Professor Faite Mack to retire after more than 40 years at GVSU

By Karina Lloyd | 12/11/17 1:29am

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GVL / Courtesy - Amanda Pitts Faite Mack

As the semester comes to a close and Grand Valley State University students prepare to head home for winter break, they will also be saying goodbye to a longtime faculty member. GVSU professor Faite Mack will retire from the university on Sunday, Dec. 31, after more than 40 years of teaching.

Mack, an education professor and the first African-American to be promoted to the full rank of professor at GVSU, spent years learning his craft. As the son of a Tuskegee Airman and a nurse, he grew up in a household that encouraged him to work hard no matter what challenges lay ahead.

His parents taught him that being a minority “was not an excuse” to be held back or not to strive to do great things. Leading by example were his parents, as well as his late mother’s grand uncle, the distinguished scholar Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was known as the father of the African-American studies movement and the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.

Mack made similar strides throughout his career, not letting the fact that he was a minority become an obstacle but instead something to be proud of. He became the sixth African-American to earn a doctorate in any field at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Mack became a professor at GVSU in 1972. As one of the founding faculty members of the College of Education, he strived to bring diversity to GVSU’s campus and into the education field through the Dr. Faite Mack and Dr. Thomas Jackson African American Teacher Education Scholarship.

Mack shared that one of his hopes for the future is to see more minorities in the field of education. He is also content with the way the College of Education has grown throughout the years.

“It still makes me very happy that (the college) was successful,” Mack said. “We overcame many barriers to success for starting the master's program at Grand Valley in teacher education. We were denied funding for the first years, so we operated on grant funding. But we were able to garner a federal grant of millions of dollars that allowed us to function very well and to refine our programs of study.”

Mack has published three books, four book chapters, 42 journal articles, a commercial school readiness test for young children, and numerous scholarly papers presented nationally and internationally throughout his career. His resume is extensive as it includes serving as a consultant for multiple school districts and agencies, maintaining a series of educational and professional memberships, and working within the Grand Rapids local government.

“It’s one thing to teach education at the university,” Mack said. “It’s another thing to go out there and practice successfully what you're teaching your students at the university.” 

Mack was able to balance all these different roles throughout his career, which would be unthinkable for many. 

“I don't know how I was able to do it," he said. "I am a tenacious individual, and once I get started on something, I like to put full energy into it to make it successful."

Mack’s true passion lies with his work as president of the Education for Humanity International Foundation in Thailand. More than 21 years ago, Mack went on a trip to Thailand as a keynote speaker for the Department of Education. After visiting the rural part of the country, he was exposed to poverty unlike any he had seen in the U.S. This trip would later inspire his work with the Humanity International Foundation.

After its creation, the foundation became one of the first foreign non-profit foundations to be approved for operation in the Nong Khai Province. This is extremely noteworthy as the foundation needed to be approved by the Royal Thai Foundation, a process that took more than three years.

“(We were able to accomplish this) by being tenacious, by constantly pushing the system to grant us permission,” Mack said as he recalled almost deciding to move the foundation to a country where it would be easier to establish. “It took a lot of sweat, heartache and tears to reach that point.”

Although education is free in Thailand, the children he saw could not afford supplies such as uniforms, sandals and other resources to attend classes. He recalled learning that some of the children would each take turns throughout the week wearing the one uniform they owned as a group so they could each attend class at least one day a week.

The foundation gives educational grants to orphaned and abandoned children in an effort to educate while battling against child trafficking. It supports the deeply impoverished children and orphans by offering them uniforms, shoes and medical resources so they are able to attend the schools and stay in school.

“If you are in Thailand and you don’t go to school and you’re poor, it is very likely that you will be sold (into child trafficking),” Mack said. “Child trafficking is very high in the rural parts of Asia.”

As president of the foundation, Mack works to raise money for the cause while staying in contact with the three-person staff located in Thailand and working with the local schools and government in Thailand to make accommodations for the children. 

Based on donations, the foundation has been able to provide scholarships for more than 800 children in the Nong Khai Province in 2017.

“Once they have the primary education, there are technical programs and college programs for several students,” Mack said. “Some become teachers, (and) several become nurses.”

The foundation has a vast amount of educational resources for the children and is now working with four different Thai schools. The main issue the foundation faces is the financial restriction.

“It makes me very sad when I have to tell a needy individual that there is not enough money to provide you with a scholarship,” Mack said. “It’s very hard. I have people bring me kids. ... They are destitute, they have no parents, they’re living on their own. So, often what I do is take money out of my own personal pocket to try and help out, way beyond what our foundation is able to supply. ... We are trying to squeeze as much out of our dollar to help children, and that's my goal.”

Word of Mack’s passion for this cause and his hard work for the foundation spread far and wide from the GVSU community to the king of Thailand, who learned of the foundation's work after a misunderstanding about gathering items for the foundation’s fundraiser. Luckily, the situation was resolved, and as a result, they were given support by the Thai royal household. 

“We (received) a letter from the royal household commending us for the great work we were doing in Thailand,” Mack said. “The king sent us various commodities to auction off. So did the American ambassador in Bangkok as well as the Thai ambassador and also a Thai minister of education.”

Those items were then sold at an auction to raise money for the foundation.

Many people from the GVSU community have gotten involved with the foundation after being inspired by Mack. Students and staff have joined him on his various trips to Thailand to help educate the impoverished youth that long for a proper education. 

During his retirement, Mack hopes to spend more time dedicating himself to the foundation. Though the foundation's focus is currently on rural Thailand, he hopes to reach out to other countries. 

Although he is entering retirement, Mack's work is far from over. His words echo a goal of being as charitable as possible.

“You come into this world with nothing and the goal is to leave with nothing,” he said.

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