Q&A with Angie Mason-Smith, Senior Program Officer
Washington STEM is thrilled to have Angie Mason-Smith, MEd join our team as our new Senior Program Officer. In our latest interview, we sat down with Angie to learn a bit more about her, why she joined Washington STEM, and how she came to care so deeply about STEM education.
Q. Why did you decide to join Washington STEM?
About two years ago I worked at the Central Oregon STEM Hub in Oregon, which is Oregon’s equivalent to the STEM network we have here in Washington. When I worked there, we often talked about Washington STEM, the Washington model, and the deep private sector commitment to STEM. I learned about Washington STEM at that time.
I also really wanted to move to Washington to be closer to my family. So, I accepted a great job at OSPI leading Core Plus programs, building hands-on career pathways programs in Aerospace, Construction, Maritime, and Advanced Manufacturing. This gave me an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the Washington system at the state level. I also had the opportunity to work alongside a lot of the great work Washington STEM was doing.
When the stars aligned and a job with Washington STEM became available, I already had a lot of experience with what Washington STEM does, so I joined the team. It’s been something I’ve wanted for a while. Knowing the great work that was being done and both the combination of my skill sets, my priorities, and the people, it felt like the right fit and right time for me.
Q. What do equity in STEM education and career mean to you?
After working for 15 years in college football, I really started to see how our education system is failing our Black and Brown students. I really saw the same story on repeat. Often, students were passed through the system by well-intentioned White women like me with the hopes that their athletic ability would pull their families out of poverty. Many of those students didn’t know about any other career options. Their only option was to be successful as an athlete, but few actually make it to that level in sport and are left with little to fall back on.
When I had my son seven years ago and realized I couldn’t keep up that lifestyle in athletics and be the mom that I wanted to be, I made it my priority to shift to the education system – to really do systems work around equity and opportunities for students, particularly in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and STEM career exposure, which are so important at a young age. CTE and STEM education allow students of color or different backgrounds, priority populations, to see themselves in a variety of careers. We need to make sure all the career pathways are lit up bright so that students can see themselves in those roles and think “This is the opportunity for me. Here’s how I do it.” We need to look at the system and breakdown those barriers, so this is feasible and possible for everyone.
This work around equity, looking at barriers and making data driven decisions, has aligned with my core values and what I want for society. And it aligns with what I want for my son. I want him to know he can be whatever he wants to be, that sports isn’t the only option.
Q. Why did you choose your career?
Sometimes I think my career chose me. I was a student at Oregon State University and former volleyball player, sports were always a part of my life. I was taking business classes because my parents owned a business but was not sure what I wanted to do with that. But the Football Office offered me a part time job while I was there, which led to me falling in love with athletics and seeing the variety of STEM career pathways athletics had to offer. That led to awesome opportunities to work in the sports programs at four different major universities.
As I mentioned before, when I had my son, I decided to make a career shift to K12 education. I made that shift based on my experiences—the relationships with the players and my understanding of and learning about diverse populations and the opportunities to support their education and career choices. That really drove the work that that I wanted to do.
That pathway work is so important because, as we continue to create these pathway opportunities for kids, we need to also help people understand transferable skills—how those pathways can lead to gaining skills that allow you to pivot when life changes and still be successful and have other opportunities.
When I was working at the State Department of Education at OSPI, there was no one else there who had worked 15 years in college football. But I can tell you that the skills I gained in those other jobs prepared me for my K12 education work and helped me to be successful in my career pivot.
That always remains a priority to me, helping kids align the things that interest them with their skill sets. How do we help kids understand like those exciting things they like, and the skill sets they can learn along the way? That’s why supporting career pathways work has really become my priority and focus.
Q. Can you tell us more about your education/career path?
I would say that I am someone who was very successful in the education system. I was a straight A student. I did extra credit. I was a rule follower. I have a mom and dad who were both college graduates and prioritized education from a young age. They asked, “What college do you want to go to?” and not “Do you want to go to college?” College was always the next step.
So, I think it’s always important to reflect on how I moved through the system and what those priorities were. But also know that the system (as I experienced it) doesn’t fit for everybody. I was really fortunate to get my Master of Education at the University of Washington while I was working there. I do want to eventually finish my PhD. I consider myself a lifelong learner and that is really important to me. Knowledge is power for sure.
Q. What inspires you?
My son is what inspires me. He made me a mom when I wasn’t sure that that was in the cards for me. And he challenges me in new ways. He has so much life in his eyes and has a great way of looking at life and meeting people. He’s got a kind heart and he inspires me to be the best mom I can be. And as a kid that will go through that system, particularly as a kid of color, he’ll have challenges along the way. I’m fighting to make the system better.
Q. What are some of your favorite things about Washington state?
Definitely not the rain. I would say that my favorite thing is that all of my family is here, close by. There was a point in in my career when we were spread across four different States. So, I’m thankful to be near everyone in the Northwest. Having everyone together makes it so much fun! My parents have a retirement home, a place where we can all get together on a lake.
I love all the opportunities to be outside…and the green. It’s easy to take the trees and green for granted. On a nice day in the Pacific Northwest, there is no better place when the sun is out, and when people are out and spirits are high. It’s just an awesome place.
Q. What’s one thing about you people can’t find through the internet?
The pandemic, and being home, has led to a quirky new thing for me. I have discovered a love for plants. Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot, especially coaching volleyball; and so, I would be gone and with nobody in the house to care for them, I tended to kill a lot of flowers and plants. Being at home and seeing them in around us has brought so much joy into my house. I am a growing plant mom for sure. I even subscribed to a plant of the month club that sends me a new plant every month. It comes with materials to learn about it. It has been a fun new hobby for me!