Tracy and Ted McCourtney make transformative gift to create two professorships

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State 2013 Philanthropists of the Year Tracy and Ted McCourtney have created two new professorships in the College of the Liberal Arts, one in the Department of Psychology and the other in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. The transformative gift of $2 million will provide exceptional Liberal Arts faculty with the resources necessary to continue innovative teaching, research and public service.

Karen Bierman, distinguished professor of psychology and human development and family studies, and director of the Child Study Center, has been named the McCourtney Professor of Child Studies. Bierman's research program focuses on social-emotional development and children at risk, with an emphasis on the design and evaluation of school- and community-based programs that promote social competence, school readiness and positive intergroup relations while reducing aggression and violence.

Debra Hawhee, professor of English and of communication arts and sciences, and senior scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, has been named the McCourtney Professor of Civic Deliberation. Her research focuses on histories and theories of rhetoric, with a focus on rhetoric’s less-than-rational elements. She has been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. Hawhee also helped launch the year-long integrated communication class, Rhetoric and Civic Life, for honors students at Penn State.

“We are deeply grateful for Tracy and Ted’s dedication and support of the college and our faculty,” said Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “Tracy and Ted have been leading benefactors to the College for nearly two decades with their visionary gifts for many college priorities, including the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and the Richards Civil War Era Center.”

A 1965 English graduate, Tracy McCourtney said, “Ted and I have admired and supported many faculty in the college who have elevated undergraduate education at Penn State through their innovative work. So many Penn State students benefit from the faculty’s ongoing contributions to teaching and scholarship.” Born of their own upbringing and their love and support for the futures of their 15 grandchildren, the McCourtneys are particularly invested in the kind of gifts that can ensure that “generations of students to come will benefit from the work of exceptional faculty like Karen Bierman and Debra Hawhee.”

After her graduation from Penn State, Tracy assisted foster children and families in New York City as a social worker. A 1960 Notre Dame engineering graduate, Ted served four years in the U.S. Navy and then earned an MBA from Harvard in 1966. For 30 years, he was a general partner at Venrock, a pioneering venture capital fund in emerging technologies and health care. Now an independent investor, Ted served on Notre Dame's Board of Trustees and remains an emeritus trustee. Their philanthropy at the University of Notre Dame and Penn State has had a lasting impact on students and faculty at both schools. Their four children are involved in careers in social services, education or business as well.

Over the years, the McCourtneys endowed three undergraduate scholarships, which have helped more than 350 Liberal Arts students; fellowships and scholarships for graduate students in social sciences and humanities; and faculty professorships in psychology, sociology and American history. The couple also provided critical support for the Moore Building renovation and addition that is benefiting psychology faculty and students; a lead gift to a graduate endowment in honor of Welch; and a fund for the Career Enrichment Network to help students land their first job or succeed in professional or advanced studies after graduation. Most recently, the couple endowed the McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

In 2013, Penn State honored Tracy and Ted McCourtney with the Philanthropists of the Year Award and inducted them into the Elm Circle of the Mount Nittany Society, which is the highest level of recognition for philanthropy. 

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Last Updated November 30, 2015