Dr. Thomas W. Mason – FAMU Professor & STEM Influencer – RIP

Go Lean Commentary

“I didn’t come to FAMU; I came to Dr. Mason” – Familiar experience of FAMU Computer Science students.

It is with a heavy heart that we report the passing of a great educator and STEM influencer, Dr. Thomas W. Mason. He was the founder and legendary professor of Mathematics, Data Processing and Computer Science at Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University. The University offering has now evolved to now being embedded in the FAMU-Florida State University College of Engineering – see VIDEO in the Appendix below.

See the published obituary here:

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Title: Obituary of Dr. Thomas W. Mason

Dr. Thomas W. Mason, a retired professor of Computer Science and Math at Florida A & M University, passed away from a long struggle with heart disease on July 3, 2017. He taught at the university for 30 years.

Dr. Mason received his doctorate in Information and Computer Systems at the University of Illinois in 1973, where he met Dr. Sybil Mobley who encouraged him to join the faculty at FAMU School of Business & Industry in Tallahassee.

Tom was born in Kansas City, Kansas on June 14, 1940. He lost his father, Thomas, early and was raised along with his sister, Elizabeth by his devoted mother, Thelma, both are deceased. He also lost two maternal uncles, Harold and Wendall Robbins and a cousin, Barbara Robbins.

After graduating Cum Laude from Sumner High School, Tom earned a degree in math at the University of Kansas in 1961 and moved to Washington, DC to work as a computer programmer at IBM. This was done while completing a Masters degree in Engineering from George Washington University.

While in DC Tom met and married Yolande Clarke who survives him and their deceased son, Thomas James “Jimmy”. He is survived by a second son, Christopher, who is a FAMU graduate in Journalism. Dr. Mason is also survived by his cousin, Wendell Robbins, Jr. (wife) and their two children, Sheryl and Corky in Houston, Texas; a niece, Tiea of Kansas; his mother-in-law, Thelma Clarke; sisters-in-law, Charlene Hardy and Sheryl Clark along with many nieces, nephews and friends.
Services will be planned at a later date. In lieu of flowers, send donations to the American Heart Association.

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat [Newspaper] on July 13, 2017; retrieved July 24, 2017: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tallahassee/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=186032969

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Back in the 1970’s, the idea of priority on STEM students appeared to be NO BIG deal; just a bunch of nerds and techies passing time in the Computer Lab. Internet and Communications Technologies (ICT) was only just a lab project of university stakeholders.

Now, in 2017, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students and ICT are all the rage. We recognize now, that we need more STEM students and educators in Black-and-Brown communities; but this was the vision of Dr. Mason all the while. When excessive focus was paid to FAMU’s esteemed Business School, led by Dr. Sybil Mobley – a fellow University of Illinois PhD cohort who recruited Dr. Mason to FAMU – he felt that the focus was overlooking STEM students …

… he was right!

According to a new study [(2014)] by Brookings Institution, there is a clear evidence of a skills gap in the US. The report stated that a high school graduate with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) background seems to be in higher demand than a person with an undergraduate degree not in a STEM background. – Money Economics Magazine

Considering the proud legacy of Historical Black Colleges and University (HBCU), Dr. Mason was agnostic to all of that; he was first and foremost a computer scientist, who happened to be Black, He matriculated for his PhD at the University of Illinois (completing in 1973); there he worked on the ILLIAC project, directly on the ILLIAC IV effort:

ILLIAC (Illinois Automatic Computer) was a series of supercomputers built at a variety of locations, some at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In all, five computers were built in this series between 1951 and 1974. Some more modern projects also use the name.

The architecture for the first two UIUC computers was taken from a technical report from a committee at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at PrincetonFirst Draft of a Report on the EDVAC [1945], edited by John von Neumann (but with ideas from Eckert & Mauchley and many others.) The designs in this report were not tested at Princeton until a later machine, JOHNNIAC, was completed in 1953. However, the technical report was a major influence on computing in the 1950s, and was used as a blueprint for many other computers, including two at the University of Illinois, which were both completed before Princeton finished Johnniac. The University of Illinois was the only institution to build two instances of the IAS machine. In fairness, several of the other universities, including Princeton, invented new technology (new types of memory or I/O devices) during the construction of their computers, which delayed those projects. For ILLIAC I, II, and IV, students associated with IAS at Princeton (Abraham H. TaubDonald B. GilliesDaniel Slotnick) played a key role in the computer design(s).[1]

The ILLIAC IV was one of the first attempts to build a massively parallel computer. One of a series of research machines (the ILLIACsfrom the University of Illinois), the ILLIAC IV design featured fairly high parallelism with up to 256 processors, used to allow the machine to work on large data sets in what would later be known as vector processing. After several delays and redesigns, the computer was delivered to NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California in 1971. After thorough testing and four years of NASA use, ILLIAC IV was connected to the ARPANet for distributed use in November 1975, becoming the first network-available supercomputer, beating Cray’s Cray-1 by nearly 12 months.

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Notice the reference here to ARPA and ARPANet – ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1972 – this was the forerunner to today’s Internet. Dr. Mason was proud of this participation and accomplishments of this endeavor – he often embedded this history in his lectures. He sought to influence the next generation of students to look, listen, learn, lend-a-hand and lead in the development of these cutting-edge technologies. (By extension, his impact extended to the Caribbean as well).

For those who listened and learned, we are forever grateful for Dr. Mason contributions and tutelage.

