By Charlie Corchero, Boston Partners in Education academic mentor

After 20 years as an electrical engineer, you might think I’ve learned all that I could. A man in my position, with grown children and decades of workforce experience might be told to consider retirement. But by volunteering my time with Boston Partners in Education, I feel I’ve not only found a new purpose but have also learned more about myself than I ever would’ve expected.

I found my way into mentoring this year because I had been looking to make a career change into education and loved working with young adults. For me, volunteering with Boston Partners in Education seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience the classroom setting and see teachers impart lessons and students solve problems firsthand. I was soon matched with a young woman who we’ll call “B” in Ms. Manning’s 10th grade geometry class at Fenway High School.

B loves astronomy, a field where science and math are pivotal. She’s funny, isn’t afraid to ask for assistance, and has a great knack for knowing when there’s something not quite right about her answer – either it looks too big or too small. To be able to identify the problem is half the battle, so I enjoy seeing her confidence grow when she understands that she’s on the right track.

According to Ms. Manning, since I’ve been volunteering, B’s grades have gone up. I try to give her the reassurance and support to show her it isn’t “uncool” to be good at math. Many young women are turned off about math and science, and B identifies as both female and African American – a group that has traditionally been underrepresented in the engineering workforce.

The industry could so desperately benefit from a fresh perspective like B’s, so to be able to encourage her is great. She’s such a natural problem solver.

One week, B and I were going to an MCAS prep class, and one of the questions involved measuring a three-dimensional shape and drawing what it would look like if the shape was flattened out. I shared with her that when I was considering entering the military I took a test with a similar question, and I joked with her that I had gotten all those questions wrong.

In response, B explained to me how to solve the problems, and she was able to teach me in a way that my college professors could not explain. She was the first one to explain the problem to me in a way that I could understand it, and it brought a huge smile to her face. It showed her that when you can teach somebody something, you truly know the material. When I think of that moment, it makes me feel great.

It’s easy to say that volunteering brings a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. To be a constant presence for my mentee in the classroom, an adult to lean on, brings me great pride. But the commitment is also important, and if you’re going to sign up for it, it’s crucial to be present and responsible for your mentee. On the surface it’s an hour a week of me helping B with her math lessons, but it’s really a year’s worth of getting to know one another and watching her grow academically and emotionally. Even on days we don’t “accomplish” what we wanted, B understands that I showed up and didn’t blow off the commitment.

To someone who’s wondering if they have what it takes to volunteer, I’d say don’t talk yourself out of it. Think about what you are trying to accomplish – either for yourself or for others – and explore opportunities in your community. You can make meaningful connections and have an impact on someone else’s life. I feel it’s important to give back, especially with young people. It sounds cliché, but children really are the future. B’s passion is astronomy, so I want her reaching for the stars.

If you are interested in mentoring with Boston Partners in Education, sign up to volunteer here.