“I know you can do better than this,” he says as he taps the stack of homework on his desk. At the top I see mine, littered with blue X’s and stamped with an admittedly generous score at the top: 1/10 – Epic Fail. I stare out the window and pretend not to care.
Six short years flash by, and I’m sitting at the Penn State Architectural Engineering 2017 Awards Banquet at the Nittany Lion Inn. The speaker booms, “And finally, the award for Best Overall Senior Thesis goes to…. get back up here, Chris!” I receive the award to a standing ovation from my professors and peers. On top of this achievement, I am set to graduate with both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees of Architectural Engineering simultaneously.
Now I’m sitting in an office in downtown Boston. I have a stack of business cards with my name on them. I have a set of initials after my name that mean Engineer-in-Training. My computer screen shows structural plans for a new high school facility that, to quote my boss, “Certainly does not lack innovation.” Looking over the plans and reminiscing over my own high school experiences, I look back on how I got here.
What makes a great mentor is seeing the potential in anyone. A great mentor doesn’t dismiss a student for their lack of will or understanding. Instead, they understand the tough facades that students build and continually look for new ways to promote self-confidence. My Physics teacher looked at me, an obnoxious and angsty teenager, and somehow saw my potential. He demonstrated his belief in me through mentoring me one-on-one on his own time for many weeks. Luckily for me, his belief turned out to be infectious. At times when I struggled, he would simply state, “I know you can do it.” And he was always right.
In a few hours I will pack up my bag and walk over to the Boston Society of Architects building on Congress St. I will sit down with three young high school students and teach them about the fun of learning and applying physics principles in structural engineering. The program, called the ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE), is a weekly mentoring initiative in Boston aimed at introducing the fields of architecture, construction and engineering to high school kids. The basic idea of ACE is to teach kids the concepts of design and collaboration in a “real-world” scenario. Students choose a discipline (architecture, structures, construction management or mechanical) and take on that role in a design project from an actual location in Boston with guidance from volunteer industry professionals. This year we are “renovating” an existing building on Summer St.
Before the session is over, I plan to share my story with the students in ACE. Too often I think adults hide their past mistakes. Truthfully, these students are far more patient and mature than I was when I was their age. Therefore, it’s not hard at all for me to state that each of them is capable of earning a degree in whatever they choose (hopefully structural engineering!) along with scholarships, awards and eventually a full-time career.
I encourage us all to find a way to incorporate mentorship in our lives, whether it be with a colleague, a student group, etc. The opportunities are out there – I know you can do it.
Chris Barlow, center, at graduation.