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Ryan Mason, sophomore at Susquehanna University and IT whiz kid.
REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 30, 2010 — Ryan Mason says he can hardly remember life without computers. He grew up teaching himself how to use them, and as a high school student got involved with a Microsoft-sponsored program called MOUSE, a youth development organization that trains underserved students to provide technology support to their peers. Mason graduated two years ago from the School of the Future in Manhattan, a small charter school that is part of the New York City Department of Education. He then moved on to Susquehanna University in central Pennsylvania, where he has just started the new year.
How did you get interested in computers?
Mason: My first computer was given to me by my uncle when I was just a little kid. It was this really old thing. I’m an only child, so I kind of had to make my own fun. The computer was something new, so I just kind of played around with it and went from there. Now I can’t imagine life without computers.
As a person who has gone through the public education system, what do you think educators and schools are doing right?
Mason: We can tell when a professor or a teacher is really enthusiastic about their discipline. When they don’t care, we turn off. But when they really do try, the rate of return is going to be a lot higher than if they’re just going through the motions. I think for public school especially, you need a lot of that passion.
Education reform is a hot topic right now. If you could talk directly to policymakers and politicians making decisions about it, what advice would you give them?
Mason: Every year I watch my student loans pile up. And that is really discouraging. So I would like to hear more discussions about what do we do about student loans. I shouldn’t have to pay such a hefty price in order to become an educated citizen. It’s to society’s detriment if I’m not educated.
If you could invent a piece of dream technology for the classroom, what would it be?
Mason: I don’t want technology doing a lot of the suffering work for me. As much as I hate going through it, there is some benefit from researching and figuring things out, doing it on your own. I feel like the dream piece or pieces of technology already exist. We just need to use them. In high school, I worked a lot on the One Laptop per Child Project, which I think is such a good idea. I think if we could find a way to get technology in the hands of every student, that would be the single best thing we could do.
You’re a sociology major, but you’ve always been involved with computers. Did you consider studying technology?
Mason: I really did, and it’s weird; while I am studying sociology, every summer I do a technology-based thing. So I kind of did it because I don’t want computers to take over all my life. Computers come naturally to me, so I figure I don’t have to study it — I can do it on the side. Right now, I’m trying very hard to find a way to marry sociology and technology together. I would love to find something that combines the best of both worlds. But I’ve also been thinking about going into politics, or diplomacy, or foreign relations. There are just so many windows of opportunity, I can’t decide right now. But computers will always be a passion. I just can’t get away from them.