Alumni Spotlight: Jason Mascitti '80

Alumnus uses Scranton education to help save his own life
Alumni Spotlight: Jason Mascitti '80

Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes, once wrote, 'Ten decisions shape your life – you’ll be aware of five, about.' While deciding to attend The University of Scranton isn’t an extraordinarily unique decision for a high school student to make, Jason Mascitti ’80 said his interest in Scranton sprung from an unlikely source: hockey.

“My mom dropped me off at the Holiday Inn on City Line Avenue at a college fair,” the Drexel Hill native said. “This guy at the Scranton booth happened to be the goalie of the hockey team, and he said – I remember it like it was yesterday, and it was almost 40 years ago – he said, ‘Hey, do you want to play hockey at Scranton?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’”

While that type of instinctive, spur-of-the-moment-decision-making came naturally to Mascitti, his time at Scranton taught him to temper those impulses in the twin forges of faith and research, a tactic he began to employ after that chance meeting.

“The proximity to Philly … and the opportunity to combine faith and education was intriguing to me,” he said. “Academically, Scranton would be good for me.”

At Scranton, Mascitti participated in the Academic Development Program (ADP), which focuses on developing the reading, research, public speaking and writing skills of first-year students by emphasizing the connections between the courses and improving participants’ overall verbal skills.

“I was not a great high school student,” Mascitti confessed. “I just struggled.”

Mascitti said the ADP program helped him “learn how to learn.”

“By the end of the first semester … I was teaching seniors how to use the library, and I was a freshman,” he said. “It was like a boot camp.”

Intent on becoming a radio broadcaster, Mascitti majored in communications. During the summers, he worked at Philmont Scout Ranch, a large high adventure Boy Scout camp in New Mexico. A year after graduating, Mascitti decided to return to Philmont for one final summer as its news and information director. In that position, he put his degree to good use, writing press releases and newsletters and handling the camp’s public relations.

“It was in that summer that I met my wife, Julie,” Mascitti said. “We’ve been together ever since then and have been married almost 29 years.”

Mascitti followed Julie to her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, where he made another life-altering decision.

“I still wanted to pursue broadcasting, but she was still in college,” he said. “I dropped, like a lot of kids do, the idea of being a broadcaster. It didn’t pay.

“It wasn’t really my dream; it was just kind of my dream. Julie was my dream, and life, to me, was bigger than a career. It’s still true today. I’m so happy in my life. I love my career, but my life is more important than my career.”

Mascitti began selling aerial photographs to farmers, but after a year, the travel expenses he incurred made it impractical. Unsure of what to do next, he took his wife’s advice and applied for a sales position at American TV and Appliance.

“She said, ‘Go to this American place – you know a lot about cameras and photography and communication, and you’ll be great,’” he said. “I sold SLR (single lens reflex) cameras . . . kids today don’t even have any idea what (they are). I sold thousands and thousands and thousands of these cameras to people – it was the Apple iPhone craze of the 80’s.”

Over the next 30 years, Mascitti received promotion after promotion, rising to the level of vice president/director of stores for the 15-location company. He and Julie had two sons, Evan and Marco, and life, in general, was good. Tragedy struck when Mascitti was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, a rare form of the disease in which the body manufactures an excess of white blood cells. Where many might have despaired upon learning the news, Mascitti instead remembered his Scranton days and began feverishly researching his condition.

“My faith and my education pretty much saved my life,” he said. “(The) education and discipline  (I learned in) the ADP program taught me not only to fight, but also to research, so I saved my own life by finding a clinical trial in Washington that my criteria fit.”

Years after going into remission, Mascitti was diagnosed with another blood cancer, lymphoma, and his Scranton education proved to be an invaluable resource yet again.

 “A college education helps you understand how to do research and how to communicate with nurses and doctors,” he said. “In many ways, what I learned at Scranton, in the end, could have saved my life.”

While Mascitti said he has enjoyed good health since 1998, another seismic event shifted the axis of his world four years ago, when American TV and Appliance went out of business. Today, he is a financial associate at Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization that provides financial planning and wealth management solutions for Christians.

“When you’re 57 and highly compensated in an executive level job, it’s really hard to find another one,” Mascitti said. “I ended up in the financial services field, which is exactly where I wanted to end up.

“I help people be wise with money, spend less than they earn, protect their families. . . .It’s very exciting work using all the skills I got from Scranton.”

Last year, Mascitti decided to give back to Scranton and by joining the Estate Society and naming the University as the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy.

“The University of Scranton was a foundational building block for my life, and I really feel compelled to have someone else have that same building block,” he said. “It’s a very special place. I know all the universities and colleges think (they are) special, but I do believe the leadership and the Jesuit traditions and the all the various statues and artwork . . . (are) stunning.  It just gives you a great feeling.”

This year, on 5.06, the University’s upcoming Day of Giving, Mascitti plans to support the Center for Service and Social Justice and hopes others will follow his lead.

“Scranton is a magical place where you (come in) as a naïve freshman and you leave a senior ready for the world, ready for whatever it deals you,” he said. “Why the (Center for Service and Social Justice)? I believe that all people deserve a chance. All people deserve an opportunity to be able to do the things that the average person can do. A lot of people are born into (poverty), and it’s very tough to get out of it.

“I just feel great about giving, and I think other people will feel the same way.”

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