Wheelock Remembers Professor Walter Burke

February 13, 2009

The Wheelock community fondly remembers a beloved professor, Walter Burke, who died of cancer on January 19, 2009. For forty years, Professor Burke taught in the Math and Science Department, where he also served as chair for 15 years.

His commitment to students—from first-year students fresh out of high school to adult learners in off-campus programs—and to engaging them in the learning process was widely known and appreciated. Walter’s classes were a mixture of lecture and humor, peppered with occasional stories about his cat, Tyga.

"Anyone who spent any time with Walter knew of his gift for conversation and glorious storytelling," remembers Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president of the College.

Sarah DeProdocini ’05 recalls, "His love for teaching was always evident. I learned more than science from him. He taught many future teachers how to love teaching."

Maxine Fishman ’08 adds, "Walter was a great teacher, inspiration, and entertainer. His passion for the sciences was undoubtedly contagious. It was hard to resist his enthusiasm for learning. I remember his excitement as he bounced energetically and happily in front of the classroom. He took the time to make sure his students were learning, enjoyed learning, and were succeeding both in and out of the classroom."

Colleague Mike Williamson shares Walter’s vision to enjoy learning and teaching science. "Throw that phobia away! Enjoy the thrill of investigation, making mistakes, and learning. Science is fun... really!"

In a special tribute, colleagues in Education and Child Life wrote, "Teaching is a lot like planting trees…and Walter, in your career, you have planted many, many trees. Your work, care, and attention to the trees in your forest will go on and on. How lucky we all are to benefit from your teaching, care, and mentorship!"

During his career at Wheelock, Walter taught courses ranging from physical science to chemistry to human genetics. He also served on many College committees, such as Faculty Senate and the task force that developed the first Arts and Sciences majors.

More than anything, Professor Burke cared deeply for his students and made genuine connections with them. His dedication to Wheelock and contributions to the community are too great to name. He will be deeply missed.

To honor Professor Burke, the Math/Science Department has established a new annual award to be given to a Wheelock senior who demonstrates Walter's enthusiasm for science and/or math and shares that enthusiasm with others in a teaching or other community service context. Donations to the fund (make checks payable to Wheelock College and write "Burke fund" in the memo line) may be sent to: Kelly Essman, ACW 305A, Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215.

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