Scholarship preserves legacy of late ASU professor

Award made possible through support, generosity of surviving family

Older couple sitting at a table outside, smiling at the camera.

Mary C. McWhirter and the late ASU Professor J. Jeffries McWhirter. Courtesy photo


After building a career and a life at Arizona State University, teaching and mentoring for decades while serving as a respected psychologist and international scholar, the late Professor J. Jeffries McWhirter is being honored by a new ASU scholarship created in his name.

Dedicated to the leadership that he provided to the counseling psychology field, the award that his surviving family has established will strengthen the programs McWhirter helped to develop and continue the legacy he left behind.

McWhirter died Jan. 20, 2023, after a storied career of more than 50 years as a counseling and counseling psychology professor at ASU.  

Mary C. McWhirter, J. Jeffries’ spouse, and Benedict and Ellen McWhirter, his son and daughter-in-law, endowed the Professor J. Jeffries McWhirter Scholarship Award for Commitment and Excellence to continue his work developing the counseling program and to create an everlasting legacy in his name.

A headshot of Professor J. Jeffries McWhirter.
J. Jeffries McWhirter

“After my father died, we wanted to focus on giving back to the students and program he loved working with,” Benedict said. “The main focus of putting this scholarship together was to honor his values.”

The scholarship will be awarded to undergraduate students in the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology within the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and was designed to support the program's hardest-working students who have a drive to impact the field like McWhirter did.

McWhirter taught counseling psychology and counselor education for 34 years in what was then ASU’s College of Education, where these programs were originally housed. He was also a highly respected practicing psychologist in the Valley. After he retired, he continued to teach classes for another 18 years for the counseling and counseling psychology graduate programs, as well as for the new Bachelor of Science degrees in counseling and applied psychological science in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at the Polytechnic campus. He taught up until a few months before his death.

McWhirter was originally recruited by ASU in 1970 to assist the university in its pursuit of American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation for its doctoral program in counseling psychology. Shortly after he began his career with ASU, the university received APA accreditation, and it has held it ever since.

“He was hired out of the University of Oregon, and after a rigorous postdoc residency at Oregon Medical School, which is now Oregon Health and Sciences University, to help ASU become nationally accredited by APA,” Benedict said. “He was a true scholar who was in love with teaching, training and working with counselors, and in creating community inside and outside of the academy.”

“ASU’s longstanding APA accreditation is a cornerstone of our school’s national reputation,” said School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology Director Ayşe Çiftçi, who — though new to ASU in fall 2022 — was long aware of McWhirter’s impact at ASU and influence in the field. She first experienced his generous mentorship and ability to build community while she was an undergraduate student in counseling in Turkey in the 1990s.

McWhirter was a highly productive, internationally engaged scholar who wrote numerous books, published and produced hundreds of research articles and professional presentations, and conducted hundreds of trainings in the U.S. and abroad, including as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.

“As an undergraduate student in Turkey, I read his article on counseling in Turkey and engaged in a most fascinating discussion about his insights and observations early on in my training. After moving to the U.S., I met him as a first-year doctoral student, had incredible discussions about international and cross-cultural issues in counseling, and always felt his support for me over the years,” Çiftçi said. “I never dreamed of meeting him one day, let alone joining the faculty of a program that he founded and where he made such a significant impact. His passing is a loss to the entire field. We’re honored to carry on his legacy in such a meaningful way, continuing to directly help our undergraduate students prepare to serve their communities.”

“The scholarship is a tremendous addition to the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology,” said Eric Espeland, ASU Foundation development officer for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. “As we further elevate financial support around this incredible school, it has been great to work with the family on developing an award that can support the needs of the program while creating a legacy.”

A family of proud Sun Devils

J. Jeffries and Mary McWhirter were married for 62 years, and she played a large role in his professional life.

“She was a huge collaborator and partner in everything he did,” Benedict said. “I don’t think he ever made a career decision without her help.”

Benedict and his siblings — Robert, Anna, Paula and Mark — and their spouses have completed 17 ASU degrees among them.

Benedict earned a master’s degree in counseling in 1988 and a PhD in counseling psychology in 1992 at ASU. He and his wife, Ellen, are both professors of counseling psychology at the University of Oregon.

Robert earned his bachelor's degree in history from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU in 1983 and earned his Juris Doctor from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in 1988. He practices law in Arizona and specializes in criminal defense, immigration and constitutional law.

Anna completed her bachelor’s degree in 1986 and her master’s degree in 1993 in education from ASU. She is a residential faculty member at Mesa Community College.

Paula completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU in 1991, and completed her master’s degree in 1993 and PhD in 1997 in counseling psychology from ASU. She was a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Oklahoma and is currently a practicing psychologist in Oregon.

Mark completed his bachelor’s degree in history from ASU in 1991. He was a flight attendant for American Airlines and a long-time property owner and manager. He passed away in a tragic accident shortly after the death of his father.

“ASU played a large role in all of our lives. ‘Foundational’ is the first word that comes to mind,” Benedict said. “My father really identified with the institution he worked for. He loved being a Sun Devil!”

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