Mason Employees Wear More Than One Hat

Posted: May 5, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro and Robin Herron

Among 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.

“Mason is pleased to support the professional development of our faculty and staff through tuition waiver opportunities,” says Linda Harber, associate vice president for Human Resources and Payroll. “Taking advantage of all great things Mason is one of the best parts of working and learning here.”

Among Mason’s more than 7,000 graduates this spring are some that wear more than one hat — they are both Mason employees and Mason students. Following are stories about a few of them and their paths to a new degree.

Fourth-Generation Educator

Chris Johnston in grandfather's regalia
Christopher Johnston wearing his grandfather’s regalia.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Johnston

When Christopher Johnston attends the Graduate School of Education’s convocation next week, he’ll be wearing 47-year-old regalia — the cap and gown his grandfather wore when he was getting an honorary doctorate as president of Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University) in River Forest, Ill.

But Johnston, who will receive a PhD in mathematics education leadership, has an academic pedigree that goes back even farther than that: His great-grandfather was a professor at Concordia College in Milwaukee and also received an honorary doctorate. And since Johnston’s mother has taught in elementary schools for more than 30 years, that makes him a fourth-generation educator.

Johnston, a specialist in Mason’s Mathematics Education Program Office, will, however, be the first one in his family to receive an earned doctorate, he points out.

Even with this legacy, Johnston says he wasn’t pressured to follow “the family business,” so to speak.

“In high school, I began teaching Sunday school and vacation Bible school at my church, and that’s where I began my career path,” Johnston says.

Before beginning his studies at Mason in the spring of 2004, Johnston taught middle school math for six years. In 2006, Johnston became a graduate research assistant, and he joined the Mathematics Education Program Office staff last summer.

He has taught the Advanced Elementary Math Methods course at Mason for several semesters and supported professor Jennifer Suh in teaching the Elementary Math Methods course.

Johnston earned a BA in elementary education with a concentration in mathematics and an MA in mathematics and computer science education from Concordia University.

After graduation, Johnston will pursue a university professorship.

Juggling Demands of School and Work

Katie Tuben
Katie Tuben
Photo by Lori A. Wilson

As a Mason employee by day and Mason student by night, Katie Tuben learned early on the importance of balancing two hectic schedules. Tuben has been a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program and will be graduating in less than two weeks. In addition, she has been working in Mason’s Development Office since 2004 while completing her degree.

Not sure of what she wanted to do after earning bachelor degrees in art and biology from Mary Washington College, Tuben returned home to the Fairfax area. She began working at Mason to gain some office experience.

“I started working at Mason before I even knew about the MAT program or that I wanted to become a teacher,” says Tuben. “I began taking some introductory courses and realized that it was exactly what I was looking for.”

An artist herself, Tuben enjoys experimenting with different media and notes that she is very influenced by the ideas and imagery from her biology course work.

According to Tuben, everyone in the Development Office was supportive of her finishing her degree and helped her figure out the work and school schedules that best worked for her.

At the same time, Tuben continued to take on increased responsibility in the Development Office while working there.

In her most recent position as assistant director of development research, she worked with other development researchers to identify and research potential funding opportunities in support of university development.

“The main challenge I faced was trying to keep my focus on work during the day and on school in the evenings,” says Tuben. “As a student and employee I had a different perspective of the administrative side of the university and felt very connected to not just the MAT program, but also to the entire university.”

Tuben maintained her dual roles until this semester, when she had to leave her full-time position to complete her student-teaching internship requirement with Fairfax County Public Schools.

During her time at Mason, Tuben was treasurer of the National Art Education Association Student Chapter, spoke to incoming graduate students about her experiences balancing school and work and presented sessions at state- and national-level conferences about leading family tours at area museums.

After graduation, Tuben hopes to find a position teaching art at a school in Fairfax County and would like to concentrate more on her own artwork.

