Few Cornellians have seen as many sides of the university as Eileen McManus Walker ’76, MBA ’78: from professor’s child to undergraduate student, from graduate student to alumna, from Cornell couple to Cornell parent, from dedicated volunteer to trustee and trustee emeritus.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate in so many ways to do the things and have the relationships that I’ve had at the university, to have the opportunities to get involved and see things up close. I just get so much from every interaction,” Eileen said.
She grew up in Ithaca, the daughter of Howard N. McManus Jr., a professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. When Eileen became a Cornellian herself, she said that her first year as a student was a curiously tough transition. Eileen found her footing, however, after joining Sigma Delta Tau; she also credits her sorority friendships for introducing her to her husband, Jay Walker ’77.
Eileen stayed at Cornell to earn her MBA from the Johnson Graduate School of Management. Post-MBA, she quickly landed a role at IBM in personnel management. Eileen remained with IBM for her entire working life, and retired after nearly 20 years.
“It was just that point in my career and the point in my personal life where I decided that it was more important for me to be at home,” Eileen said, explaining how she made the transition from a travel-heavy career to being home with her children, Lindsey Walker ’09 and Evan Walker ’07. “That’s when my personal volunteer journey launched.”
Eileen’s first involvement at Cornell was with the President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW), which supports women students, faculty, staff, and alumni. From there, she said she found out more about herself and what she wanted in her volunteer career.
“I was so fortunate to have a volunteer role model in my mom,” Eileen said, adding that her background in human resources, organizational development, and organizational theory made her volunteering a natural extension of her profession. Volunteering, she said, is all about human motivation: how do you get people to do what needs to be done? Eileen found her niche in channeling raw enthusiasm into productive results for volunteer organizations time and again.
Eileen’s roles evolved to incorporate organizations from all over Cornell: she was president of the Class of 1976 Council, chair of her class Reunion Campaign Major Gifts Committee for her 25th and 30th Reunions, and vice-president of the Johnson Class of 1978. Eileen was elected to the Cornell University Board of Trustees from 2009–2013, and re-elected through 2017. She co-chaired the Cornell Library Campaign for Collections, has served on the eCornell board of directors, and currently co-chairs the eCornell Advisory Council.
She has been a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Council since 2002; she is a member of the Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council, a member of the Student and Campus Life Advisory Council, and the Lab of Ornithology Campaign Committee Chair, as well as a member of the Lab of Ornithology’s administrative board.
Eileen now volunteers full-time, with a full slate of involvements. Outside of Cornell, she is active in education and public health as chair of the board of trustees of the Harvey School, chair of the TEDMED Foundation, and chair of the board of directors of RVNAhealth.
Along with her family, Eileen also established an endowed faculty fund and a graduate fellowship fund to honor her father, who passed away from cancer during her sophomore year.
The Howard N. McManus Jr. Faculty Research Award and Graduate Fellowship Fund in the College of Engineering supports engineering faculty making mid-career shifts, and young faculty and graduate students.
“Because of our relationship with the university, and his relationship with Cornell and how fulfilling it was for him,” Eileen said, her family wanted to “do something to honor him and benefit future students that he would never teach, future faculty that he would never mentor.”
The fund created a $1 million fellowship that shifts to where the need is greatest between supporting those two populations that would be most meaningful for Eileen’s father.
For Eileen, continuously giving back to Cornell was truly a labor of love: she compared it to lending a hand to a family member.
“If I see a place where I can help in some way, that’s going to be my first stop,” she said. “When you have that passion, then you’re not volunteering. You’re just living out your best self at that point.”