McWhirters' $10M gift to expand chemical engineering graduate program

Chemical engineering alumnus Jack McWhirter, and his wife, Jeanette, have given $10 million to Penn State's College of Engineering to enhance the chemical engineering graduate program. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Chemical engineering alumnus John "Jack" McWhirter and his wife, Jeanette Dachille McWhirter, recently gave Penn State $10 million to support the graduate program in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The gift continues their strong support and pride in the exceptional accomplishments of the faculty, staff and students in chemical engineering at Penn State. "We hope our gift helps to ensure that the program can continue to succeed at the highest levels," they said.

Phillip Savage, department head and Walter L. Robb Family Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering, said the department is overwhelmed by the McWhirters' generosity and exceptional support. "This gift will allow us to expand our graduate program and more readily explore high-risk, high-reward research. It will increase even more the already sizable impact of our PhD graduates."

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 earned her bachelor's degree in microbiology from Penn State's College of Science in 1969.

The Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering Amr Elnashai commented: "Jack and Jeanette continue to inspire us to achieve even higher levels of graduate studies success. This gift will consolidate and indeed enhance the march of preeminence of the chemical engineering department."

After graduation, Jack worked 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 became a 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.

McWhirter took early retirement from Union Carbide in 1986 to become a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State from 1986 to 1999. Since leaving the University, he founded Mixing and Mass Transfer Technologies and Nittany/BullDog BioDiesel.

In 1994, Jack and Jeanette founded Copper Beech Townhome Communities, which is one of the largest student rental property companies in the U.S. today.

Jack McWhirter was recognized by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2011 as one of the 100 pre-eminent chemical engineers of the modern era for his invention, development and commercialization of the UNOX wastewater treatment system while at Union Carbide in the late 1960's and 1970's. These systems still currently account for about 35 percent of the total U.S. secondary wastewater treatment capacity. Jack also received the College of Engineering's Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award in 1984 and the Graduate School Alumni Society's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

The McWhirters have been longtime donors to the College of Engineering. In 2008, they pledged $1.05 million to create the John R. and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter Student Excellence Fund in Chemical Engineering for undergraduate and graduate scholarships. In 2014, they made a $5 million commitment in fellowship support for graduate students in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The couple's history of philanthropy at the University also includes a joint gift of $2.5 million to support the Knowledge Commons in the Pattee Library and $300,000 of scholarship support each for both women's volleyball and basketball.

Penn State's chemical engineering graduate program challenges students to become experts in their area of research, aiding advancements in areas such as energy production, conversion and storage; biotechnology; environmental sustainability; materials; nanotechnology and many others. The program was rated in the top 25 in the country by U.S. News & World Report in its Best Graduate Schools 2016 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.

Last Updated August 04, 2015