As Michael Mason ’85 introduced the upcoming unit on Shakespeare to his 10th-grade English class at Mount Saint Joseph, he was met with predictable groans of protest. Few high schoolers are eager to decipher the archaic language of the Elizabethan Era, but Mike was determined to make the lessons interesting. Before diving into Julius Caesar with his class, he set the scene of the Shakespearean tragedy, relating the themes of the play’s historical events to the students’ contemporary world.
Rather than reading silently at their desks, students were assigned parts to perform at the front of the class. Mike encouraged them to gesture emphatically and read aloud with inflection and energy. “It’s not just reciting words off of the page,” he instructed. “You are trying to express who that person was and what they were feeling.” As the students grew comfortable in their new personas, their acting became livelier; before long, the entire class was engaging with the story.
It was this moment—watching once-reluctant students enthusiastically embody the characters of classic literature—that confirmed Mike’s passion for education. He had only been a teacher a short time, but all the work he had done prior served the same goal: to help young people grow intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. And he was more motivated than ever to continue pursuing that mission.
Mike’s holistic approach to student development stems from his own experiences as a student at Mount Saint Joseph. At The Mount, he not only excelled academically, but he was also heavily involved in the life of the school, participating in drama club, language club, speech and debate, and campus ministry.
“One of the hallmarks of my time at Saint Joe was a course I took in my senior year called Christian Involvement,” Mike recalls. “During the spring semester, we engaged in community service, and my placement was at Caton Manor Nursing Home. That was a really eye-opening experience for me. It really got me thinking about a career working with people in some sort of helping profession.”
Mike went on to Loyola University, Maryland, where he studied English and served as an orientation leader and a resident assistant. He also continued to be involved with campus ministry. During his senior year, he earned an internship with the Maryland State Department of Education with a primary focus on helping incorporate service learning into the public school system as a graduation requirement. He spent the summer as a team leader for high school service projects.
After college, Mike managed volunteers at Christopher Place Employment Academy, a residential employment program for formerly homeless men. He worked with a variety of volunteer groups, assigning projects and educating them on the needs of the shelter.
Then, he spent three years leading youth ministry at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, coordinating religious education, leadership and retreat programs, and Confirmation preparation. While he enjoyed helping middle and high school students discover their unique skills and strengths, he soon felt called to try teaching in the traditional classroom setting.
“My goal was to get back to Saint Joe, to the place that had given me so much,” Mike says. So, after a one-year stint teaching Church History and Ethics at Archbishop Spalding High School, he eagerly applied for a newly open position as an English teacher at his alma mater. From 1995 to 1998, he taught 10th- and 11th-grade English, served as junior class moderator, and coached the speech and debate team. “Those were three of the best years, professionally, I’ve ever had,” he admits. “I’ve loved all of the things I’ve done but being back at Saint Joe was such a rare opportunity.”
With a few years of teaching under his belt, Mike decided to enroll in a master’s degree program in K-12 school administration at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. His positive experiences during both his undergraduate and graduate coursework led him to continue his studies at Boston College. He began pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education administration while also serving as a residence hall director and graduate assistant. In 2004, Mike was granted a fellowship position in Harvard University’s Administrative Fellows Program. During the yearlong fellowship, he worked closely with the associate dean for academic programs at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. When his fellowship was up, he was invited to stay on for an additional year.
Mike took his next career step in 2006, accepting a position in the Office of Faculty Development at Berklee College of Music. One of his most successful endeavors as assistant director was establishing faculty learning communities for professional development. He was also able to work with a number of other offices across campus, which led him to apply for the Liberal Arts and Sciences Department’s inaugural assistant chair position in 2009. He served 11 years in that role, helping grow the faculty and expand the academic offerings. He took over as the chair in September of 2020, after having served as interim chair throughout the preceding spring and summer.
In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Mike has also been able to teach a few classes over the years. And when he does, he always opens with the same question: “How do you best learn?” He then writes the students’ responses on a whiteboard and uses them as a template for the class structure that semester.
“It’s about meeting students where they are,” he says. “Discussion is an important part of teaching for me. The other piece is being conscious of creating a learning community. Yes, as the professor I have information and experiences to offer them, but I have just as much to learn from them and their experiences as well.”
At a school like Berklee it is no surprise that campus is constantly bursting with creative energy. Vocals float from practice rooms; the rhythmic tapping of a dance class echoes in the hallways. Music is everywhere, but the students’ creativity extends even beyond their art and into their ways of thinking. One of the most valuable lessons Mike has learned, and continues to learn, from his students is to always look at life through different perspectives.
“Because they’re creative people, they can see the world through multiple lenses,” Mike says. “They ask great questions, and they’re able to make these excellent connections to the material in class discussions.”
As assistant chair and now-chair of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Department, Mike has been able to incorporate the students’ creative interests into the more traditional academic subjects by designing a suite of liberal arts and sciences minors. There is also an option for an “individualized minor,” which allows students to combine several areas of interest into one minor.
“It’s important to do things that are interdisciplinary, so they see the connections between history and literature and science and math and all of the academic subjects,” Mike explains. “It not only makes them more marketable in the workforce, but it is also part of their human development and makes them more well-rounded people and more curious about the world.”
At the core of Mike’s career has always been a commitment to the holistic development of students—education that sets the stage for young graduates to enthusiastically play their parts as global citizens. And he watches—with a passion repeatedly reignited—as their characters unfold.