Hudson on the Rise
ACE Mentor Program inspires youth, communities and an industry
For 25 years, ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) volunteers have engaged, excited and inspired a new generation of architects, engineers and contractors through an innovative after-school program. Today, 10,000 students from 1,000 high schools in 37 states (and Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico) participate in the mentoring program annually. The program is made up of 74 affiliates locally run by design and construction professionals in cities across the country.
The Hudson Valley affiliate in New York is emblematic of the multigenerational, full-circle value of this national program.
Founded by an engineer/construction manager and an architect, one of whom is an ACE alum, the Hudson Valley affiliate is effectively changing the face of construction in the region one student, one high school and one community at a time.
Prior to 2016, ACE in New York was served by three ACE affiliates: Greater New York City, Upstate New York (Albany area) and Rochester.
Katie Chevalier Bawarski, architect and now director of regional programs (Northeast/Mid-Atlantic) at the national ACE organization, participated in the Upstate New York affiliate for three years, graduating from high school and the ACE after-school program in 2007.
She says, “ACE provided me with an invaluable experience to explore my interest in architecture prior to college. I knew I wanted to give back in the same way that my ACE mentors did for me.”
While in college earning a master’s degree in architecture, she returned to ACE as a volunteer mentor. Soon after, she got a job with CSArch in Newburgh, New York, and looked to give back to the program that helped her find her career passion.
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a way to volunteer,” Bawarski says. “The area between New York City and Albany was largely underserved by ACE.”
She found an equally passionate ACE advocate in Erik Collier of Collier Construction LLC. Collier had seen some small mentoring opportunities in his community but nothing like ACE, which he’d heard about while working for Gilbane Building Company (Gilbane) for a short time before establishing his own company. Gilbane has been a longtime advocate and supporter of ACE.
Collier called the national ACE organization to see about starting an affiliate and learned about Bawarski. With a common goal, Bawarski and Collier sought volunteer mentors and sponsors from local architecture, engineering and construction firms, such as Profex, Inc., Tectonic Engineering & Surveying Consultants P.C. and architect Michael R. Berta’s design consulting business. They also looked to connect with industry associations such as Associated General Contractors of New York State as well as local chambers of commerce and community organizations.
Collier says, “Within a few months, we found 30 interested partners in the area, put together a plan and presented it to ACE. By June 2016, we founded the official Hudson Valley affiliate.”
Next step: school district engagement.
In summer 2016, Bawarski and Collier met with the Newburgh Enlarged City School District to get approval for the after-school program. Bawarski says one of the reasons for approaching Newburgh first was the district’s existing construction careers program.
The affiliate received approval for the program, which runs for 15 two-hour sessions throughout the year. As part of the program, volunteer mentors guide students through a mock design project that helps introduce them to industry careers, vocabulary and the various roles that the architect, engineer and construction management mentors play in the construction of a project.
With school district support, the Hudson Valley affiliate was able to establish three mentoring teams (Pine Bush, Middletown and Newburgh), each consisting of 10-20 students, for a total of 52 from a dozen high schools, mentored by 20 professionals. In addition to these team sessions, there are also all-team activities, such as “College Night” and field trips to construction sites.
As well, students had access to computers with Revit software throughout the year through the Newburgh Free Academy (NFA). Mock design projects ranged from a new boathouse on the Hudson River for the NFA Crew Team to a school addition to the design of a Heritage Trail spur, which was based on a downtown revitalization effort. At a year-end presentation event hosted on the campus of SUNY Orange, the three student teams presented their designs to mentors, friends, family and community leaders.
Mentors in Motion
A goal of the Hudson Valley affiliate is to have at least one team in each of the six counties it serves—Orange, Dutchess, Rockland, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster. The group of volunteers expanded to Dutchess in 2017-2018 and will include Rockland in 2019-2020. Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster will soon follow.
Bawarski says, “Schools in every district are interested—we just need sponsors and mentors.”
She believes that one of the biggest misconceptions about ACE is the time required of mentors to participate and support the program. “While we are always looking for full-time mentors who can attend most sessions during the school year, there are many other ways to get involved with ACE and give back to your local community,” she adds.
The volunteer program is always looking for guest presenters to talk with students once or twice a year, organizations to host a site visit and sponsors to fund scholarships. For example, Pine Bush, New York-based Mayfield Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning, Inc. owner Tom Mayfield does a two-hour presentation annually on the plumbing/HVAC profession and its required skills and opportunities, and an executive from Newburgh, New York-based John Herbert Company does a presentation about opportunities in the commercial flooring industry. As well, The Blue Book Building & Construction Network (The Blue Book Network) participates as a program sponsor and has a representative on the affiliate’s recruitment committee.
“Beyond the clear give-back appeal, professional growth is one of the well-documented intangible benefits of volunteering for ACE,” Collier says. “It’s also a powerful opportunity to network with other industry professionals and potential customers and improve leadership and communication skills.”
Currently, the ACE Hudson Valley affiliate engages 75-100 students in the program each year, with a large percentage of those moving on to study architecture, engineering, construction management or a skilled trade upon graduation. Many of these students also return to the area for internships with ACE sponsors and others.
The affiliate is working hard to build its scholarship fund to help these students pay for their education. With help from industry professionals and the community, the Hudson Valley affiliate recently held its first official fundraising event, the Winter Fun-Raiser Giant Jenga Competition, with corporate sponsorship by Turner Construction Company.
Collier says, “This was a great combined event for students, professionals, school representatives and the community. It helped us raise $5,000-$6,000 for college or trade school scholarships.”
Thanks to sponsor donations and the fundraising event, the Hudson Valley affiliate will be able to give four scholarships to graduating seniors this year.
Collier concludes, “We now have a firm operational foundation beneath us, considerable student interest, a growing list of mentors and about 40 sponsor firms. We’re ready to expand to more counties in the Hudson Valley to introduce more young people to our exciting profession. ACE is a unique opportunity to give back, share your love for the construction industry, expand leadership skills, grow your professional network and help build the next generation workforce. Join us!”