The nonprofit ace mentor program Inc. is on a roll, having doubled in size since last year. The educational outreach organization, dedicated to aiding an industry critically short on talent by guiding inner-city high schoolers toward careers in architecture, construction and engineering, has 1,400 teenagers enrolled, up from 600 in 2000-01. The group, which also awards college scholarships, has burgeoned from nine chapters to 17, with a new "baby ACE" as far away from the program's New York City roots as Honolulu.
To fuel ACE's growth and its scholarship fund, "we need to formalize the national organization," says structural engineer Charles H. Thornton, ACE's chairman and co-founder. "The development of new chapters has only been limited by the ability of the current ACE structure to handle growth," he said in a March 29 invitation letter to 30 prospective directors of the board of ACE NATIONAL, which will be based at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) in Washington, D.C.
This year, ACE plans to award nearly $160,000 in scholarships. Thornton has been contacting potential corporate sponsors, foundations and nonprofit educational organizations to raise money to provide each chapter with a $20,000 cushion annually. "You have to be in Washington if you want to have a national education program," says Thornton. "That's where all the power is."
That's where Thornton now is based. As chairman of New York City-based Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, he relocated in 2000 to grow the firm's Washington office.
ACE, based on volunteerism, has developed a multidisciplinary team-mentoring model (ENR 4/23/01 p. 30). Up to 25 students and 10 mentors from four or five A-E-C firms meet after school, biweekly, for two hours. Teams work on planning, design and scheduling either a real or a "virtual" construction project.
In additional to Honolulu, there are new chapters in Cincinnati; Jersey City, N.J.; Hartford and Bridgeport, Conn.; Batavia, N.Y.; Elgin, Ill.; and Seattle.
Seattle mentor Andrew McCune, a young architect with NBBJ, says he got involved with ACE because of his own goals."My motivation ties into a dream I have," he says, to help pass on knowledge and skills of downtown design, construction and real estate professionals to city high school kids.
Thornton attributes ACE's growth spurt to his having been ENR's 2001 Award of Excellence winner. "The majority of this expansion has taken place since the ENR article of April 2001," he said in his letter announcing a May 29 board meeting.
The publicity may have "put ACE on the map," says Dave Harris, NIBS' president, but "it's not going to work if people don't work hard at the local level."
The organization needs champions for new chapters. On deck for fall are chapters in Omaha, Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston and Albuquerque. But there's always room for more, says Thornton. Those interested can sign on via www.ACEmentor.org.