson said. “She just retired from being an English teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.”

Now, Wilkerson is joining Monica as a proud Pack alumna.

Wilkerson is a May graduate with a bachelor’s degree in fashion and textile design and a concentration in fashion design from the Wilson College of Textiles. She plans to move to New York City (for starters) and pursue a career in the bridal industry, which are perhaps the toughest city and segment of the fashion industry to succeed in. It isn’t uncommon for aspiring designers to spend years working at or below minimum wage to simply get a chance at making it in the Big Apple.

“Bridal is very, very different from normal sewing, normal pattern-making,” Wilkerson said. “It’s like the highest of the highest quality.”

Throw in a heavy load of student loans, and it is no small feat for most young designers to achieve success in the fashion world. But Wilkerson isn’t just any young designer. And thanks to the private support she received while attending NC State, she won’t have to worry about student debt.

The Road to Here

Wilkerson doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading — “I had two teachers for parents,” she joked — but she does remember when she took up sewing. She was 10, and the joy of creating something has stuck with her.

Specifically, the joy of creating something that benefits others.

A proud new NC State alumna, circa 2023. Photo by T. Burroughs Photography.

Wilkerson’s interests in fashion design and community service soon led her to become involved with Little Dresses for Africa, a Christian nonprofit that sends its namesakes, which are created by volunteers such as Wilkerson, and other forms of relief aid to children across that continent and beyond. She also worked with Brides Against Breast Cancer, which takes in donated wedding dresses and resells them at a considerable discount to help generate funding for breast cancer research and awareness efforts.

Service activities like these, combined with her numerous academic achievements — all that reading paid off — and participation in extracurriculars such as Wilson College’s Summer Textile Exploration Program, made Wilkerson the perfect choice for receiving a scholarship when she applied to NC State.

Two scholarships, actually.

Wilkerson found out she was being awarded a Park Scholarship and a Centennial Scholarship on the same day. She was still a senior at Leesville Road at the time, so the high school’s leadership called her and her mother to the office to tell them the great news together.

Tears were soon shed. By both women.

“She never cries, and she actually cried about that,” Wilkerson joked. “The staff was like, ‘We’ve never seen Monica cry before!’

“I was like, ‘Wow, I have two scholarships — I’m 100% going to NC State now.’”

“It was a really sweet moment,” Wilkerson added. “I was like, ‘Wow, I have two scholarships — I’m 100% going to NC State now.’ I was already saying I was going, but that really sealed the deal.”

The Park Scholarship is a four-year scholarship valued at $116,000 for in-state students such as Wilkerson. (For out-of-state students, $213,000.) The Wilson College of Textiles’ Centennial Scholarship, in turn, provides its recipients with a minimum of $15,000 per year for four years. Both scholarships also come with enrichment grants that enabled Wilkerson to take part in several experiential-learning opportunities while studying at NC State, such as two unpaid internships with different design companies.

She was also involved with Park’s Learning Labs I and II. These opportunities enable groups of Park Scholars to analyze a national or global social issue and determine how leaders can work to solve it — while gaining leadership experience themselves. Wilkerson, for instance, helped lead her Learning Lab I.

Enrichment grants even allowed Wilkerson to study fashion abroad in Florence, Italy, at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute between her junior and senior years. The institute is a renowned study-abroad destination located in one of the fashion capitals of the world, making Wilkerson’s time there an invaluable addition to her education.

“I lived there for a whole semester, and it was so great,” Wilkerson said. “I’m so thankful for my scholarships, because I would not have been able to do that otherwise.”

That’s not to say that Wilkerson’s time at NC State didn’t have its trials. Like her fellow members of the class of 2023, she had to cope with the enormous strains of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began during their second semester and affected the subsequent ones to one degree or another.

The lockdown portion of the pandemic was particularly tough because it prevented Wilkerson from taking advantage of the many advanced pieces of technology available to students of the Wilson College of Textiles when they are on campus. It also kept her from seeing the friends she had made through Park’s and Centennial’s respective Freshman Retreat programs, which are held the summer before first-year students arrive on campus.

Thankfully, Wilkerson didn’t let the pandemic stop her from making the most of her time as an NC State undergraduate. She stayed in contact with her friends and even made new ones via Zoom and social media, and she built a home studio and purchased her own sewing machine in order to complete her class projects.

Now, Wilkerson is preparing to take what she learned at NC State — about fashion and design, about helping others and about rising to meet challenges — and apply it to her next big adventure.

The Road Goes On

New York is just the first stop Wilkerson has planned for her postgraduate life. She wants to work there for a few years with an established design company before creating and running a bridal house of her own and moving to London. She was able to visit that city while studying in Italy and quickly fell in love.

“I know they say studying abroad is a life-changing experience, and you think, ‘It can’t really be that life-changing,’ but it was,” Wilkerson said. “It was very helpful because I learned different design techniques somewhere else, and the design world is very much global. It’s not just in the U.S., so that will be very helpful when I have to communicate with people.”

Wilkerson’s passion for creating products that benefit others also remains at the heart of her career goals. She hopes to continue addressing topics such as sustainability and the working conditions for immigrants and women with low incomes, specifically by starting a nonprofit runway show that brings attention to these issues. And without having to repay student debt, she can begin making a difference sooner than might otherwise have been possible. 

“With all the experience I’ve had of studying abroad and going to do those internships, it’s given me a great opportunity to kind of skip some steps than what people would normally have to do,” Wilkerson said. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that without my scholarships.”

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