What is the best way to mentor high school students in the design and construction fields? Get them involved.
That is the goal of the ACE Mentor Program of America, Inc. ACE stands for Architecture, Construction, and Engineering – the primary disciplines responsible for creating buildings. According to the ACE website (www.acementor.org), “The program’s mission is to engage, excite, and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in the integrated construction industry through mentoring; and to support their continued advancement in the industry through scholarship and grants.”
Pittsburgh’s chapter, now in its fourth year, is working with 60 area high school students and partnering with dozens of industry professionals to continue the ACE mission right here in Allegheny County. In its first year, ACE Pittsburgh started with 10 students and the program has grown dramatically each year. ACE students are given a real world design project to complete in teams. Over the course of the year, the students travel to local firms and are guided through various aspects of design and construction. They visit their project site, construction sites in progress, and the Carpenter’s Training Center for hands-on instruction. Anastasia Herk, Assoc. AIA (IBACOS) and Bethany Yoder (Astorino) have been integral in this year’s planning with assistance from Emily Putas (Stantec).
The design project this year is to design a high school – a building type the students interact with every day – causing them to ask questions of their daily environment and perhaps see it in a new, more intimate way. The students were placed in design teams that generated their own group name and logo. They also identified the name, colors, and mascot of the school they will design. In October, the students visited The Neighborhood Academy in Stanton Heights to gain inspiration. Members of TNA’s design team were on hand to discuss the design process and answer questions. The school was under construction last year and returning ACE students will remember visiting the site in progress during last year’s program. Using the existing footprint and site of The Neighborhood Academy, the ACE students will design their own school – from locating the footprint on the site and designing the structure to picking finishes and estimating the project’s construction cost.
Architecture, Construction, and Engineering professionals from Allegheny County participate by hosting afternoon sessions in their offices. Additional professionals attend as mentors in their field. Each discipline involved in the construction process is addressed in separate sessions. For example, the Architecture Session was hosted by the Rothschild Doyno Collaborative in the Strip District with additional mentors from Astorino, IBACOS, Lami Grubb, and Stantec. During this session, the students learned who architects are and what their role is on the design team. The mentors led the students through a design exercise on program and adjacencies, as well as project requirements such as basic code compliance, stairs, and restrooms. After a brief tutorial on how to use scales, the mentors turned the students loose to work on their projects. Completed work is scanned and added to each student’s binder, which ultimately becomes a record of the entire design process. Student progress and design development is communicated between the mentors of one session to the mentors of the next.
As a grand finale, the students present their completed work to their teachers, parents, mentors, and a jury panel. Held at the Carpenter’s Training Facility, the students gave a powerpoint presentation and display their floor plans, interior finishes, and other design features. The jury selects the best project and that group receives a prize. Also, scholarships – sponsored by the local design and construction industry – are awarded to students that qualify and apply. These scholarships are aimed at assisting engaged students in their future study of architecture or engineering.
The Pittsburgh chapter of the AIA has been a consistent partner in developing the ACE program through fundraising, professional and managerial support, and insight. George Halkias, AIA, is a member of both the ACE and AIA Pittsburgh Board of Directors and offers that “AIA members continue to give back to the community and make excellent mentors for students wanting to pursue a career in the AEC industries.” Recognizing a need to foster future design and construction professionals, the AIA continues to help the ACE program grow. It is partnerships with industry organizations like the AIA that makes ACE such a strong program in our community.
Other partnerships include the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP), the Carpenters Training Center, and Carnegie Mellon University. If you are interested in becoming an ACE partner, volunteering your time as a mentor, or learning more about the program, please contact Michael Barnard (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Anastasia Herk, Assoc. AIA (email@example.com).