Gaining Inspiration on the Job

Paula Crawford and Solomon Wondimu with painting
Paula Crawford, associate professor of AVT, and Solomon Wondimu with one of his paintings displayed at the Arts by George! event in 2007.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

When Solomon Wondimu came to the United States from Ethiopia on a tennis scholarship in 1992, he never imagined he would be graduating with a master of fine arts degree with an emphasis in painting more than 15 years later.

Wondimu’s artwork is based on his experiences in the United States and his research into American history. His work, which includes sculptures, multimedia, paintings, video or photographs, focuses on the perception of skin color and strives to redefine the notion of race classifications and show the beauty and oneness of humanity.

In addition to finishing his degree and working on his own artwork, Wondimu has been an exhibition specialist in Mason’s Art and Visual Technology (AVT) Department since 2005, the year he earned a BFA from Mason.

“Being a Mason student and employee at the same time is very challenging, but I have learned how to best manage my time to fulfill my responsibilities,” says Wondimu. “I have also gained a greater respect for the professors at Mason who must balance their time in order to work on their own art.”

Wondimu’s main responsibility as exhibition specialist is to assist AVT professor Walter Kravitz with the exhibitions of professional and Mason faculty artists. This includes working with the artists to determine the best locations for their artwork and how to set up the pieces, as well as designing exhibition brochures, catalogs and invitations.

While he says he is always inspired by working with professional and faculty artists, Wondimu says one of the most interesting exhibitions on which he has worked is “agriART: Companion Planting for Social and Biological Systems.” This exhibition brings together an array of art projects that critically engage with cultures of food production and consumption. It will be on display in the Fine Arts Gallery until Friday, May 15.

Another aspect of Wondimu’s position is working with other students on showcasing their work in various galleries. Wondimu is also teaching a class this semester, Fundamental Design II. According to Wondimu, the students he teaches are just as inspiring and motivating as the professional and faculty artists with whom he works.

Although he doesn’t know what the future will hold, Wondimu plans to stay at Mason after he graduates and continue teaching and working on his own art and goal of becoming a professional artist.

He is already well on his way: Wondimu’s work has been on display at the Arlington Art Center, McLean Projects for the Arts and the Cubicle Ten Gallery, as well as in several galleries on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Dr. Zamon, the Younger

Mary Zamon
Mary Zamon
Photo by Nicolas Tan

Mary Zamon, associate director of the Office of Institutional Assessment, is earning a PhD in higher education administration from the Graduate School of Education this spring.

She’s been dubbed “Dr. Zamon, the Younger” by her daughter, Jen, even though Zamon is 65. That tongue-in-cheek designation comes from the fact that Jen earned a PhD some time ago — “making her Dr. Zamon, the Elder,” explains Zamon.

Zamon’s twin sister, Margaret, has also been a “doctor” for years, although of the medical variety. As Zamon is receiving her PhD, her sister will be retiring from practice.

Zamon joined Mason in June 2002 as director of undergraduate academic programs in what was then the College of Arts and Sciences. She had previously been a learning specialist in the student tutoring center and an adjunct in the history department at Marymount University.

Before becoming an educator, she worked for the Agency for International Development. She was also director of training for the Peace Corps in the Czech Republic and later taught history in the Fairfax County Public Schools system and at Northern Virginia Community College.

Zamon has a BS and MS in foreign service from Georgetown University, and an MA in teaching from Webster University. At one time, she had been thinking about working on a PhD in European history.

But as so often happens, life intervened.

“I kept putting that off due to family moves and to four children who went to college — only so much tuition could be covered at one time! As I was getting ready to start after they graduated, we moved to Prague for two years.”

But Zamon finally began her PhD course work shortly before joining Mason, and now she says she hopes to continue serving the university in a combination of administration and teaching.

She plans to teach a course in the Bachelor of Individualized Studies Program in the fall, adding, “I am open to teaching other courses or different administrative jobs here or in other universities.

“After I retire — not for a while yet — I hope to teach one or two courses. It is almost impossible to see myself not connected to education in some manner, forever.”

Calling herself “a happy grad,” Zamon adds, “Celebration will be made. I expect two daughters and two grandchildren at graduation, and a party afterwards!”

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