Kathleen Kostrzewa brought corporate IT and business development experience — plus age diversity — to the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program last year, when she joined the team as an Encore Fellow.

“Kathy has decades of experience and offers our team sage advice and a different perspective,” says Bethany Orozco, 34, the national recruitment and communications director. “She’s been able to help us take a step back, think more strategically and standardize processes and procedures.” 

Kostrzew’s Encore Fellowship recently ended, but she’s staying on as a part-time employee. She explains why below.

This fellowship has been perfect for my background. I don’t know how I got so lucky, and at this time. My kids aren’t worried about me being isolated or bored. And I feel like I’m making an impact, which has always been important to me in my job — that I’m doing good work.

I’m also having a lot of fun, and I like the people I’m working with. We can’t wait to get together in-person, but for now everything is over Zoom. The two younger directors, Bethany and Angel, are teaching me a lot about that — they keep me up to date, help me stay sharp, and reaffirm how valuable my career experience is.

The pandemic had a big effect on how EnCorps STEM Teachers Program has operated. They don’t have an office, so they were used to working virtually as a team. But they do hold these big events, where hundreds of STEM professionals interested in changing careers and becoming teachers come together in-person. They had to do a huge pivot last spring, making these virtual.

They managed that incredibly well while I was working closely with the executive director and the board on the strategic plan. I also helped Bethany and Angel develop an annual talent development cycle, and succession planning was part of that.

We’re now rolling out a new program that’s all about taking STEM professionals and bringing them in as tutors. There are so many people out there like me — I’m retired and want to work, but not full-time in the classroom. We have a lot to offer, as mentors and coaches — roles that are more part-time. I signed up and recently started tutoring a sixth grade girl in math for two hours/week.

Honestly, I took awhile to make the decision to be a tutor – it is a big jump out of my comfort zone. However, working with EnCorps I know how much learning is being lost right now especially with middle school math students. My student is LatinX and her mother only speaks Spanish. We’ve had four sessions so far, and I just love it. It’s a new learning experience for me.

I’m joining EnCorps STEM part-time because I also homeschool my granddaughter two days/week. She lives nearby, and it’s been fun to spend that time with her.

We just moved here from the east coast a couple years ago, so we don’t have many friends locally. We live in a condo community of people over 50, and I see other people my age struggling during the pandemic. Some of our friends are like, how many streaming shows can we watch? They’re lonely. Hearing that makes me feel even more grateful.

What would I be doing if not for this?

Learn more about Encore Fellowships at: https://encore.org/fellowships/

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