Outstanding leadership has been a hallmark of the Colorado State University College of Health and Human Sciences throughout its history.
April Mason, dean of the College of Applied Human Sciences (now College of Health and Human Sciences) from 2004 to 2010, ushered in a new era of advanced scholarship in the College; and did so during a tumultuous period in the nation. In recognition of her excellence and her devotion to serving faculty, staff, and students, Mason is being recognized as a 2020 Legacies Project honoree.
Finding her path
Born and raised in the Midwest, with some of her youth spent in Italy, Mason excelled in the STEM disciplines throughout her schooling. After her years abroad in high school, Mason returned to her home state of Ohio to attend Mount Union College (now University of Mount Union) to study biology.
Utilizing her natural skill set in science, Mason was often found working in her mentor’s lab and participating in undergraduate research projects. This work inspired her to pursue a master’s, and eventually her Ph.D. at Purdue University. Upon completing her Ph.D., Mason was offered a faculty position at Purdue and remained there as faculty for 20 years.
While at Purdue, Mason worked on several research projects and grants focused on food safety in her home department of nutrition science. Her passion was present and capabilities evident, however, a certain mentor saw the potential for Mason to go above and beyond her current position.
Avenelle Kirksey, Purdue’s first female distinguished professor, was an impactful mentor for Mason during her tenure, encouraging her to consider going into higher education administration. Kirksey suggested that Mason should attend the HERS Leadership Institute for women interested in higher education leadership.
“I wasn’t even thinking about higher education administration, the ink on my tenure papers was just starting to dry at the time!” Mason said. “But she saw something and encouraged me, and I believe this started me on my path.”
At the institute, Mason was presented with a career road map that required her to set two professional goals. She set out to become a dean and a provost of a land-grant university. Mason exceeded each of her goals with grace.
Colorado State connections
Before Mason even stepped foot on CSU’s campus, she was already establishing relationships with the College’s faculty during her collaborative work on USDA grants. While building rapport with Chris Melby, current faculty member and former department head of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Pat Kendall, faculty emerita in nutrition and the College’s former associate dean for research, Mason witnessed the high-caliber faculty of the College. These feelings were mutual.
When she received the offer to join the College as dean, Mason got to check off one of the goals on her career map by seizing the opportunity.
“April had a strong history of outstanding scholarship when she was at Purdue, and she brought that to CSU,” Melby said.
Though it was difficult to leave Purdue after 27 years, the welcoming community at CSU alleviated the process of transitioning to a new role. In the fall of 2004, Mason began her legacy with the College of Applied Human Sciences.
“What really attracted me to this opportunity was the broadness of the disciplines represented within the College,” Mason said. “In addition to my own tenured home in food science and human nutrition, I loved having all of the expansive units connected with one another.”
Mason fondly identifies four points of pride during her time as the dean of the College:
1. Mason helped launch multiple Ph.D. programs within the College.
Upon her arrival, Mason realized that several of the College’s departments would greatly benefit from having Ph.D. programs to attract the brightest faculty and students in the nation.
“April saw the need for increasing the capacity of the College, so she set out to go to all of the departments to find out what we needed to enhance the research productivity of our faculty,” Melby said.
2. The creation of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.
Mason helped facilitate the donor relationship that led to the creation of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising, which was originally a gallery located in the University Center for the Arts. Many people were involved in the museum project including CSU Facilities project manager Cass Beitler, who helped show the donor the possibilities for the space.
3. Aiding in the development of the Center for Educator Preparation.
The center houses CSU and the School of Education’s teacher and principal licensure programs, which serve students in majors from many departments on campus who are going into the teaching profession.
4. Navigating the financial crisis of 2008.
During the 2008 economic crash, Mason was able to guide the College during a difficult time, requiring her to be savvy with resources and budgets. Steering the College through uncertain waters, Mason directly collaborated with faculty, students and staff through the crisis.
After six years with the College, Mason was able to check off another career goal. Though she thoroughly enjoyed her time as dean, Mason decided to pursue the job of her dreams at Kansas State University in 2010: serving as provost and senior vice president.
“April really left a legacy of excellence,” current dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Lise Youngblade said. “During her time, April highlighted how our work truly makes an impact on people’s lives.”
After eight years in this role with Kansas State, Mason retired and returned to Fort Collins in 2018 with her husband Frank Heiliger. Both avid motorcyclists, the two enjoy their retirement by exploring the country’s open roads.
Mason enjoys spending time with her family, including five grandchildren, and seeks to re-immerse herself in the world of nutrition and food safety. As dean, Mason is remembered for keeping the College strong through some difficult times and leading the College through a period of growth. We are proud to honor her Legacy.
A new way to celebrate
Though Legacies Project events typically occur in person, this year marked the first virtual Legacies event due to COVID-19.
The event was held on Zoom, and many of Mason’s family members and colleagues who would have otherwise been unable to attend an in-person event joined to celebrate her achievement.
About the Legacies Project
The College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project honors the personal and professional histories of former faculty, staff, and alumni of the College. The project has highlighted the achievements of our honorees and preserved their stories since 2012.
To watch a video about Mason and to make a gift in her honor, go to her Legacies webpage. You can support the Hazle and Charles Mason scholarship in memory of her parents. The scholarship is for a student in any major in the College of Health and Human Sciences.