Eric and Janet Branyan endow professorship, excellence fund in engineering

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
August 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — New avenues for cutting-edge research and outstanding student experiences in Penn State’s Department of Mechanical Engineering are being made possible thanks to a gift from Eric and Janet Tomajko Branyan.

Eric Branyan, a 1980 graduate in mechanical engineering, and his wife, Janet Branyan, a 1980 graduate in marketing, have pledged funds to strengthen the department’s teaching and research accomplishments through the creation of the Eric R. and Janet Tomajko Branyan Faculty Chair in Mechanical Engineering and the Eric R. and Janet Tomajko Branyan Fund for Excellence in Mechanical Engineering.

“The breadth of research and technology in the department is already there and this professorship will hopefully be another initiative to continue looking forward to the future.”

— Eric Branyan, 1980 graduate in mechanical engineering

When Eric Branyan first walked into the Reber Building, home to the Department of Mechanical Engineering, “There were these old steam engines-museum pieces that signified where the department had been,” he said.

The space has been successfully renovated into a collaborative, student-centered digital workspace funded by the Gurshaney family. Branyan explained, “Now, when you walk into the E-Knowledge Commons, it’s about where we are going to be and looking to the future.”

He said, “That is what our gift represents – getting our students what they need to shape the future.”

Eric Branyan is a recipient of the Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award in 2011, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Engineering, and a former member of the mechanical engineering Industrial and Professional Advisory Council (IPAC). Eric and Janet Branyan hope their gift will create an enduring legacy of outstanding education and technology advancement as well as individual inspiration for continuous learning and experimentation.

“There has been so much growth in the mechanical engineering department, and we want to make sure there are adequate faculty to support the students, so they can succeed in their careers, whether it be in academia, government service or private industry,” Eric Branyan said.

He recently retired as a vice president from Lockheed Martin where he held several roles on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, a unique, multiple-variant design which incorporates cutting edge technologies. He has maintained close ties with his alma mater and he has returned not only for IPAC events, but also to share his knowledge directly with the mechanical engineering students through one of the microcredentialing courses he taught in February.    

With the help of Branyan’s unique perspective, students developed skills to evaluate and influence the elements of product value, using examples like iPhones and Tesla vehicles.

Karen Thole, distinguished professor and mechanical engineering department head, said, “Alumni support, such as this gift from Eric and Janet, is vital to supporting excellent faculty and students. We are so honored to have their support.”

For the newly formed Department of Mechanical Engineering, the endowed professorship and excellence fund will aim to find convergences between technologies, encouraging the faculty to reach across disciplines to broaden their impact. For example, expanding the use of lithium ion batteries has the potential to hasten the adoption of electrical vehicles, or advances in additive manufacturing can transform how custom orthopedic implants are created.

“When different technologies come together, they can completely transform industries,” Branyan said. “The breadth of research and technology in the department is already there and this professorship will hopefully be another initiative to continue looking forward to the future.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated August 06, 2019