Chemical engineering graduate program to be named in honor of John and Jeanette McWhirter
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Plans to name the graduate program in chemical engineering after longtime supporters and advocates, John “Jack” McWhirter and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter were announced Friday, July 22 at the Penn State University Board of Trustees meeting. The announcement follows a $10 million gift made by the couple last month to support the future of the program.
“Jack and Jeanette have been extraordinarily generous to our department, and we are delighted that our graduate program will bear their names,” said Phillip Savage, department head and Walter L. Robb Family Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering. “Their support has transformed our graduate program and enhanced the overall student experience in chemical engineering, and it will continue to do so for years to come.”
The John R. and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter Graduate Program in Chemical Engineering is the first named graduate program at the University. To the University’s current knowledge, it is also the first named comprehensive graduate program in engineering in the United States.
In addition to the new program name, the Ph.D. coordinator position in the Department of Chemical Engineering will now be known as the McWhirter Graduate Program Coordinator.
The McWhirters’ recent contribution of $10 million to support the program, matches an additional commitment made by the couple last August. The total pledge of $20 million will ensure the future success of the chemical engineering graduate program and provide the resources necessary for students, faculty and staff to excel.
Amr Elnashai, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the College of Engineering, considers the McWhirters’ contributions to be a gesture of leadership that reflect the premium placed on graduate education throughout the college. “Jack and Jeanette’s gifts are a landmark in the impressive history of Penn State Engineering. Not only have they provided transformational support for the research enterprise within the chemical engineering department, but they have also shaped the strategic direction the college is taking, which is to promote our graduate programs to a level of excellence that matches that of our undergraduate programs,” he said.
The McWhirters’ most recent gift extends their well-established tradition of philanthropy within the Department of Chemical Engineering and across the University.
In 2008, the couple committed $1.05 million to create the John R. and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter Student Excellence Fund in Chemical Engineering for undergraduate and graduate scholarships, and in 2014, they made a $5 million gift for fellowship support to benefit graduate students in the Department of Chemical Engineering.
The McWhirters have also supported a number of University and athletic programs including the Tombros and McWhirter Knowledge Commons in the Pattee Library and scholarships for women’s volleyball and basketball.
“We just love Penn State,” said Jack McWhirter, regarding the couple’s history of giving. “Jeanette and I feel exceptionally compelled to support the graduate program in chemical engineering because this program gave me the tools to succeed in my career.”
Raised in southern Illinois, Jack McWhirter earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1959 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Penn State in 1961 and 1962, respectively.
Jeanette McWhirter, originally from Pensacola, Florida, moved to State College when her father returned to academia to earn a Ph.D. in geochemistry and physics from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. She later went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the Eberly College of Science in 1969 and was an instructor in the immunology and pathology labs in the Department of Microbiology.
Jack began his career in industry by working briefly for DuPont, followed by three years as manager of R&D for Mixing Equipment Co. before embarking on a 20-year career at Union Carbide Corp., where he served as vice president and general manager in the Linde Division in 1976 and vice president and general manager of the Union Carbide Agricultural Products Company in 1979.
He took an early full retirement from Union Carbide in 1986 to follow another passion—teaching. From 1986 to 1999 he served as a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State. With the encouragement of then Department Head Larry Duda and former Dean of Engineering David Wormley, McWhirter became the first professor to join the department with a special focus on industry-oriented education, a successful model that continues today.
Since retiring from the University, he has served as founder and president of Mixing and Mass Transfer Technologies and Nittany/Bulldog BioDiesel.
In 1994 Jack and Jeanette founded Copper Beech Townhome Communities, which became one of the largest and most successful student rental property companies in the nation. The couple sold the company in 2014.
Amongst their busy professional careers, entrepreneurial endeavors and family life, the McWhirters have never lost sight of the University they love.
“A chemical engineering degree is very technically strong and broadly applicable to almost any process,” said Jack McWhirter with spirit. “A degree in chemical engineering can prepare you for unlimited career possibilities, many of which I’ve experienced myself. The graduate education I received at Penn State was of exceptional quality, and it continues to be so today. My hope is that the program continues to grow as one of the most preeminent programs in the country.”
Penn State’s chemical engineering graduate program challenges students to become independent researchers with the ability to solve some of today’s most challenging real-world issues. Research pillars include biotechnology and synthetic biology, energy and the environment, materials and interfaces, nanotechnology and systems engineering among others. The program was rated among the top 25 in the country by U.S. News & World Report in its Best Graduate Schools 2017 edition.
Penn State’s alumni and friends are invaluable partners in fulfilling the University’s land-grant mission of education, research and service. Private gifts from alumni and friends enrich the experiences of students both in and out of the classroom; expand the research and teaching capacity of our faculty; enhance the University’s ability to recruit and retain top students and faculty; and help to ensure that students from every economic background have access to a Penn State education. The University’s colleges and campuses are now enlisting the support of alumni and friends to advance a range of unit-specific initiatives.