At the first-ever ACE Mentor Program national conference, more than 125 executives and participants were optimistic that the industry recruitment group could still meet ambitious growth goals for both students and sponsors even in an increasingly uncertain economy.

ACE seeks to attract high school students into architecture, engineering and construction careers through industry mentoring. ACE Vice Chairman Peter J. Davoren, also chairman and president of Turner Construction Co., said the group aims to have 100,000 student participants and 204 local industry affiliates around the U.S. by 2012. The group now has about 25,000 student participants. ACE may also add a chief operating officer position or paid regional staff positions.


George Pierson, an ACE executive board member and CEO of Parsons Brinckherhoff, said ACE needs to emphasize its critical benefits to universities and expand mentor recruiting among public-sector employers. “ACE should not be someone’s pet project,” he said.

Others at the meeting in San Diego last month noted new participant incentives. Wendi Birchler, an ACE affiliate member in the Denver area, said 10 ACE mentor students in her affiliate group are earning three college credits for participation. “So they have to show up,” she said. Davoren said that model should be used at more U.S. colleges and universities.

Pamela Mullender, ACE chief executive, said the group is expanding efforts to attract students to craft-training programs and other four-year college-degree alternatives. She said ACE also is moving to help student participants obtain LEED certification to boost their eligibility to colleges and employers.

Industry executives said the ACE program also benefits mentors and sponsoring firms. “It’s good for business in a lot of ways,” said Mava Heffler, vice president of EMCOR Group Inc., noting that ACE participation helped unify some of the 29,000 employees at the specialty contractor.

Thomas F. Gilbane, chairman of Gilbane Building Co., said ACE participation sharpens employee leadership and other skills and factors in compensation and promotion.