For 1975 Notre Dame Graduate Jason Mims, life is refreshingly uncomplicated. You help people by completing simple tasks over and over again. And one day that string of events will amount to something magnificent.
And that is the frills-free mantra behind Mim’s incredible success as a mentor and visionary for Tampa’s underserved youth. Through his nonprofit the MIMS (Motivated Individual Minority Students) Institute, he has been encouraging and inspiring young people to seek the gains of higher education since 2002.
Mims’ passion and dedication for helping high-achieving public school students realize the opportunities afforded by a secondary education is being recognized by the Notre Dame Alumni Association with the 2011 William D. Reynolds Award. This retired Lieutenant Colonel will be recognized Saturday, April 16, 2011 during halftime of the Blue and Gold game.
According to Mims, The MIMS Institute is based on two fundamental activities: fellowship with students and their parents, and an active presence in the Hillborough County school board. “I will meet with students over pancakes at the Village Inn Pancake House,” he explained, “or sometimes I will bring pizza to their high school. We discuss grades, their extracurricular activities, and most importantly what it takes to be an exceptional candidate at an outstanding secondary institution.” Mims is also able to get a sense from his mentees of the everyday challenges of students in public schools—especially those of black males. “I listen to them and share with them my resources,” he shared. “This is my opportunity to hear their struggles, while also promoting academic excellence.”
Since 2001, Mims has also routinely attended school board meetings in an effort to gather information about the exceptional opportunities that are available for high-achieving students in Hillsboro County. “Many of our students— students of color— don’t have access to or don’t believe they have access to opportunities such as ACT/SAT prep, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate course. I seek to expose them to these unknowns.” These visits to school boards are not just a way for Mims to simply gain information. His presence at these meetings is also a chance for him to establish relationships with school district leaderships, which then allows him to advocate on behalf of his mentees.
When asked what influenced his decision to start the MIMS Institute, he immediately referenced his experiences at Notre Dame. “Forty years ago, I became a part of the Notre Dame family when I got my acceptance letter in the mail,” Mims explained. “But when I entered Notre Dame with ten other young men from San Antonio, I realized I was the only one from a non-Catholic/public school. It always haunted me that so many young men of color in public schools don’t know about the opportunities that exist for them.”
In 1995, Mims returned to Notre Dame for his twentieth reunion, and he brought six young people from Tampa with him. Seeing those students completely awestruck by Notre Dame’s campus fueled something inside of him. Mims took another trip to campus in 2003, following a taxing year in Kuwait. “I just had a sense that I had to go to Notre Dame following my year of active duty— I had a feeling that I needed to be there, a sense that I needed to be on campus, and one of the first places that I ended up at was the Grotto,” he stated. During that trip, Mims also had the opportunity to have lunch with Ben Finley Sr. (Notre Dame c/o 1960 and 2000 recipient of the William D. Reynolds Award) and Dan Saracino (former Assistant Provost for Enrollment). That opportunity to see another Black Alumnus who was involved in recruiting efforts that were so appreciated by the University furthered Mims’ passion to intensify his involvement.
Though Jason encourages students of the MIMS Institute to consider Notre Dame, his primary goal is for his mentees to be top applicants at excellent secondary institutions. Mims’ very first student accepted into Notre Dame served as a model for future mentees, and his dedicated service has been an incredible success since.
When asked how other Black Alumni can get involved, Mim’s response is simple, of course, “You have to be passionate to be successful, but if the passion isn’t there in the beginning, just do small things like fellowship with one or two kids. It will grow from there.”
For more information on the MIMS Institute, please visit www.mimmsinstitute.com.