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Mason gift to LU will boost STEM education

Chuck and Becky MasonCampus and community leaders gathered Friday (Nov. 11) to celebrate a new initiative to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in Texas and beyond thanks to a generous gift from Lamar University alumni Chuck and Becky Mason of Beaumont.

The transformational gift, the largest ever to the College of Education and Human Development, will establish the Becky and Chuck Mason Distinguished Faculty Fellowships in Science Education. The gift was announced before a crowd gathered in the foyer of the Wayne A. Reaud Administration Building.

The gift will be used to address the critical shortage of quality science educators in education. “The major issue we are facing is a shortage of talented and engaging STEM teachers in the classrooms of Texas and the nation,” said Bob Spina, dean of the College of Education and Human Development. “Too many classrooms are going without qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.”

President EvansBoth private and public sectors report that the 21st-century work force requires skills that many of today’s graduates do not have, Spina said.  The challenges facing society require an enhanced understanding of math and science coupled with the ability to integrate and apply that knowledge. STEM education helps students develop skills in critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, collaboration, entrepreneurship and more, Spina said. “This problem must be solved,” he said. “If we don’t solve it there will be a lasting drag on the economy of Texas and the nation.” 

 “This generous gift from Chuck and Becky Mason is very timely given the challenges we face in public education,” Spina said. “Our goal is to generate research and strategies to address this challenge to producing more engaging STEM teachers to staff classes across the state,” Spina said. The problem is great, particularly in the rural areas of Texas where 20 percent of the state population resides, he said.

Mason Distinguished Faculty Fellows in teacher education can dramatically impact the field through the development of curriculum focused on inquiry-based learning, field-based experience, and research activity designed to draw science students into the education field, Spina said.  Finding ways to attract more students with an aptitude for science and to encourage these students to declare majors in education to teach biology, chemistry, mathematics or other science fields is another major goal of the initiative.

Dean Spina“Chuck and Becky are among the most consistent benefactors of Lamar University, both in terms of their involvement and their generosity,” said Juan Zabala, vice president for university advancement. “These fellowships are a perfect blend of their love for the sciences, for education, and for Lamar University students.”

“We have long believed that Lamar was a key influence in our development as well as the development of Southeast Texas,” said Becky Mason. “Both as students at Lamar and as people active in the community, we’ve found that we continually look to Lamar as a resource and an inspiration.”

“When they approached us with the idea of developing a program to recruit and train science teachers, it seemed like an ideal fit, given our two backgrounds,” she said.

Charles "Chuck" Mason Jr. graduated from Lamar in 1972 with a degree in biology and represents the third generation at the helm of Beaumont-based Mason Construction, having joined the company in 1970, and served as its president since 1980.  Inspired by his tough but effective biology professor Russell Long, Chuck quickly learned to embrace the “scientific approach” and eventually found that approach “paid off in making solid business decisions, although it did tend to drive co-workers crazy.”

PresentationBecky Mason graduated from Lamar in 1971 with a degree in education, oversaw safety and human resources for the company for many years. Mason Construction is a leading petrochemical and industrial construction contractor.

As an elementary education major, she was greatly influenced by her professor Betty Coody before teaching first grade at Blanchette Elementary.  She saw how her students learned best when they could combine reading with active experiences, whether it was making soup while reading of “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown, or hatching duck eggs along with reading “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey. The same principles of learning through hands-on experiences held when she developed the award-winning safety program for construction workers at Mason Construction.

Throughout his career, Chuck has been extremely active in the Southeast Texas community. A graduate of Leadership Southeast Texas, he has held leadership roles in Rotary, the Lamar University Foundation, Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, Beaumont Community Players, United Way and Family Services, to name a few. One of his most rewarding civic achievements has been serving as founding president of the JASON Alliance of Southeast Texas. Since 2002, JASON has provided annual teacher training and science programming for 8,000 to 10,000 elementary and middle school students from school districts throughout Southeast Texas. He has also been an active member of the Beaumont Rotary Club since 1983, serving as president in 2000-2001. During 2007-2008, he served as District Governor of Rotary District 5910, covering Southeast Texas from Port Arthur to Galveston to College Station to Palestine.

During Chuck's tenure as president, Mason Construction has been honored with the BBB "Torch Award for Business Ethics” (1999), as well as the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce "Spindletop Award” in 2010.

Becky has been actively involved with the Beaumont Children’s Museum, Beaumont Community Players, Symphony of Southeast Texas, Junior League of Beaumont, Young Audiences of Southeast Texas, and the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce. She has been very active with the Beaumont Rotary Club, where she served as president during the club’s Centennial. As president of the Rotary Club, she conceived the idea and oversaw the construction of the Rotary Centennial Playground, a barrier-free playground adjacent to the Event Centre Lake in Beaumont.

At Lamar University, she has served on the Alumni Advisory Board, the board of the JASON Project, as co-chair of the Women and Philanthropy Program, and on the executive committee of the Friends of the Arts Board where she is serving her second term as vice president, and on the advisory councils for the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

The Masons have been active in United Way, Beaumont Community Players, Symphony of Southeast Texas, Junior League of Beaumont, Young Audiences of Southeast Texas and the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, to name a few. At Lamar, they serve on several committees and advisory boards. Chuck has served on the Lamar University Foundation Board since 2004, and is vice president of the Lamar University Foundation Board. Together they serve on the Friends of the Arts Board for the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

In addition to their volunteer efforts at Lamar, the Masons endowed the first privately funded Mirabeau Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships the university offers. They have generously supported faculty research and development, as well as numerous scholarships, the Cardinal Club, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, and the College of Business, and many other significant projects and goals of the university.