The publishers of the book Go Lean…Caribbean recognize the life contributions of Dr. Mason as a STEM educator, visionary and influencer. The book – available to download for free – serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU) with the quest to elevate the region’s job-creating prowess. Any hope of creating more jobs requires more STEM … students, participants, entrepreneurs and educators. The Go Lean roadmap seeks to put Caribbean people in a place of better command-and-control of the STEM field for their region. We need contributions from people with the profile like Dr. Mason; he provided a role model for inspiration … for this writer, a former protégé.

Like Dr. Mason, the prime directive of the Go Lean book is also to elevate society, but instead of impacting America, this roadmap’s focus is the “Caribbean first”. In fact, the declarative statements are as follows:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

Dr. Mason  is hereby recognized as a role model and influencer that the entire Caribbean can emulate. He provided a successful track record of forging change, overcoming obstacles, influencing next generations, inspiring thought leaders and paying forward to benefit future stakeholders in technology education. While the Go Lean book posits that economics, security and governance are all important for the development of Caribbean society, the process starts with education. So we must honor the teachers, professors and researchers.

Though Dr. Mason was not of Caribbean heritage, planners for a new Caribbean posit that one person, despite their field of endeavor, can make a difference for the Caribbean, and its impact on the world; that there are many opportunities where one champion, one advocate, can elevate society. In this light, the book features 144 different advocacies, so there is inspiration for the “next” Dr. Thomas Mason to emerge, establish and excel right here at home in the Caribbean.

This Go Lean roadmap specifically encourages the region, to lean-in and foster this “next” generation of Dr. Mason’s with these specific community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies:

Community Ethos – Job Multiplier – STEM should be a Priority Page 22
Community Ethos – Return on Investments – ROI Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Community Ethos – Ways to Help Entrepreneurship Page 28
Strategy – Agent of Change – Technology Page 57
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Education Department Page 85
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Labor Department – Job Training Page 89
Implementation – Ways to Impact Social Media Page 111
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Education Page 159
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Governance Page 169
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage the Social Contract Page 171
Advocacy – Ways to Foster Cooperatives Page 176
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Libraries Page 187
Advocacy – Ways to Foster Technology Page 197
Advocacy – Ways to Foster e-Commerce Page 198
Appendix – Education and Economic Growth Page 258

This quest to elevate society through technology innovations is pronounced early in the Go Lean book in the Declaration of Interdependence at the outset, pronouncing this need for regional solutions (Pages 13 & 14) with these statements:

xxi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

xxvii. Whereas the region has endured a spectator status during the Industrial Revolution, we cannot stand on the sidelines of this new economy, the Information Revolution. Rather, the Federation must embrace all the tenets of Internet Communications Technology (ICT) to serve as an equalizing element in competition with the rest of the world. The Federation must bridge the digital divide and promote the community ethos that research/development is valuable and must be promoted and incentivized for adoption.

xxx. Whereas the effects of globalization can be felt in every aspect of Caribbean life, from the acquisition of food and clothing, to the ubiquity of ICT, the region cannot only consume, it is imperative that our lands also produce and add to the international community, even if doing so requires some sacrifice and subsidy.

If attention was paid in Dr. Mason’s classes, then it would have been obvious that the key to future growth in a society is to build-up the industrial infrastructure to explore the STEM and ICT eco-systems. This advocacy is consistent with the pledge for more STEM education here at home in the Caribbean. This is also a familiar advocacy for the Go Lean movement; consider these previous blog-commentaries:

http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=12532 Where the Jobs Are – A.I.: Subtraction, not Addition
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=11184 JPMorganChase spent $10 billion on ‘Fintech’ for 1 year
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=9751 Where the Jobs Are – Animation and Game Design
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6341 Tourism Digital Marketing & Stewardship — What’s Next?
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6269 Education & Economics: Lessons from Detroit
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6151 3D Printing: This Changes … Everything
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=3915 ‘Change the way you see the world; you change the world you see’
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=3490 How One Internet Entrepreneur Can Rally a Whole Community
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=2126 Computers Reshaping Global Job Market
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=1698 STEM Jobs Are Filling Slowly
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=1416 Amazon – A Role Model for Caribbean Logistics
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=476 CARICOM Urged on ICT
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=308 Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Program Urges Innovation

With the participation of many advocates on many different paths for progress, the Caribbean can truly become a better place to live, work and play.

The Go Lean book focuses primarily on economic issues but it recognizes that computer technology is the future direction for industrial developments. So education in the fields of STEM and ICT is essential for the Caribbean community to invest in to be consequential for the future; no wait, for the present. The life and legacy of Dr. Thomas Mason, is that the computer-connected world he envisioned – and toiled for – manifested in his lifetime.

Rest in Peace Dr. Mason. Thank you for your contributions; thank you for the tutelage. You showed us a way, to help our region to be a better homeland to live, work, learn and play. 🙁

Download the free e-book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Sign the petition to lean-in for this roadmap for the Caribbean Union Trade Federation.


Appendix VIDEOFAMU-FSU Engineering Students Reap Benefits of Dept. of Defense Grant‏ https://youtu.be/plmu77iWYF0

Published on May 1, 2013 – A U.S. Department of Defense grant is paving the way for Florida A & M University students and faculty to work on four projects that could assist the military and average citizens.

  • Category: Education
  • License: Standard YouTube License
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