Mason Black loves Athens. He loves the culture, the environment and the music. But most of all, the food.
“I think Athens has some of the best food culture ever,” he said. “I want to make sure to try every restaurant Athens has to offer, and I want to run a food blog or food Instagram specifically for Athens.”
Black serves as an associate director of alumni chapters for UGA’s Development and Alumni Relations, overseeing all Georgia-based alumni chapters. As a result, Black has been able to develop his inner foodie since coming to Athens.
Black grew up playing golf with his grandpa in Summerville, a small town outside of Rome, before attending the University of West Georgia to study engineering. That path was short lived when Black discovered that engineering wasn’t the right fit, and instead he pursued an interest in economics.
After his graduation in 2014, Black moved to Chicago and worked as a consultant for a few years before returning to Georgia to work in the Greek Life Office at UGA in 2017. As assistant director for Greek life at UGA, Black helped fraternity chapters with strategic programming, health and safety, diversity, recruitment and event planning. Utilizing the UGA Tuition Assistance Program for faculty and staff, he pursued a Master of Public Administration from the School of Public and International Affairs, taking classes part time while working full time. It was through that program that Black found a passion for nonprofit work.
“I think after one particular semester I realized I wanted to work with nonprofits. I want to be able to help make a difference in communities, especially Athens, because I was really starting to build a life and establish roots here,” Black said.
As he was nearing graduation for the MPA program, a position became available in UGA’s Alumni Association, and it was a perfect fit.
“The Alumni Association is a nonprofit, so that really fits directly in what I want to do,” he said. “It was a natural fit, immediately in my career field, already at UGA.”
Now Black coaches alumni chapters from the beginning stages of volunteer recruitment to the fall football watch parties across the state. Once a group becomes an official alumni chapter in Georgia, Black becomes their point of contact with the Alumni Association. He helps with identifying opportunities for the chapter, strategic planning, facilitating networking events and fundraisers, and he makes sure every watch party is decorated in the Bulldog way.
Black says all it takes to develop an alumni chapter is a high concentration of alumni who want to develop connections and make a difference in their communities.
“It just takes dedicated volunteers,” he said. “You just have to make sure there’s a good population of alumni and dedicated volunteers that want to put in the time, and make sure that the events that you do are meant to engage and bring Bulldogs together and align with the mission and vision of the university.”
Since Black works with Georgia chapters, he says that he can build more personal connections with them compared to some of the chapters across the country or even overseas. He can sit in on board and strategic meetings and can often be a physical presence at alumni events across the state.
Outside of watch parties for major UGA sporting events, alumni chapters also schedule community service events and networking opportunities for graduates to connect with fellow alumni in their area. Some chapters also have endowed scholarships through the UGA Foundation and will host fundraising events to help send new students to the University of Georgia.
“I try to go to as many events that are reasonably possible, and that’s twofold. One is to see in person the hard work that our volunteers put into planning, and we do a lot of that back-end work, and we help them plan throughout the whole process, but they’re the ones that make it happen,” said Black. “And I also know it’s important for our volunteers to see the person who is behind the scenes.”
Despite finding UGA later in his academic career, Black is still full of school spirit.
“Kirby is my four-and-a-half-year-old corgi named directly after Kirby Smart,” he said. “I got him a couple months after we went to the national championship in 2018. So, obviously, it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but by then I was confident enough in Kirby Smart to lead us to where we were going to get to. It felt only right to name my dog after him.”
Black likes to take Kirby to the various parks around Athens and found enjoyment in disc golf during the pandemic.
“I think a lot of times it’s being outdoors and utilizing the lovely facilities that Athens-Clarke County has, the beautiful parks and places to go, that really is a great way to feel that you have the space and feel more connected to Athens,” said Black.