Dr. Mary E. Hawthorne graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1937 with a biology degree, earned her master's in biology from Penn State in 1940, and become a faculty member of Penn State in 1940. She would go on to serve in the WAVES program in the class of 1944. There she helped create the first Physician's Assistant Program. She earned her Ph.D. in botany from Michigan State University in 1951. She was recalled to active service during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1971.