Volunteerism and Citizenship: One Mentor’s Story

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Ethan McCarty was one of 95 IBM mentors who met with their student protégés at New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) for the first time in October. P-TECH is a new model grades 9 through 14 school located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and many of its students will be the first in their families to attain the associate degree they’ll receive along with their high school diplomas. The school has a visionary principal, a dedicated faculty, and a remarkable 100% attendance rate. Read what Ethan has to say about community volunteering and his inspiring new P-TECH friend.

Ethan’s story: “The idea behind the P-TECH program is that IBM partners with a local school system and university to create a six-year science and technology school that gives the kids a chance to earn both a high school diploma and a two-year degree in one shot. Naturally, IBM does a whole lot of stuff, like help out with the curriculum and some of the technology supporting the program, whose graduates will be first in line for entry-level jobs at IBM. Where I come in (along with about a hundred of my colleagues) is a dimension of the program that pairs each P-TECH student with an IBM mentor.

Ethan and Radcliffe

When I lived in East Harlem, I worked with the Tutorial Board there. Since I moved to Brooklyn, I’ve been looking for a regular way to work with kids and give back to the community – so this seemed like a really good opportunity. Since I don’t volunteer that often, the idea of a program that is managed by IBM’s citizenship team appealed to me because I knew it would be well organized. One of the problems I’ve found with volunteering in the past is spending energy that could be dedicated to helping others simply figuring out how to connect with the volunteer opportunity – so the P-TECH program looked like a good fit. It only took about 15 minutes for me to work through the automated background check process, and I was good to go.

All of us were looking forward to meeting our P-TECH protégés for the first time. P-TECH is one of three programs housed in Brooklyn’s Paul Robeson School, just a few miles from where I live. That first day was exciting as students, parents, teachers, mentors and administrators all crowded into P-TECH’s “gymatorium” – a combination auditorium and gym. After a round of speeches, we finally got the chance to find our protégés in the crowd, and I finally met Radcliffe.

The organizers of the event had set up some structured activities to help get conversations started, so Radcliffe and I went to a classroom where we could talk and start to get to know each other. I was totally impressed by Radcliffe. He is articulate, ambitious, funny and clearly curious about how the world works and how to make his future in it.

As part of the exercise we did, Radcliffe described to me an idea he had for getting help to people who are interested in bicycle repair (he works on bikes as a hobby). Together, we started to map out how an iPad application could be designed to support a business for bike-repair enthusiasts and professionals. I was blown away by Radcliffe’s creativity.

At the end of the day Radcliffe and I said goodbye, but not for long. A major component of the mentoring relationship is enabled through an IBM platform called MentorPlace. It’s a bit like having a pen-pal, only each week we have a different assignment. This week, for example, Radcliffe and I wrote a poem together and talked about how teamwork is essential to business success.

I think Radcliffe and I are off to a good start. As a friend and fellow program participant said to me, the most important thing here is that these teenagers get and maintain a sense that there are adults out there who care about them. I agree – and I do.”

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