January 25, 2008

ACE Mentor Program Expands to Hershey, Pa.

by Tracy Ostroff
Associate Editor

How do you . . . encourage participation in local mentoring efforts?

Summary: Design and construction professionals are teaming up with local school districts in Central Pennsylvania to expand the ACE Mentor Program, a nine-month curriculum that introduces high school juniors and seniors to the fundamentals of architecture, construction, and engineering. Building on the success of the local York Chapter, which is in its third year, the Dauphin County group is encouraging even more students in the region to consider careers in the building industry and design professions.

“There’s a real hunger to learn about architecture, engineering, and construction,” says Chris Dawson, AIA, a project architect at LSC Design, who also serves as the AIA Central Pennsylvania treasurer and as a board member of the new Dauphin County ACE chapter. “To the lay person, there’s also a bit of mystery and a lack of clarity about architecture.”

The ACE Mentor Program was originally founded in 1994 as an innovative way of attracting students—particularly women and minorities—to the engineering profession. The nonprofit organization relies on mentoring by professionals from local organizations who devote their personal time, energy, and experience to introduce students to a broad range of people, projects, and career possibilities within the construction industry.

In York, in 2006-2007, each of the teams designed a restaurant—one with a music theme, the other with a movie motif. Each team had to consider existing site conditions, square footage, stormwater regulations, and other key factors, notes the project Web site. Mentors helped students produce architectural boards, traffic diagrams, hand-built models, and computerized “fly-through” 3-D renderings. These were presented at an end-of-year ceremony attended by 250 participants, mentors, parents, and school administrators and faculty. At the conclusion, $5,500 in scholarships was awarded to 11 students.

Dual rewards
“Unfortunately, in today’s technology-driven world, the construction and design business has a difficult task of marketing itself beside careers in computers and industry and, frankly, has done a poor job of doing so thus far,” notes organizer Josh Carney, PE, an affiliate member of the Central Pennsylvania board of directors and a passionate advocate for the program, in a plea to fellow Board members. “The ACE Mentoring program offers a unique opportunity to build excitement about the design and construction professions at a very early stage in students’ minds and also facilitates the school-to-work transition through internships and mentoring contacts,” Carney notes.

The York program has attracted more than 50 students from 12 school districts in the three years since its inception, and it is continuing to add more participants. In the first few years, they have already seen many of their graduates successfully enter engineering and architecture programs and some have even starting working as interns in local companies, Carney reports. “Some had already planned on these careers, many changed plans once they got a taste of the program. Many will become future employees of the participating firms because of this program and the contacts they have developed,” Carney notes.

Of the more than 30,500 students who have participated in the program nationwide since its inception, 82 percent represent minority groups, 48 percent are female, and 92 percent continue their education at post-secondary schools or in training or apprenticeship programs.

The ACE Mentor Program provides a great opportunity for students to pursue interests in careers, and employers get to see prospective employees, Dawson notes. Two years ago, Dawson took over the AIA Central Pennsylvania Lecture Series, which generated enough funds to cover its costs with $1,000 left over for students. This year, they are stepping up their commitment to $3,000. For the small chapter, Dawson notes, that’s a sizeable amount and well-received by the students, many of whom are struggling to afford college.

Time and commitment
Classes for the Dauphin County ACE Mentor Program began on November 13 and will run weekly through April 8. They are held at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) corporate offices in Hershey. Members of Hershey’s Construction Services Group are also among the mentors.

To date, 50 students representing most of the school districts in Dauphin County and 34 mentors from professional organizations are scheduled to participate in the program. The time professionals dedicate ranges from a couple of hours during the session as a guest lecturer to consistent guidance throughout the semester-long program. Dawson finds that the younger professionals are generally more willing to offer more time. He notes that there’s always more room for architects to participate and represent their profession to the younger students.

Students have to handle the logistics of getting to the different work sites and program offices. That sometimes makes consistent participation a challenge. In addition, at least one school district that did not want to take responsibility for transporting their students halted its participation in this semester’s lectures. Dawson notes that Bob DiFore, the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts employee behind starting the ACE chapter in Dauphin County, is pushing to do whatever it takes to get them involved next year.

Still, for the students who participate, the program demystifies the trades and allows the students to encounter real-life issues in the fields, for example, Dawson says, ethical issues in architecture. The more relaxed setting also makes for connections that last well beyond the program’s curriculum.


news headlines
recent related

ACE Mentor Program
Barbara Laurie, AIA, NOMA (Dedicated mentor)

The ACE Mentor Program began in 1994 with a team of 30 students in one city who were mentored by volunteers from four construction firms. Today, the program involves more than 7,500 students and 2,100 mentors in 93 cities across the U.S. Many of the chapters offer scholarships to program participants to pursue higher education programs. Teams tour the offices of architects, engineers, and contractors as well as construction sites, materials manufacturing plants, and other facilities.

Students attend the York County, Pa., ACE mentoring program. Photos © Andy Ferrari.