Lessons in Lone Star Chemistry with Diana Mason, Ph.D.

Lessons in Lone Star Chemistry with Diana Mason, Ph.D.

Curiosity is what first led Diana Mason to Longhorn Village, but it was her admiration for veterans and expertise in all things Texas that inspired the chemistry professor to see what kind of retirement she could concoct here.

In early 2022, Diana traveled to Austin from Corinth to give a presentation on the vexillology of the Texas flag. Retired in 2012 from the University of North Texas (UNT), she was considering moving to a senior community with future care options anyway, so she scheduled a campus tour with Dawn McQuain, Sales and Marketing Director.

Sporting her Longhorn State shirt with pride, the 72-year-old approached the receptionist, who asked about what she was wearing. Diana explained she had just delivered a talk on the Texas flag. The receptionist’s eyes widened as she asked, “What are you doing on March 2 (Texas Independence Day)?” Sensing the invitation, Diana replied, “Coming back to Longhorn Village?”

And so she did. After delivering a Texas history presentation to Longhorn residents, Diana was invited to stay for a barbecue and beer gathering later that evening. During the event, she shared her other passion: working with Vietnam Veterans. This prompted a second invitation to Longhorn for a talk on March 29 (Vietnam Veterans Day). Following this presentation, there was another round of beer and barbecue.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this seems to be a thing here and it’s pretty fun,’” said Diana, who also planned to check out retirement communities in North Texas. However, she opted to plant her own flag at Longhorn — timing fueled by the post-COVID seller’s market and perhaps Longhorn Village’s well-seasoned culinary team that knows its way around a smoker. “My house was on the market for less than three days, and the rest is history,” she said. “I moved here that summer.”

For Diana, Longhorn Village was no longer just a place to share Texas tidings with other knowledge-loving seniors and debate why the cowboy state’s tomato-based barbecue sauce is far superior to the South’s mustard-based ones. For her, it became home, sweet home. Not that she spends much time in her residence. To say that Diana remains active in science education post-retirement is quite the understatement.

It’s All About Chemistry … and Patriotism

The chemistry expert and walking encyclopedia of fascinating trivia has traveled the world from Cairo to Qatar and continues giving presentations on campus to her now-neighbors and future Longhorn residents.

“It’s fun knowing and sharing little tidbits of information and hearing, ‘I didn’t know that!’ It makes you feel good because someone just learned something,” said Diana, who also helps shape our Lifelong Learning programming. She serves on the Texas Exes Advisory Council and Journal of Science Education and Technology editorial board.

Commissioned by Gov. Greg Abbott as an admiral in the Texas Navy, she’s an ex officio member of the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame and presents pins annually to resident veterans in honor of their military service.

In addition to all that, Diana teaches courses on the Longhorn State’s scientific advances to intellectually curious adults over 50 through UNT’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) and is active with the Texas Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), which honored her in March with an Excellence in Community Service Award.

“I received the award for doing what I love — traveling all over the state giving talks,” she said. “It’s kinda cool to get recognized for something you enjoy doing.”

Logging miles in the car to give presentations also gives Diana a chance to learn more about — you guessed it — chemistry. On her way to pick up her DAR award, she listened to an OLLI presentation on the role UV radiation plays in why things fade. “There’s nothing in the world that’s not chemistry,” she said.

From “Lab Rat” to Globetrotting Science Advocate

Growing up in Fort Worth, Diana always liked science and math but entered the field with “eyes wide open,” knowing it was male dominated. “There just aren’t many women who are math and science oriented toward the physical sciences,” she said. “I was a math major before switching to zoology, which was just an offshoot of biology.”

While working on her doctorate at The University of Texas at Austin, several women were sole chemistry majors but Diana took a different path. “I have a degree in science education with an emphasis in chemistry, so I kind of have a foot in each camp.”

After graduation, Diana was doing laundry in her apartment building, complaining about how she had a degree but couldn’t find a job as a “lab rat,” which is what she was trained to do. “This guy in the laundromat said, ‘Did you know you could make $19 a day if you substitute teach?’ which tells you just how old this story is,” she said.

During her years of teaching chemistry and mathematics, Diana most enjoyed atomic orbital theory. “The forming of molecules is fascinating. If you put sodium in water, it explodes. If you put sodium in your mouth, you’d be very injured. If you breathed in chlorine gas, you’d be very dead. But we eat sodium chloride — table salt — all the time. Just losing one electron makes all the difference in the world.”

With a professional bio and accolades as long and prolific as a DNA molecule, Diana’s work has also made an impact. She’s been a frequent writer, podcast guest, author, editor, presenter, lecturer and moderator. (Watch clips of her science demos from Grandparents University, listen to her narrate a Texas Women Warriors presentation, or play the Lone Star Chemistry with Dr. Diana Mason podcast.)

She’s traveled worldwide as a champion for science, captivating audiences of all ages with her dynamic live demonstrations, which helped her earn recognition for which she’s most proud: The E. Ann Nalley Southwest Region Award for Volunteer Service to the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“I worked with organizations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and would do programs with my demo team for middle school and high school kids who are future engineers,” she said. “And then I got an ACS Award for just having fun. What can I say? I like to blow stuff up.”

A Positive Reaction to Retirement on Campus and Beyond

Diana said retirement life in Texas Hill Country, out by the Highland Lakes and Colorado River, with bluebonnets growing everywhere, is pretty darn nice. Ever resourceful and practical, she appreciates the efficiency and warmth of living at Longhorn Village.

“Things seem to get planned and done around here,” she said. “I don’t think we have any recluses; most residents are very outgoing, want to make friends and are genuinely interested in what you do.”

Diana admits she hasn’t been as social as she’d like because of her always-packed calendar. She has a dozen more talks scheduled this year, including songs about Vietnam, native Texans who’ve won a Nobel Prize, and Texans who served in the military and became entertainers. (Think: Willie Nelson, George Strait and Kris Kristofferson.)

Like electrons moving within an atom’s orbit, Diana has no plans to slow down. “I’m having too much fun and wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it so much!”

Want to learn more about the fascinating retirement waiting for you at Longhorn Village? Give us a call at 512.503.8288 for a bubbling chat.