An ACE up Their Sleeve

Mentorship Program Attracts New Students to the Fields of Architecture, Construction, and Engineering

“In 2017, I’m going to be graduating with combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees in construction management,” Tandon student Julie-Ann Evans explains, “and that journey started back in my senior year of high school at Brooklyn Tech, when I first took part in the ACE Mentor Program.”

The ACE Mentor Program of Greater New York, which began in 1994 with 1 team and 25 students, now involves over 200 firms and 48 teams and reaches more than 1,000 students in the New York Metropolitan area. The program has spread nationally to over 200 cities providing mentoring to over 8,000 high schoolers annually. High school students are exposed to teams of architects, structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, construction managers, contractors and other such professionals, in order to introduce them to the opportunities in those vital, in-demand fields. During the school year, volunteer mentors from local firms meet with their students and guide them through a mock building and design project. “I was assigned the role of construction manager during my first year,” Evans — who went on to multiple internships at the well-regarded project development and construction company Skanska — recalls. “It really opened my eyes because I hadn’t even realized this existed as a profession.”

Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering Lawrence Chiarelli is among those at Tandon deeply involved in ACE and currently heads what was the first Brooklyn-based team in the Greater New York City Chapter. “Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than watching students like Julie-Ann realize that there are a multitude of fields related to construction and engineering that can provide viable career paths for them,” he says. “Once they’re exposed to hands-on work in actual professional settings, with some obtaining internships with mentor firms thanks to their ACE mentors, a whole universe of possibilities opens up for them.” 

Kenny Lee, the director of NYU’s Office of Construction Management (OCM), has been an ACE mentor for two years and wanted to open even more possibilities for his students. To that end, he and his colleagues launched a paid summer program that brought a group of high-schoolers to the university, where they followed Lee and other mentors on actual job sites, attended project, design and construction meetings, toured such facilities as the school’s cogeneration plant, and assisted in the department’s administrative operations. “We wanted them to get a feeling for what we do on the job each day,” he asserts, “but beyond that, we wanted to give them a taste of what it might be like to study at NYU. We organized lectures for them on sustainability, reading drawings, and other important topics; we encouraged them to eat on campus with Campus Cash we provided, just as an undergrad would do; and they got to attend resume-writing workshops and job fairs.”

Chiarelli and Lee point out that because NYU owns and manages its own buildings, the university provides a unique opportunity for students assigned to their team. “I wish I had been offered something like this in high school,” Lee says. “It would have been very helpful to be exposed to college life and the work world early on.”

Sue Veres Royal, the Executive Director of the program in Greater New York, was impressed by the summer effort. “It added a new dimension and complemented the project-based nature of our school-year program,” she said. “Students have told me that they’ve felt encouraged to dig a little deeper into what studying these fields would be like, and they definitely appreciate knowing how much the industry cares for them and is willing to invest in their success.”

Nick Singh, a senior at Brooklyn’s Transit Tech High School, has participated in the summer program twice and is vocal about his appreciation. “I love to network and to learn new things,” he says, “so this seemed perfect for me as soon as I first heard about it.” While he knows some students will participate in anything offered to them simply to build their resumes, he stresses that having ACE mentors is much more profound than that. “Each of them inspired me in different ways,” he explains. “On a professional level, they’ve provided me with a strong net of support, and on a personal level, they’ve helped me develop a great deal of confidence. Even when the program isn’t in session, these are people I admire and keep in touch with.”

Brian Carroll, a team mentor from the engineering and architectural consulting and design firm STV, points out that his company benefits from participating just as much as the students themselves. “These are talented kids, and we’re pleased to get them in the talent pipeline,” he says. “Finding good engineers can be challenging, and one of the problems has been that kids aren’t exposed to the field early on. Those willing to devote after-school hours and summers to finding out about what we do are the bright, motivated future professionals we need.”

Milo Riverso, the president and CEO of STV (and the chairman of the board of the ACE Mentor Program of Greater New York), concurs. “I have long encouraged our firm to be involved with ACE, and each year we mentor a team of students,” he says. “We have hired a number of employees who first became interested in our industry through the ACE program. Many of them, in turn, now participate on STV’s ACE team. Nurturing that interest in architecture, construction, and engineering has certainly paid off for our firm.”

All of which makes the ACE Mentor Program a win-win situation for mentors and mentees — as well as for the industry as a whole and the public that counts on having safe and reliable buildings, transportation systems, and infrastructure.