Profiles of Impact

Mary ‘20 and John Whisenhunt

Helping Students Explore and Improve Our World

Mary Whisenhunt ‘20 and her husband John have almost polar opposite interests in the academic realm. While Mary thrives on archaeology and the study of human history, John has a deep admiration for astronomy and learning about things beyond our world. Despite their different interests, the couple has a common goal—supporting The University of Texas at San Antonio in a way that benefits students and faculty from both areas of study.

In 2018, Mary and John shared their plans to establish two endowed funds at UTSA to support their passions in anthropology and astronomy: the Whisenhunt Excellence Endowment in Anthropology and The John “Whizzo” Whisenhunt Astronomical Scholarship Endowment. These endowments will be generously funded through gifts in the couple’ wills, to be fulfilled at a much later date.

Fast-forwarding to 2020, Mary and John decided to accelerate their support for a more immediate impact. To complement gifts they made to fund their endowments the couple also created two annual scholarships to provide immediate support while the endowments grow and mature. These generous commitments mean that scholarships can currently be awarded to students while the endowments continue growing over time, allowing the Whisenhunts to positively impact the university in both the short- and long-term.

The Whisenhunts met as officers in the United States Air Force, describing their relationship as an “immediate office romance.” Before joining the military in 1991, Mary had a career in archaeology, which included special projects in Israel. After retiring from the Air Force, she decided to pursue her interests further by earning a degree in archaeology through UTSA’ anthropology program. She graduated with her Ph.D. in August 2020. While attending the university, Mary was especially inspired by the students who surrounded her in class and their sincere love for anthropology.

“While I had the military’ G.I. Bill help to pay for my degree, I noticed that students around me were working 20 or more hours per week while also pursuing their education. The curriculum was very demanding and many of these students did not have the same safety net that I did. I knew I had to find a way to help them pursue their goals without distractions,” said Mary.

While Mary has continued on with her archaeology work, John, who has always been fascinated with astronomy, was inspired to become involved with UTSA by volunteering in the physics and astronomy department. He eventually became a docent for the Curtis Vaughan Jr. Observatory located above the Flawn Science Building. John says he also finds it important to regularly contribute to UTSA’ outreach programs including the university’ First Friday Stargazing and First Nights Celestial that are also open to the public.

“We both find it important to give to students who don’t have a traditional graduate school experience. Many students who visit the observatory for research are there on their own time outside of classes,” said John. “As astrologers, this research is necessary for success, but takes time away from their studies. Students who work multiple jobs need extra help to succeed as astrologers with hands-on experience at the observatory.”

John and Mary hope their scholarships will help students who do not have the resources necessary to explore crucial aspects of their degree. The opportunities the pair has created will allow students to have a more well-rounded education that will set them up for success as they enter the workforce. Additionally, their long-term bequest is not only open to student scholarships, but also to UTSA’ world-class professors. The funds will help expand their research and training, and provide tools needed to deliver a high-quality education for students.

“We believe in UTSA and hope our gifts make the education of its students even more accessible and provide more opportunities for its already outstanding faculty. Our ultimate goal is that our gift will lead to even greater success for all,” said Mary.

The Whisenhunts’ passions for studying both the world and universe led them to create invaluable pathways for students to improve knowledge of the unknown. Because of their generosity, UTSA faculty and students now have resources to further explore both the earth and the galaxy for generations to come.

—Jordan Allen, Development Writer

The University of Texas at San Antonio Donor Mary ‘20 and John Whisenhunt
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