A couple of years ago, I shared the story of my son, Mark, age 12 at the time, who seemed to be showing an aptitude and inclination toward the field of engineering. He had just won his second Lego competition, this time Lego Robotics, at a summer camp. Mostly, I was wondering if I might have a future engineer on my hands.

Well, it's two years later, and the situation is definitely progressing. Today is the first day of engineering school for Mark. By his own choice, and without any of his friends in tow, he's decided to attend a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) magnet high school in Tampa. There, as a student in the engineering curriculum, called Project Lead the Way, his freshman classes will include Introduction to Engineering and also Drafting, where, among other things, he'll be learning the ropes of AutoCAD and AutoDesk Inventor programs. Pretty cool stuff for ninth grade, huh? (OK, only the readers of Engineering News-Record might find that "cool.")

As it turns out, Mark is especially lucky. The Tampa chapter of the ACE Mentor program has chosen Mark's school to get involved with, so it will be especially convenient for him to take part in this nationally recognized program. Not every kid naturally inclined toward a career path in the fields of architecture, construction or engineering gets such an opportunity placed immediately before them.

The school also has a nationally recognized Lego Robotics team -- well, actually, four teams (at least), including a newly formed all-girls team -- that recently made it to the semifinals of a national Robotics competition.

Learning about all of these opportunities that lie before Mark -- and all of the other kids attending this school -- naturally gives a parent a sense of optimism and excitement about the future. Which is a good thing these days.

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Walking around the junior engineering school campus with Mark the other day, I kept remembering that day at the third-grade open house, when we walked in and his teacher introduced herself and asked Mark what his favorite subject was. Without hesitation, he replied, "Building." The teacher smiled and said, "No, I mean which school subject?"

I told Mark that story while we were in between classroom destinations at the open house this past weekend. Of course, he didn't remember any of it. But he still liked it and it made him smile.

Well, with any luck, his answer to that same question will be much the same in the years to come. Will he eventually become an engineer or a contractor or even a "master builder"? Honestly, it's still to be decided. But the odds seem to be improving. But no matter what, I'm glad he's listened to his heart, and continues to answer that teacher's question the way he has.

Of course, there have always been kids interested in "building," after all. It's good to see, up close, that there is now an improving ability on the part of our education system to recognize that fact at an early age and to encourage and properly prepare these young people to follow and make the most of that interest. Regardless of the current market conditions, the industry is definitely going to need these young people one day.

So - What do you think? Are any of you raising future engineers, contractors or architects? What do you think of the opportunities that industry is helping to provide today's young people, such as the ACE Mentor organization? Are any of you participating in such programs? And if so, how has the experience been for you? Also, how does the current set of opportunities compare to when you were in high school and you found yourself interested in the A/E/C industry?

I hope you share your thoughts!

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