Terry Dooley, former executive at Morley Builders, Santa Monica, forwards word that the ACE Mentor chapter he founded in Los Angeles is holding its first Spotlight Awards event Feb. 23 at the California Club. This is not only a much-needed fundraising effort, but also recognition of the achievements of a host of firms in steering high school students into the architecture, construction and engineering fields.

“Our hopes are two: To raise badly needed funds, mainly for scholarships; and to burnish our image in the community at large,” Dooley, the chapter’s director emeritus, said.

This event will spotlight three firms, three individual mentors and three teachers who have been stalwart over the course of Dooley’s involvement in the chapter (nine years). The firms are Turner Construction, Gruen Architects and KPFF Consulting Engineers. One of the architects is Don Barker, now retired and losing his sight to macular degeneration, who was a point man for Richard Meier (of Richard Meier & Partners Architects, New York and Los Angeles) on the Getty Center project in LA and has been steadfastly involved with ACE. (The other winners will be announced at the event.)

Since retiring from Morley Builders in 2002, Dooley has directly and indirectly influenced the lives of more than 1,000 students from low-income areas of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

For those of you not familiar with the organization, ACE was established in 1995 when several New York City engineers, architects, and construction professionals concluded that the design and construction industry faced a looming shortage of workers over the next several decades. They realized the best way of attracting new talent into the industry’s workforce was to capture the interest of high school students and to stimulate them to pursue careers as engineers, architects, and construction managers. ACE relies on volunteer mentors – all practicing architects, engineers, and construction professionals – to conduct the program. Several mentors from different fields form a team with about 20 high school students. Any interested student may participate in ACE without charge.

According to the ASCE, Dooley took on the challenge of founding ACE’s Los Angeles affiliate with “enthusiasm and commitment.” In the first year, he recruited mentors and found schools willing to participate in the program. He raised funds for scholarships and for team expenses such as food, transportation and insurance. With the help of volunteer legal counsel, he created a local board of directors, incorporated and secured the organization’s non-profit status. When the first year concluded in May 2003, he had recruited 18 mentors who worked with 45 students from three high schools. Nine graduating high school seniors were awarded college scholarships, and one went into carpenter’s apprenticeship training. Five of these students have received bachelor’s degrees, and one is now is law school. The others are working in design and construction. One 2003 ACE graduate now leads the ACE mentoring team at his former high school.

From the start of the ACE program in Los Angeles, Cooley decided to focus the program on schools with a significant proportion of disadvantaged youth. Today 75% of ACE students attend schools where 60% or more of the student body is eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. Many are the first in their family to finish high school and the first to enter college.

These personal success stories Dooley talks about are what ACE Mentor is all about. Best of luck on the 2012 Spotlight Awards and we’ll see you there. For details and sponsoring opportunities
, go to www.acespotlight.org.