More Mason Employees to Don Caps and Gowns

Posted: May 18, 2011 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: May 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Among Mason’s 7,392 students who will celebrate their graduation this year is a group of people who are also Mason employees.

They have discovered that one of the many benefits of working at Mason is a tuition waiver for full- and part-time faculty and staff. Some Mason employees have used the benefit to take a few courses for professional growth, but others have used the benefit to earn a degree or finish a degree.

This week, the Mason Gazette is highlighting some of these employees. If you are a Mason employee who is graduating this spring, email to let us know and be recognized.

Thomas Huff

By Robin Herron

Tom Huff

Tom Huff has earned a PhD in environmental science and policy. Photo courtesy of Tom Huff

As assistant director of operations for the Shared Research Instrumentation Facility (SRIF), Tom Huff has had easy access to the state-of-the-art, high-tech analytical instruments in the facility while he was working on his PhD in environmental science and policy.

Located in Discovery Hall on the Prince William Campus, SRIF has a selection of computer-controlled equipment that is of the same high caliber as that found in advanced commercial and governmental laboratories. Part of the College of Science, the facility is available to faculty and students for conducting applied scientific research in the chemical and biochemical fields.

Huff joined the SRIF about 15 years ago, right after he got his MS in chemistry from Mason. (He also has a BS in environmental science from Stockton State College in New Jersey.) He started working on the PhD about 12 years ago, although, he says, “I took some time off to raise a family, so I’ve actually been working on it for about seven years.”

While it might have been easy to spend all of his waking hours in the lab either working or doing research, Huff was able to access the equipment from home and could program his tests and monitor them remotely.

“I could transfer files and analyze the data at home. It’s mostly automated; you can run tests for 24, 48, 72 hours straight and even make adjustments to the tests remotely,” he explains.

Huff did his dissertation on environmental pollution, looking at the effect of pesticides and herbicides from agricultural runoff on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. He collected samples for an eight-month study in 2007 and a 12-month study in 2008.

He found that although the chemicals in the pesticides break down as their manufacturers claim, they break down into other compounds that potentially can be as harmful as the original chemicals. Furthermore, he found that these compounds remain in the water year round.

Huff plans to continue his research, looking at agricultural compounds and pharmaceuticals from human wastewater or agricultural runoff, which can pose a danger to the drinking water supply and environmental health. He points out that some fish in the rivers have been found to have both male and female reproductive systems, which might be a result of these chemicals.

Doing his own research using the SRIF equipment has been an advantage in his job, Huff has found.

“My works helps in a lot of ways to keep up to date on the techniques in using the equipment,” he says. “The way the instruments are used has changed tremendously over the years. I’m able to learn better ways that other people can use the instruments and give them advice and training.”

And what will his new PhD give Huff that he hasn’t already got?

“The degree gives me a little more credibility and helps get papers published and helps to get grants,” he says, adding jokingly, “It’s kind of an academic union card.”

Sara Montiel

By Aisha Jamil

Sara Montiel

Sara Montiel receives an MS in educational psychology this week. Photo courtesy of Sara Montiel

Sara Montiel, who has been the undergraduate coordinator for the Psychology Department for the past four years, started work on a master’s in 2008. She is proud to be graduating this week.

“I have loved my time here at Mason,” says Montiel, who is receiving an MS in educational psychology from the College of Education and Human Development.

“I am very appreciative of the various benefits Mason has to offer its employees,” she continues. “I would argue that the ability to enroll in classes for free is the best of our many benefits here at Mason.”

She adds: “This gives me the chance to complete my degree and take classes that have sparked my personal interests such as photography, painting and learning how to handle personal finances.”

Before joining Mason, Montiel worked for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services as a youth counselor.

“I realized that the impact I wanted to make in the community required more credentials than what I had at the time,” Montiel says.

One day while working at Mason, Montiel saw Pamela Garner, her faculty advisor when she was an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We just ran into each other in the hallway, and she urged me to continue my education,” Montiel says. “She helped me with my application into the educational psychology program, revised my statements and even wrote a recommendation for me.”

Montiel enrolled under the learning, motivation and cognition concentration.

“My educational interests are focused on the academic motivations of first- and second-generation immigrant youth, math and science mentorship programs for Latino youth and even Mason’s very own college preparatory Early Identification Program.”

This summer, Montiel will take her first class from the Higher Education Program’s college teaching track in order to join the certificate program for college teaching.

“I think the classes in this program will definitely enhance my current job, but coupled with a new graduate degree, I am hoping to gain some experience as an adjunct instructor in psychology,” Montiel says.

Although working and studying has its moments of difficulty, being on campus for both has made Montiel’s life a little easier.

“I am extremely proud to earn a degree at a place where I also work,” Montiel says. “There’s just so much this university has to offer, and I’m very appreciative of the opportunities our staff is given to develop in our professional and private lives.”

  • Another Mason employee graduating this year is Suhua Han, a research specialist at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases. She has been studying with Monique van Hoek, assistant professor of molecular and microbiology, and will receive an MS in biology.
  • Also graduating this spring is Sarah Knapp, administrative assistant for the Staff Senate, who is earning a JD. Read about her experience in a previous Gazette article.
  • And Ann Ludwick, graduate student coordinator for the Department of Public and International Affairs, earned a DA in higher education in January.

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