Michael Mason saw a challenge when she joined Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center’s staff in 1999.
The outreach center—located in Liberty City—taught about 300 students at the time. Mason, hired as director of student services, wanted to increase those numbers.
After 21 years of designing new enrollment initiatives, offering college credit and degree programs, her vision came true.
Today, the Meek Center enrolls more than 1,300 students per semester.
“We have grown tremendously over the years,” Mason said. “More people are aware of it. We’re small. We’re hands-on. We’re intimate, and that’s not something that you can do [at] a larger campus—there’s not that ability. I think we have more of a connection with the students.”
After 28 years at Miami Dade College, Mason is set to retire on July 31. She worked at Wolfson Campus for seven years in several capacities before transferring to her current position.
“She’s the nucleus of the center,” said Marcella Holness, executive director at the Meek Center. “The students, the staff, faculty—everyone radiates to her because of her nurturing characteristics and her helpfulness.”
Before MDC, Mason earned a bachelor’s degree in English and social studies education in 1975 from Olivet College, a private liberal arts school in Michigan. She initially wanted to teach elementary school students, but changed her mind after working at Ann J Kellogg Elementary School for 12 weeks during her last semester.
Looking to steer away from education, Mason started working for Eastern Air Lines at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. She held various seasonal jobs like customer service, ticket counter and baggage servicing agent.
After struggling to make ends meet, Mason moved to Miami to work for the airline’s system operations center. She was initially in charge of maintaining flight schedules, but later moved onto human resources and recruitment management.
She traveled to every continent, except for Australia and Antarctica, while working at the airline.
One of her favorite memories is from a four-week trip to Africa—where she visited Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania—in 1982 with her colleagues. They visited Victoria Falls in Zambia, and watched hippopotamus and rhinoceros take a bath in the Zambezi River.
“I got to see the world. I think that when people leave the United States, they don’t know what really exists out there,” Mason said. “They don’t know that this is not the way everybody lives and traveling outside is, or at least for me was, a major eye opener.”
But her traveling lifestyle hit a bump in the road in 1991 when Eastern Air Lines shut down.
The closed door allowed her to revisit an old passion—education.
Mason applied for a temporary position at Wolfson Campus in September of 1991. She recruited students from Miami Edison Senior High School, Miami Beach Senior High School and Miami Jackson Senior High School.
Eventually, Mason became a coordinator for the College Reach-Out Program at Wolfson Campus. She created summer programming for high school and middle school students to help expose them to a college environment.
Seven years later, she transferred to the Meek Center. Her responsibilities revolve around scheduling, enrollment, mentorship, academic advisement and resolving conflicts for students and faculty at the center. In addition, Mason also works closely with financial aid and TRIO Educational Opportunity Center Services.
“I think we’re gonna lose a true advocate for students, somebody who believes very much in the mission of MDC, and someone who stands for democracy and who has a wealth of experience,” said North Campus TRIO Director Carlton Daley, who has known Mason for 26 years. “She is an amazing friend and an amazing coworker who goes more than the extra mile.”
Founded in 1989, the Meek Center is a branch of North Campus that focuses on entrepreneurship and community development.
It was founded in response to Miami’s tense racial history—most notable, the 1980, 1982 and 1989 race riots that erupted in Overtown and Liberty City following the death of three Black men, during three separate incidents, at the hands of local police.
In 2016, the Meek Center underwent its first large-scale renovations. They remodeled the air conditioning, electrical system and furniture. In addition, the metal blinds that covered the windows were removed to create a more inviting space.
“She literally has been the Meek Center,” said senior staff associate Trevian Carmichael. “The changes, the rapport with the community that she has and that she brought to the center will be very missed. I haven’t worked for anyone as great as her.”
Mason earned a master’s degree in higher education administration from Barry University in 1999.
She completed the coursework needed for a doctorate degree in organizational leadership with a specialization in higher education administration from Barry University. However, she never completed her dissertation because her mother—Joan Strong—passed away after battling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
But her heart has remained true to MDC. For the last decade, Mason has dressed up as Mrs. Claus during the annual Children’s Holiday festival at North Campus, where she sat next to Santa Claus in the parade and read books to children with her elves.
“It’s such a rewarding experience to see little children whose eyes light up to see Mrs. Claus,” Mason said.
During retirement, she wants to spend time with her family, travel to places such as Amsterdam and Paris, take social science courses and possibly become a part-time professor.
“The College’s losing someone who is committed to student success,” Holness said. “This is not just a job for her. She is committed to our objective, to training and developing students to be citizens who are contributing to the city of Miami. We’re losing someone who believes in what we do.”