Mason Celebrates Four Decades of Creating, Inspiring
English and humanities professor Dr. Clif Mason was recently recognized by Bellevue University for 40 years of service. He has inspired and shown genuine care for his students throughout the years, but there’s much more to the story than that. Mason is a creator at heart -- a poet, a course designer, an early adopter of online teaching, and the recipient of one of the academic world’s most well-known, prestigious distinctions. Most of all, he’s dedicated to lifelong learning and growth, just like his students.
The Path to Teaching
Mason developed a love of reading early on.
“I grew up in a bookish house, as my father was a high school English teacher (before he went to work for the federal government),” Mason said. “My favorite place as an elementary school and middle school child in Chadron, Nebraska, was the public library. I spent time there every day, as it was just a short bike ride from my house.” After moving to South Dakota with his family and beginning high school, Mason started reading more challenging books. He also credits a couple of teachers for encouraging him along the way.
He continued to excel in English courses, and he stayed on that path through college and beyond.
“Continuing for master's and Ph.D. degrees seemed like a logical thing to do after I graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1973 with my bachelor's degree,” said Mason, who was also a young aspiring poet.
It was as a master’s student that Mason began instructing others. Though he enjoyed it, it was only later that he realized it was his calling.
“It wasn't until I began teaching at Bellevue University that I really fell in love with teaching,” he recalled. “The adult students I had were attending college because they really wanted what a college education could offer in terms of new opportunities in their, and their families', lives. They had the drive and the ambition to succeed, and it was a deeply affecting thing to have had a small role in their success. Over time I realized that teaching was the driving passion of my life.”
40 Years of Academic Change
When Mason began his Bellevue University career, the first course he taught was composition. He still teaches that subject today – but much has changed as the University has evolved its offerings to meet the needs of the changing workplace. He taught a variety of different courses in the English department until the 1990s, and then shifted into developing and teaching foundational courses as part of new and evolving degree programs.
“The university was gracious enough to allow me to develop literature and humanities courses that would count toward students' General Education requirements and would also be fun. I designed and taught courses in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Stephen King, horror films, and other topics.” he said.
“My favorite course that I developed was a course on love in the humanities. Students told me whenever I taught this course that it changed their lives. One student told me it saved his marriage. I was humbled by this response.”
Another thing that changed for Mason in the 1990s was delivery of his courses. Bellevue University began offering programs online in the mid-90s, at a time when most people hadn’t even heard of online learning.
“I was one of the first three professors to teach an online course at Bellevue University,” Mason said. He remembers that he prepared to teach a virtual course on Shakespeare by attending a conference and putting himself in the minds of the students who would be participating in the online classroom environment.
“I knew I would have to write a good deal more in terms of comments on student work for them to have a learning experience comparable to what they would have in a face-to-face classroom,” Mason said. In the years since, Mason as developed more than 40 online courses. As Bellevue University has grown, Mason has always been there to jump in and lead the effort. He served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for more than six years and worked with faculty to create new and dynamic programs. Another fun fact? Mason hired a number of the faculty who work in the College of Arts and Sciences today.
Simply, Mason’s commitment to his students is ingrained in every aspect of his career.
“I have a genuine interest in my students and in their learning,” Mason explained. “I have empathy for them and their life situations. I hope all my students take away a love of learning and a realization that they are fully capable of becoming exceptional lifelong learners.”
Scholar, Writer and Poet
Mason didn’t just aspire to be a poet, he saw it through to completion and continues to write today. He’s also a Fulbright Scholar.
“I started seriously writing poetry and publishing while I was an undergraduate student at the University of South Dakota. Later I published academic articles and reviews,” he said. In 2019, Mason’s poetry collection, “Knocking the Stars Senseless,” was published by the Stephen F. Austin Press.
“I think being a poet and attempting daily to do something new with language has given me perhaps a sensitivity to and empathy for student's struggles in learning to communicate effectively in writing.”
Finding Purpose and Freedom
Mason is one of the university’s most devoted advocates, thanks to meaningful teaching experiences, as well as opportunities for personal growth. He says this is why he’s remained with Bellevue University all these years.
“I was deeply moved by how much education meant to the students I had the privilege of teaching,” he said. “I am a deep believer in and proponent of Bellevue University's mission and vision, and I didn't see similar commitment to second-chance students in many other institutions.”
Mason also said he is part of a work family that encouraged his growth in many ways.
“There has been a remarkable atmosphere of academic freedom in which the pursuit of one's professional interests could flourish,” he said. “It was just the right atmosphere for me to grow.” One of these opportunities was the year Mason spent teaching in a university in Rwanda, Africa, as a Fulbright Fellow.
His long list of accomplishments is just the beginning. Mason looks forward to making a difference for many more students with his Bellevue University family.
“Everyone at the university is committed to the success of our students,” he said. “This creates a strong sense of solidarity among faculty, staff and administrators."
Mason plans to continue teaching and designing courses, writing poetry and beginning to write a series of novels. He also enjoys spending time with his wife of almost 50 years, who is a fellow creator.
“My wife is an artist, and I continue to be amazed and inspired by her ability to create strikingly colorful and moving works of art,” he said. “She is the first reader of all my work, and I look forward to continuing our creative partnership.”