Michael Walter, professor emeritus and former chairman of the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, (BEE), died Nov. 5, in Lansing. He was well-known for his affability and inclusiveness. He was 75.
Walter joined Cornell’s faculty in 1975. His research was focused on sustainable development, especially at the nexus between water, food and electricity. Walter spent 40 years at Cornell conducting research that helped farmers, watersheds, communities and communities in New York and Asia, Africa, South America, India and South America. Walter and his family also lived in India in the 1980s where he was responsible for soil and water management programs for USAID.
Walters oldest child, M. Todd WalterMoreover, he is also a professor in Biological and Environmental Engineering.
Walter travelled the country asking people about their ponds. He learned that they were used for irrigation, cleaning, raising fish and bathing during droughts.
Todd Walter stated that he went back to the government agencies and said that he didn’t think he could optimize those ponds beyond the visions of the people who live next to him. He was an Ivy League professor who was eager to learn from everyone, even those with less power or privilege.
Norman Scott, a fellow professor emeritus of BEE, described Walter to be friendly and engaged with a unique sense for humor and a deep commitment towards applied research.
Scott stated that Mikes work was focused on avoiding contamination and pollution in the environment by agriculture, whether in New Yorks North Country, Chesapeake or India. At the time, extension work was more concentrated on New York farmers, but Mike saw the benefit of international research and was ahead in his time.
Scott stated that Walter also assisted in the development of an international graduate student program that allowed BEE students to conduct global research. This was a pioneering effort.
Walter was named chair of the Department of Agriculture and Biological Engineering. He oversaw the department’s transformation to Biological and Environmental Engineering. This broadened focus included environmental protection and attracted more students, Scott stated. He said that teaching and advising students was his greatest joy and his proudest legacy.
Scott stated that he was always involved with students, undergraduate and graduate. He believed that teaching was extremely important even at a research-intensive university. Mike would answer, “Advancing the education and the development many young people” as his greatest legacy to the university.
Allison Pelletier was Walter’s administrative assistant for ten years during his tenure as department chair. He said Walter valued personal interactions. He made everyone he spoke to feel valued and important, whether they were students, staff members, or visitors.
It didn’t matter who someone was or what they were expecting when they walked into his office. This person was his priority. Pelletier stated that he would listen to them with all his heart. He valued each human being he came across.
Walter received many awards for his service at Cornell.
Michael Faivre Walter was a DeKalb, Illinois native. He was born into a farming family. He graduated with a B.S. He earned a B.S. in agricultural engineering in 1968, and an M.S. in hydrology in 1974. In 1968, he received an M.S. in agricultural engineering, and in 1970, he received a Ph.D. in water resources engineering from the University of Wisconsin.
Walter is survived his wife Dianne, seven grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren.
Krisy Gashler works as a writer for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.