For Mason Ferlic (BSAE ’15, MSAE ’16), his time at the University of Michigan was defined by his desire to reach the “upper echelons” of both the athletic and academic communities. His achievement of this goal was epitomized by receiving the 2016 NCAA Division I Scholar Athlete of the Year, a distinction that compliments his numerous others spanning NCAA National Champion in the 3000 meter Steeple Chase to the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. Moving forward, Mason is eager to plunge into his professional running career, with an eye towards entering aerospace entrepreneurship.
Mason was initially drawn to University of Michigan for its dual strength in athletics and academics. He notes:
“I chose Michigan because it had the best of both worlds. The running and academic programs were both phenomenal, and the Engineering College had plenty of majors to choose from [that encompassed] everything I could possibly be interested in. I ultimately decided on Aerospace Engineering when I took the ENG 100 blimp course taught by [AE Associate Professor] Dr. Washabaugh. I love planes and rockets and cutting edge technology and performance.”
Stemming from this innovative spirit, Mason found his aerospace niche within the development of gas turbine propulsion technologies. He participated in the Michigan Jet Engine Team (MJET) led by AE Lecturer Dr. Tim Smith that investigated propulsion improvements through the Air Force’s Aerospace Propulsion Outreach Program (APOP). Mason explains:
“Every year, MJET receives a new project directive from APOP. One of the challenges I worked on was improving the efficiency of hot-state turbines. Another was building a better nozzle. My 405 [Senior Aerospace Engineering lab course] project was working on a gas turbine project through APOP that I enjoyed so much that I continued the work as an advisor for two future 405 student groups. [In this role], I functioned as a program coordinator, helping the groups write grants, prototype and execute their designs.”
In parallel, Mason held leadership roles on the Men’s Cross-Country and Track team, serving as Team Captain for three of his five years on the team. He jokingly comments that he inspired two younger teammates to pursue aerospace when “they saw how much fun [he] was having.”
As can easily be imagined, balancing the demands of a rigorous academic and athletic training schedule requires exceptional discipline and time management. In a given evening, Mason would juggle four or more hours of practice at the track with a focused homework regime. Remarkably, he also maintained a strict schedule of self-care, with “refueling through good meals” and sleeping a minimum of eight hours each night.
After his 2016 National Championship win and an extensive collegiate career of other Big Ten awards, Mason was offered a sponsorship by Nike to begin his professional running career. He explains:
“Professional running is very individualized. The competition season runs from early spring through September. People often just know of the Olympics, but there are many other national and international meets throughout the year. A lot of people join groups and clubs [like in Oregon], but right now, I’m going at it solo [with my coach Kevin Sullivan]. Running is a very diverse sport: at the elite level, there are only a couple hundred US-born athletes. But at the recreational level, running is the largest participation sport in the country.”
Mason’s Nike sponsorship is heavily performance-based: he receives bonuses when he reaches specified benchmarks like running certain times and qualifying for certain races. For many, this pressure could be extremely taxing, but for Mason, it plays into one of his key attributes:
“One of my most important strengths is that I’m able to handle the mental aspects of the sport. I’m able to compartmentalize my ability and my races and to stay even-keeled and level-headed. This allows me to damp out the highs and lows. I realize that it’s your whole body of work, your entire resume – not just the last race – that makes you a good runner.”
Down the line, Mason hopes to position himself “at the intersection of business and technology” by pursuing an MBA and aerospace entrepreneurship.