Jean Maginnis

Director of Donor Relations

Smiling woman outdoors


One evening in February, I enjoyed time with Dean of Students Emerita Susan Herney and her husband, History Instructor Emeritus Jack Herney, in a special bird-watching class taught to a group of adults Harkness-style. Through the years, many of you may have heard from Susan Herney, as she was the first to write endowed fund reports about the meaningful community Exonians have built together.

Through a lively Harkness discussion about birds, Science Instructor Rich Aaronian, who holds the Harlan Page Amen Professor in Science endowed chair, demonstrated his unique and warm teaching style. The next morning, in 8-degree weather, he led us out into the field to see what we had learned.

In addition to identifying three types of local seagulls, what I learned is the many ways in which Phillips Exeter Academy builds community. First, the Harkness pedagogy gives every student an opportunity to share their viewpoint, their voice. Second, instructors with deep expertise and an encouraging style make students feel excited, challenged, resilient and grateful.

One of our scholarship students expressed it best in a recent thank-you letter to a donor: “I took Russian because my brother’s friend told me to. I asked her why, and she said, ‘Just trust me.’  After the first class, I went to the library and burst out crying, overwhelmed by the Russian alphabet and the extremely fast-paced class. Again, she said, ‘Just trust me.’ After four years, I am here to say, I am glad I [did so]. Russian class didn’t just teach me the language and allow me to go on a three-week trip to Russia; it gave me a lifelong bond with our teacher, [Ms. Inna Sysevich]. She will talk with us about anything on our minds, and even make us blinis after a hard week. I know, in college, I will greatly miss having a faculty that is so deeply invested in my life, but for now I am grateful I have that relationship.”

Already, in this student’s letter and in Mr. Aaronian’s class, I have seen and felt first-hand how meaningful your generous gifts of time and money have been to the special brand of education that is Exeter’s. The funds created by your philanthropy support teaching, financial aid, dorm life, global programs, the arts and athletics, which help to build interwoven relationships that endure through generations.

As I continue to discover how to be part of this community and to share the stories of your generous spirit and foresight, I welcome your inquiries. Thank you for including Phillips Exeter Academy as a worthwhile place to give. I am honored to maintain the tradition of stewarding the Academy’s funds as Susan Herney and Bonnie Weeks did so loyally over the last several decades. You can still find Bonnie at the Academy serving as senior philanthropic adviser.

To learn more about endowed funds, please feel free to write to me at