Eric Walker served as President of The Pennsylvania State University. from 1956 to 1970, a time of unprecedented growth for the University and higher education in general.
Born in England in 1910, Walker grew up in York County, Pennsylvania. He considered enrolling at Penn State, but chose Harvard when it made a more attractive scholarship offer. He ultimately earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at Harvard University, before coming to Penn State in 1945 as director of Ordnance Research Laboratory. At the ORL, he oversaw pioneering research in underwater acoustics in cooperation with the U.S. Navy and also served as head of the University’s electrical engineering department. He became dean of engineering in 1951.
Named Penn State president in 1956, he oversaw the University’s statewide expansion via a series of Commonwealth Campuses, where students received the first two years of undergraduate education before moving to the University Park campus. He also took the lead role in founding the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine.
During Walker’s tenure as president, enrollment rose from 13,000 to 40,000 students; Penn State became an internationally recognized research powerhouse; the physical plant more than doubled; and nearly 100,000 people annually participated in the University’s outreach programs.
Nationally, he played a prominent role in strengthening the quality of higher education, and was a science and technology adviser to various federal government bodies.
After leaving Penn State, Walker served as an executive with Alcoa and on several corporate boards. He died at his home near State College in 1995.