School of Education alumnus announces gift to honor professor  

Jack and Teresa Litman will make a significant bequest to the Helen Lee Stevens scholarship for graduate students


Sept. 30, 2015

Jack M. Litman, an alumnus of UMKC’s School of Education, remembers how, many years ago, one professor changed his life.

The Vancouver, Washington, psychologist with more than 30 years of private practice experience said he might never have completed or even pursed his doctoral degree had it not been for Helen Lee Stevens, the professor he was assigned as an advisor.

“She helped me believe that I could survive a doctorate program, because it wasn’t clear to me that I could,” Litman said recently on a visit back to Kansas City to attend the School of Education’s scholarship luncheon on Sept. 17.

In fact, Litman did make it through. He earned his doctorate at UMKC in the spring of 1979 and has used that education and degree to build a successful career.

Now, more than three decades later, Litman decided to memorialize the gratitude he feels toward Dr. Stevens, who taught at UMKC for two decades. She died in 1987 soon after leaving academia to pursue a private counseling practice.

Litman and his wife Teresa recently made a significant bequest to the Helen Lee Stevens scholarship, an endowed fund that benefits graduate students studying counseling psychology and counselor education in the School of Education’s Division of Counseling and Educational Psychology.

“She was just such a fine person,” Litman said. “She was a wonderful person.”

Chris Brown, PhD., Interim Dean of the School of Education and professor of counseling and educational psychology, thanked the Litmans for their gift and called it “a wonderful testament of the impact that student engagement and professor mentoring can have on the lives of our graduates.”

“Their gift is a clear investment in our students in that it will help to recruit excellent students who have an interest and desire to work with our gifted faculty,” Brown said. “On behalf of the School of Education, I wholeheartedly thank the Litmans for their generous support and for making a difference in the lives of our next generation of counseling psychology leaders.”

Dr. Stevens ended up being a person who changed Litman’s life. But back when he was told she would be his advisor, he remembers not being exactly thrilled with the assignment. At the time, he was a counselor at Penn Valley Community College and taking graduate courses at UMKC only as a part-time pursuit because he wanted to offer group counseling opportunities to students at Penn Valley. He really had no intention of pursuing a doctorate.

The powers that be at the School of Education, though, said just taking courses as an undeclared post graduate student wasn’t an option. If he wanted to continue taking the classes, they told him, he needed to be in a formal doctoral program.

Dr. Stevens, who at the time was chair of the Division of Counseling and Educational Psychology, had the reputation of being a “by-the-book individual.”

“She was a no-nonsense professor,” Litman said. “I was less sure about what she was going to be like. I met her with trepidation.”

But Litman quickly discovered that Dr. Stevens was nothing like her reputation. In fact, she was exactly the kind of advisor he needed — the kind who took students under her wing and made sure they had all the support and guidance they needed to succeed.

“She was an excellent example of mentorship,” Litman said. “She got her people through. She really optimized how mentorship should work, and was a touchstone for the people she worked with. That’s really critical in higher education and doctoral level programs.”

Dr. Dennis Schemmel, a colleague of Dr. Stevens’ at UMKC, agreed that she was very much dedicated to her students.

“She was a devoted professor,” Schemmel said. “That was her life. She loved teaching and she loved her students.”

Litman may have started as a reluctant Ph.D. candidate, but, thanks to Dr. Stevens, he said, he worked hard and quickly became invested in his own success.

“I was motivated to make her proud of me,” he said.

After Litman completed his degree, he remained close to Dr. Stevens. She attended his wedding in Santa Fe and a few years later visited him in New Mexico on her vacation. Likewise, he made a point of visiting her every time he came to Kansas City. As their relationship changed after Litman completed his degree, Dr. Stevens became not just a trusted and valued advisor, but a very dear friend, Litman said.

He added that, he and his wife hope their gift to her scholarship fund will help more students succeed as he has. And, of course, as Professor Stevens would have insisted they do.