The Schenk family is on a three-generation win streak at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Mary Ann Schenk enrolled in UTC when she was 54 and graduated in 1996 with a degree in psychology.
Her son, John, graduated in 1995 from UTC with a degree in English literature. John’s wife, Denise, graduated from UTC in 1995 with a degree in human ecology: family and consumer studies.
Mary Ann’s daughter, Ann, graduated from UTC in 1996 with a degree in education and, for one semester, was in the same children’s literature class as her mother.
Dru, son of John and Denise, graduated summa cum laude in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He graduated after completing the coursework and necessary credit hours to earn a degree in three years.
“It’s been difficult at times. I had some really difficult semesters,” he said. “I took four accounting classes in the fall at one time, which was not recommended by my department head.”
He won’t be away long because he returns in fall semester 2023 to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. He’ll also continue running Dru Schenk Photography, which he established six years ago.
Wrapping up the Schenk family’s links to UTC, Mary Ann’s late husband, also named Dru, was in the last graduating class of the University of Chattanooga before it became UTC.
Growing up in the Belvoir neighborhood of Chattanooga, Mary Ann began her college career at Sienna College, a private Catholic school in Memphis. It closed after her sophomore year when she was 19, and she returned to Chattanooga.
She spent most of her life raising her family and being an advocate for abused children and those with disabilities, starting the Chattanooga chapters of the nonprofits Kids on the Block and Children’s Advocacy Center.
“I had a sister with very severe disabilities, and she was my teacher because she taught us compassion, patience, empathy, understanding and lots of other things. She was one of the best teachers I ever had.”
Mary Ann enrolled in UTC when she was 54 and, while the quality of the classes and faculty was outstanding, she said, one element of the University stands out in her memory.
“The young people were just wonderful to me,” said Mary Ann, now 79 years old. “There was one young man that would sit and have coffee with me, and he brought a backpack one day and said, “I don’t want you walking around carrying all those books. You need a backpack.’ Just the whole scenario of young people was so uplifting.”
Mary Ann and grandson Dru—he calls her “Mo”—both took classes taught by Dr. Lauren Ingraham, a professor of English at UTC.
“I don’t have another experience of teaching a senior member of a family and a grandchild. This is unique, but I’m struck by how much both these folks love UTC,” Ingraham said.
She doesn’t recall the specific course in which Mary Ann was her student, nor does Mary Ann. In fall semester 2021, Dru was enrolled in Ingraham’s “Food Fight!: The Rhetoric of Food” course.
“He excelled in that course in a number of ways. He led student discussions and helped students get involved with food opportunities in the area,” she recalled.
John and Denise met in an environmental science class at UTC but didn’t start dating until about a year later.
“She walked to the restaurant I was working in, and we sort of reconnected, and I asked her for her number, and then I just started chasing her,” recalled John, who graduated from Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, where the past five generations of Schenks have attended.
He spent his first two years in college at Loyola University in New Orleans, but it didn’t work out.
“You really don’t want to leave an 18, 19 year old up to his own devices down there. I came back with a very atrocious grade point average,” he said.
Enrolling in UTC meant being able to stay at home, work in restaurants and handle tuition.
“I had to pay my way through college,” he said.
Denise grew up in Ooltewah and graduated from Central High School and said there was no specific reason she enrolled at UTC.
“You were destined to meet me,” John said.
After graduating from UTC, Ann—whose married name is Monroe—spent four years as a third-grade teacher at Thrasher Elementary School on Signal Mountain. Now a professor of education and dean and director of assessment at the University of Mississippi, she said what she learned at UTC is the bedrock of her teaching abilities.
“As someone who now teaches in a teacher-training program, I know the quality that I got at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the teacher-training program was excellent. When I got my first classroom, I felt a 100% prepared as a first-year teacher.”
Although she doesn’t recall the year, she distinctly remembers the children’s literature course that she and her mother were both in. She got a B; her mother got an A.
“I was not happy,” Ann said, followed by a laugh.
After Dru graduated from Notre Dame, his friends expected him to attend college outside of Chattanooga. His mother said she did, too. Enrolling at UTC even surprised him.
“I only applied to UTC. I did not apply to any others,” he said.
But he already had established Dru Schenk Photography in Chattanooga, making a lot of business contacts in the process, so staying in the city made sense, he explained.
“I was really well-connected, and I had a large network in Chattanooga. I realized that I could stay here and grow my business.”
With a house he recently bought in Rossville, Georgia, a second business in rental property is in its infant stages.
Back at UTC in the fall, he’ll take courses for a master’s degree and work as a graduate assistant in the Department of Accounting.
But it’s not all business all the time. He’s taking trips to Spain and Hilton Head, South Carolina, in May. He has to make sure he’s back by the first week of June, though. That’s when he starts his summer internship with the Deloitte business management consulting firm in Atlanta.