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Fran Walker Credit: Jennifer Liao

With 35 years at Penn behind her, Director of Student Life Fran Walker will be retiring at the end of the semester.

Growing up in northern New Jersey, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, until she actually became one, Walker said. After receiving her doctorate in English at Tufts University and teaching for seven years at Tufts, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Hobart and William Smith College, Walker said she realized “the part of teaching that [she] really enjoyed was talking to students.”

With this discovery in mind, Walker accepted a position in 1974 at Penn’s student activities office, where she was responsible for advising a number of student organizations and overseeing New Student Week.

What first drew Walker to Penn were the students who interviewed her for the job. And over the years, after supervising numerous groups — including the Student Activities Council and the Undergraduate Assembly — and ultimately becoming director of Student Life, Walker has continued to love Penn for the same reason.

“Penn students are extremely bright, very challenging, very ambitious,” she said. Undoubtedly, “the students are the best thing about this job — it’s certainly not the hours.”

Those who have worked with Walker said her dedication to the student body exceeds all expectations.

“Fran always goes the extra mile,” UA President and College junior Matt Amalfitano said, having gotten to know Walker through serving on the UA body. “Staff members work from eight to four. Students don’t. But Fran understands this — she always stays late, puts in the extra hours to make sure she’s working with students, as well,” he said.

According to 1984 College graduate Lori Landew, who first worked with Walker while planning Spring Fling, her willingness to help students was simply a sign that Walker is “completely selfless.”

“There was just this constant flow of people in an out of her office,” Landew recalled. “Most people who got to know [Walker] felt she knew them on a very intimate and caring level.”

Aside from her ability to “nurture students and professionals alike,” Walker is unique in her knowledge of “what seems like the entire history of student activities/life at Penn,” Associate Director of Student Life Katie Hanlon, who has known Walker since working with her as the OSL Graduate Assistant in 2003, wrote in an e-mail.

Indeed, having witnessed — and been a part of — events such as the inception of Ivy Day and the 21-day College Hall sit-in of 1984, Walker said “there has never been a regular day” in her office.

In spite of this knowledge and experience, Landew said, Walker has never been condescending. “You knew she knew more than you did, but she never made you feel that way.”

Looking back on her time at Penn, Walker said she will miss the relationships she’s cultivated more than any one experience or event. “I won’t miss the place, I won’t miss Spring Fling,” she said, “but I will miss all of the colleagues I’ve worked with.”

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