Alumni Jack and Jeanette McWhirter named the 2017 Philanthropists of the Year

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has named John “Jack” and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter, both alumni and longtime supporters, its 2017 Philanthropists of the Year for their support of programs across the University. The award, which was presented last month, recognizes individuals or couples who have demonstrated exceptional generosity in the promotion and support of Penn State.

“Jack and Jeanette’s philanthropy has not only benefited countless students and faculty, it has also elevated Penn State’s place in the broader landscape of public higher education,” said Rich Bundy, vice president for development and alumni relations. “We can attribute Penn State’s rise in national rankings to the contributions of philanthropic leaders like Jack and Jeanette McWhirter.” 

The McWhirters are longtime supporters of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Following a long history of support for scholarships and fellowships in the department, last summer, the University named the John R. and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter Graduate Program in Chemical Engineering in honor of the couple’s historic $10 million gift to the program. It is the first named graduate program at Penn State, and to the University’s knowledge, it also is the first named comprehensive graduate program in engineering in the United States.

The McWhirters’ philanthropy has extended to other parts of the University. In 2012, they made the largest gift in the history of the University Libraries, together with Peter and Ann Tombros, to create the McWhirter and Tombros Knowledge Commons in Pattee Library, a space for collaborative, digitally-driven learning. The Knowledge Commons offers University Park students 24/7 support during the fall and spring semesters, putting students close to resources including reference, research and writing support; technology assistance; and the Media Commons.

Their philanthropy has also benefited student-athletes through their support of scholarships in Intercollegiate Athletics. In 2013, they created the Maggie Lucas Scholarship for Lady Lion Shooting Guard to benefit student-athletes on the women’s basketball team, and in 2015, they created the Micha Hancock Scholarship for Women’s Volleyball Setter to support student-athletes on the women’s volleyball team. Both scholarships support students with outstanding academic achievement.

“Penn State is the greatest place in the world, and it has given us and our families so much,” said Jeanette McWhirter. “Giving back just feels like the right thing to do.”

Jeanette Dachille McWhirter graduated from the Eberly College of Science with a degree in microbiology in 1969. She taught immunology and pathology labs in the college prior to a 23-year career in residential and investment real estate. She worked at the University Libraries as an undergraduate and has since served on the Libraries Development Board.

Before attending Penn State, Jack McWhirter earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1959. He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Penn State in 1961 and 1962, respectively. Soon after, he embarked on a 20-year career with Union Carbide, where he helped to revolutionize wastewater treatment systems in the United States. He retired as a vice president in 1986 and joined Penn State’s faculty as a professor of chemical engineering until 2000. He also was founder and CEO of both Nittany Biodiesel and Mixing and Mass Transfer Technologies.

As an outside business venture, the couple designed, built, owned and operated off-campus housing in State College under the Copper Beech Townhome Communities brand name beginning in 1994. Today, Copper Beech serves student populations at Penn State and 19 other universities in 14 states. The McWhirters recently sold the company to a large nationwide real estate company.

The McWhirters split their time between Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and Naples, Florida.

Gifts from Penn State’s alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university. Private support will keep the door to higher education open and enable students to graduate on time and on track to success; create transformative experiences on Penn State campuses and around the globe that tap the full potential of Penn Staters to make a difference; and impact the world through discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more, please visit

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 05, 2017