Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

Navigating the Ladder to Success

Posted 11/30/2020 by Roxanne Wilkerson

Matthew Mason and his friends hiked The Decalibron in Alma, Colorado, completing three of the four 14ers in a single day. photo courtesy of Matthew Mason

TJ has introduced a new Career and College Success Navigator to the community.

At the beginning of this unusual school year, TJ welcomed a few new friendly faces into the community. Although these faces may only be seen through a screen at the moment, it’s still enjoyable to get to know them better! For example, Matthew Mason, the new Career and College Success Navigator, is one of those friendly faces that has joined the TJ community.  

Mason primarily grew up between Aurora and Denver, Colorado, with his hard working single mom and two brothers, one of them being his twin. They moved between apartments in the two cities, but he likes to refer to Aurora as his hometown. Staying in Colorado, Mason graduated from Colorado State University Fort Collins in Spring 2018 with a double degree in Economics and International Relations, as well as a double minor in Business Development and International Development.

In his free time, Mason enjoys going to the gym at 5 a.m. to do some lifting and engage in other forms of exercise. He loves the feeling of physical fitness, which he believes ties to emotional and personal wellness as well. He has had a strong passion for volleyball, participating in competitive and recreational during college and playing both in the sand and indoors. It was a huge de-stresser while he was getting his undergraduate degree and is a sport that he continues to play with his close friends. Mason loves almost every sport that involves water as well. In high school, he was a competitive swimmer for four years. He currently does lap training as a warmup before his gym workouts. Throughout his childhood, he did waterboarding, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing. Another one of Mason’s hobbies is experimental cooking. He really enjoys trying out new flavors and spices to make his meals super unique and abstract, letting his family do some taste testing. 

As the Career and College Success Navigator, Mason manages career development opportunities for students, such as apprenticeship programs, internship programs, Meaningful Career Conversations (MCC), and industry exploration events. These events and opportunities allow students to gain tangible and soft skills, learn more about specific career fields they’re  interested in, interact with professionals in a variety of work environments, and connect with particular organizations, industries, and companies. Mason assists students in preparing for these events through evaluations, skill building, and supporting students through the process of getting apprenticeships and internships. Regarding supplemental work, he has been working with the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Future Center to arrange the Fundamental Friday Workshop Series that is meant to build up students in their professional skills within the TJ community. 

So far this year, Mason has been able to hold a few of these activities, despite the circumstances of online learning. He successfully hosted one of the Fundamental Friday Workshops, stating, “[During a Fundamental Friday Workshop] we talked about calendaring and time management. We actually had about 25+ students come to that, which was pretty awesome to really just have an opportunity to connect with students that I may not have been connecting with yet, as well as talk about some essential things during this time.” Another activity that he has held is doing recruitment and presentations for AVID, ACEConnect students, and certain classes within the CTE program. He has also supported the Future Center during college application day, assisting students in filling out applications.

The way Mason communicates with his students on an individual basis is entirely dependent on what source of communication works best for them. He admits that email is not always the best fit for all students, and provides other sources of contact, such as text messaging, for those students. He develops a schedule of one-on-one meetings with each of his students to see how internship programs are going, do apprenticeship recruitment, work with them around cover letters and resumes, do mock interviews to prepare them for official interviews, and learn what each student is interested in. Mason uses Google Meets and Zoom for hosting group discussions and activities for students.

Prior to coming to TJ, Mason did a lot of work in different roles that relate to career development as well. After graduating, he started as an intern with the City and County of Denver in the Office of Economic Development and Opportunity. His internship was primarily about building a network and understanding the support systems within and outside of the city about youth development, specifically aligned with the workforce. He was able to network with different companies, build relationships, and formulate a recruiting process for Denver youths between the ages of 16 and 24. Commenting on those internships, Mason states, “That was really successful and I got a lot of meaningful connections. Tapped into the entrepreneur space of Denver there. Tapped into new businesses that I’d never heard of and businesses that I still have working relationships with.” He most recently worked for Aurora Public Schools, where he helped to build up one of the newest College and Career Centers. Using his relations and knowledge he obtained from his prior work, Mason developed the center to get students work opportunities and support them throughout the college process. “That was really valuable because I started from ground zero in a school that never had someone working in College and Career Success. I built a website there. I also built up consistent information and key information that was missing for students to really push for increased scholarships, student awareness, as well as new opportunities for the district.” Impressively, he built and established the first career fair for the district, partnering with more than 25 employers and serving approximately 200 students across the district. Excluding his work as an undergraduate, Mason has worked in public education for about two years; however, in total, he has done work of different capacities in public education for about five years.

Joining a new school community can often be difficult, especially during a pandemic, so Mason admits to facing challenges, but has also had a successful start in his position! “I think the most challenging part of being new and working remotely is that I’m a very much in-person kind of individual, and so I love connecting with people and I love building relationships…I think the challenging part has been that I’ve lost that ability to build this deeper relationship with students and staff and being able to connect because I think when you’re connecting in person there’s sort of a different layer that the relationship builds upon,” says Mason. The fact that he does not know what 90% of TJ students look like, due to cameras being shut off in meetings, really disappoints him. He mentions the struggle of creating an effect on the community when faced with an online learning environment, commenting, “It’s sort of hard when you are having to create a 3D effect to a 2D world.” On the successful side of things, Mason believes he has been able to integrate into TJ pretty well, claiming, “I do value and appreciate Leadership at TJ and so, specifically, Paula Hammel, the [Assistant Principal], is my direct point of contact at the school, and we’ve definitely done a lot of brainstorming on how to interact with new students, working together with the counseling department, getting more connected to AVID, and being introduced or making connections to new teachers or staff members, that I’m unaware of, that are doing some of this work.” Overall, Mason appreciates how welcoming the CTE department, AVID, and the DSF Future Center have been as he finds his way through and around our community. He feels that making those connections with the departments and collaborating to do different work has been very helpful. Regardless of the complications of online learning, Mason strives to push for change and the visions he has, such as the strong desire to help and support everyone in the TJ community. 

One of the main reasons Mason has chosen this career pathway in life is because he believes that the concept of careers is not discussed as much as it should be. The fact that DPS provides such a wide range of opportunities that students can take advantage of to start the processes of growing themselves professionally amazes him. “I enjoy creating structure, creating organization to things, being creative, and making new relationships…If I can continue to make connections with other people, businesses, organizations, other school districts, or other workforce layers, I think, if there’s a layer to relationships and working with students and youth of our next generation, that’s something I can find myself to continue to do,” says Mason. 

Lastly, Mason would like to directly reach out to everyone in the community, stating, “My final words to the TJ community would be, as a staff member that truly values the work to give students opportunities around career development…I really want to be as reflective to the community as possible. If there are needs that students are having or wanting to explore more on one of these levels, I would love to connect with you all in this virtual space and at some point in person…I’m going to be doing my absolute best to provide valuable quality for students and expand opportunities for students.” Mason will continue to strive for excellence in his position at TJ, and the community welcomes him to the Spartan family!