Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Yokum, with Austin Partners in Education

Every year, Austin Partners in Education trains more than 1,500 community volunteers to be classroom coaches and mentors throughout Austin ISD.

Karen Yokum, an electrical engineer at IBM, has volunteered with APIE as an eighth-grade math classroom coach for three years, helping students understand real-world applications of their classroom studies. 

“My favorite part about volunteering is seeing the students,” Yokum said. “They are generally excited to see us when we enter the classroom each week. I love hearing about their day, and they love to hear about what we do at work.”


Electrical Engineer at IBM

How has education played a role in your own life and career?

I grew up in a family that emphasized education and learning something new every day. In high school, I started to figure out what classes sparked my interest and I learned that I was passionate about science and technology. When I attended the University of Notre Dame, I was able to explore a wide array of classes that led me to pursue an electrical engineering degree.

But one of the most important things I learned throughout my educational career was how to problem-solve. This is what was essential to my career at IBM.

Would APIE have benefited you as a student?

APIE would have greatly benefited me. In middle school and high school I was scared to raise my hand and ask questions or go up to the board. Having individualized attention would have encouraged me to ask questions rather than relying on the “I’ll figure it out later” approach.

What has been your proudest moment as an APIE volunteer?

My proudest moment as an APIE volunteer occurred at the end of the school year when we did the final review for the Math STAAR. At that point, I could see the strides the students had made not only in their math skills, but in confidence as well. The students were more outgoing, willing to ask questions and able to do well on the STAAR. 

If you could share one thing with eighth-grade students as they enter high school, what would it be?

Entering high school can be a scary endeavor, but embrace the challenge. Get involved, join clubs and take electives that interest you. It is never too early to begin thinking about your future. Classes may seem more challenging than they were in middle school, but remember to take the time to understand the material and try your hardest to succeed.

Other thoughts or stories to share?

We have a bunch of volunteers at IBM who volunteer during their lunch hour on Wednesdays at Burnet Middle School and Thursdays at Webb Middle School. At the end of the school year, once the STAAR tests are complete, we like to plan a field trip for our students to come to IBM and see what we are working on. 

We get to show the students our offices and labs, demonstrate interesting projects we were working on and perform some cool liquid nitrogen science experiments.

For more information or to volunteer, click here to visit the Get Involved section of APIE's website.