Kyla Guilfoil and Kelly Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief & Social Media Editor
Graham Walker, Ph.D, professor of mechanical engineering, avid researcher, supportive advisor for Manhattan College students, and the 2006 Distinguished Lasallian Educator of the Year, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday, Jan. 17. He was 66.
Walker was born on Dec. 31, 1955 in Ellon, Scotland to Christina Reid and James Adam Walker. After receiving his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at Strathclyde University in Scotland, Walker went on to earn his doctorate in aerospace engineering at Southampton University in England.
Walker lived with his wife, Agnes Murray, in New York City, where they raised three sons. Walker worked as a research engineer in the Courant Institute of New York University before beginning his teaching career at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York in 1986.
In 1993, Walker and his family returned to New York City, where he began his Manhattan College career as a professor of mechanical engineering. In addition to his work at MC, Walker had also taught adjunct mechanical engineering courses in the graduate school of Columbia University since the mid-2000s.
Walker was dedicated to his work at Manhattan where he conducted research on orthodontics and biomechanics, taught full course loads and served as an advisor to many MC mechanical engineers.
“On behalf of the entire School of Engineering community, I express our great loss felt on the death of our colleague, Professor Graham Walker.” Tim Ward, Ph.D., dean of engineering, told The Quadrangle. “Dr. Walker was a teacher, scholar, mentor, and true Lasallian in his commitment to the students and the college. His legacy will continue to guide us in fulfilling the missions of the college.”
Walker’s colleagues praised his dedication and spirit in the wake of his passing.
John Leylegian, Ph.D, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, said Walker was a critical part of his experience at MC.
“There’s always a kind of running joke around here that he was the go-to guy,” Leylegian said. “He was always the one that knew where the stuff was. He knew he always knew what was going on, and he always knew how to find things. So he was unofficially responsible for getting a lot of people started.”
According to Leylegian, Walker first researched aerospace engineering, and worked for the Ministry of Defense in the UK. His work produced cutting edge research in this field, as he worked with blast waves and compressible flow-type work. Later, Walker shifted his focus towards manufacturing, system engineering and biomechanics.
Leylegian said that Walker had worked with Montefiore to develop dental implants by working with the manufacturing of these implants, as well as developed joint braces through projects at MC.
Parisa Saboori, Ph.D, associate professor of mechanical engineering, worked closely with Walker. The two advised MC mechanical engineering students and worked with them on senior design projects.
“I met him when I was a teaching assistant at the City College of New York,” Saboori said. “Since then, he has become a colleague, mentor, best friend, and really a family member.”
Saboori said that Walker had a passion for everything, and was the go-to person for everything, work related or not. According to Saboori, Walker’s presence was so great at the college that even professors that have come to MC within the last year have felt this sudden loss deeply.
Saboori has felt this loss acutely, having worked closely with Walker on research in biomechanics. She told The Quadrangle that their collaboration began after they saw a Jaspers Research Scholar presentation for the kinesiology department, and they felt that they could provide a manufactured model for the researcher’s work discussing traumatic head injuries.
Since then, the two have worked with departments across the college from kinesiology to business.
“This was all his idea, to bring more people and to make the project more understandable for everyone,” Saboori said. “His mission was to be able to simply explain your research so that anyone could relate to it and he was great at that. And because of that he would just get more people involved in the project.”
Saboori and Walker have also published two research articles on the brain impact characteristics and deformations caused by traumatic brain injuries. . They also began another project on cystic fibrosis, which Saboori said testified to Walker’s dedication to helping children, toddlers and infants.
“We had students working on this research and just because of his guidance, and just because of the way that he would see that stuff, he would just tell the students that they have to go for more,” Saboori said. “He encourages students to go for the Innovation Challenge and to no surprise we were the winners the last two years.”
Saboori explained that Walker was not just passionate about these projects as engineering challenges, but also because he felt strongly about trying to make the world a better place for others.
Both Saboori and Leylegian emphasize that filling the void left by Walker’s death will not be easy for the department.
“Dr. Walker was a towering figure (in many ways) on our faculty–someone who excelled in all areas of faculty work (teaching, research, and service) and who brought great joy and kindness to everything he did,” Manhattan College President Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D. wrote in an email to The Quadrangle.
“He had tremendously broad interests and exuded an infectious enthusiasm for learning and teaching. I’ve seen many people refer to him on social media as a ‘renaissance man,’ which is perfect: he was both deeply learned and skilled in his academic discipline and broadly well-read. He cared deeply for his students. We will miss his wisdom, his love of knowledge, and his extraordinary talent as a teacher and scholar. We will sorely miss his kindness, sense of humor, and loving presence to his students and colleagues.”
O’Donnell sent an email to the entire MC community the night of Walker’s passing, highlightingWalker’s contributions: his role as faculty advisor for the mini Baja club; his travels to Honduras in two service trips with the Office of Campus Ministry and Social Action; and his early advocacy for an environmentally friendly curriculum within the mechanical engineering department.
In this email, O’Donnell also highlighted Walker’s recognition as Distinguished Lasallian Educator of the Year in 2006. Walker’s citation for the award noted, “(Walker) always has time for students, helping them with his and other professors’ assignments, counseling them, and providing an environment that is welcoming to students of all abilities; he never turns a student away. Even if he is not teaching them in class, he is always there for all students.”
“Graham’s cutting-edge research, passion for teaching and vocal support of the student experience made us all better educators and better people,” O’Donnell wrote in the email announcing Walker’s death. “His wonderful sense of humor brightened our lives. He leaves the Manhattan community with an unmatched legacy as a teacher, researcher, colleague, mentor, and friend. We will miss him deeply.”
Pashka Durgaj, a freshman mechanical engineering major a course with Professor Walker during her first semester at MC. She remembers him as one of her main inspirations for wanting to pursue mechanical engineering.
“When I started my first semester I didn’t think I was going to stick with [mechanical engineering]” Durgaj said” “His class was the second class I ever attended, and just in the hour and fifteen minutes I was there, he was able to completely change my perspective because he’s a mechanical engineer, and the way that he talked about it, I left the classroom thinking, ‘I’m going to stay here and this is what I want to do.’”
Walker was known to his students for his humorous and friendly nature. In a daunting field like engineering, he was approachable and made students feel welcome.
“He was very enthusiastic in the way that he talked about engineering,” Durgaj said. “He made it all seem very simple. When people think about engineering they put it on a pedestal and it can be really intimidating. But he just talked about it all really casually and he would often make jokes in class. Dr. Walker just made me feel comfortable.”
Michael Ferrara, a junior mechanical engineering major, agreed.
“He was a great professor, very inspiring and smart,” Ferrara said. “He was funny, just a blast to be around, and made lectures go pretty smoothly in a way that was easy to understand. But he really knew how to have fun during class and he would tell jokes constantly.”
Comments on the MC’s Facebook post read, “Such a devastating shock. His sense of humor, energy, dedication to our community, and character will be so deeply missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him. Sending my love and condolences to his family and loved ones.” Additionally, “So sad to hear this news tonight. Dr. Walker was a legend and brought so many smiles to his students. He was a brilliant, phenomenal educator and truly cared. His positive and meaningful impact left on his students will be cherished forever.”
Walker’s funeral service was held Saturday, Jan. 22 in Yonkers. Walker is survived by his wife Agnes, his three sons John, Martin and Christopher, and his granddaughter Aoife. Condolences can be sent to Walker’s wife, Agnes Murray, at 269 W. 259th St, Bronx NY.