ACE Mentors, Scouts Highlight Next-Gen Outreach


  • ACE Mentor Program competition nears national finals, April 25;
  • Annual Boy Scouts Construction Dinner raises $670K in Chicago;
  • Hartford Millennials Survey finds under 7% interested in AEC;
  • Global AEC needs will require much better student recruitment.

by ROB McMANAMY | April 10, 2016

Who needs it? What’s the point? Can anyone really make a difference?

With the ongoing, unending U.S. presidential campaign seeming more and more like the longest, least plausible episode ever of The Simpsons, it’s never been easier to be cynical about life in these United States, or on this Big Blue Marble we all call home.

But three industry events that I attended in the last 10 days, plus some other stories that I’ve been reading about or working on, have reminded me how promising this day and age truly is.


Of course, while naysayers claim it is already too late for our species to avert climate change disaster, and businesses and governments around the world still seem to take two steps back for every one step forward… others among us just roll up their sleeves and get down to the pressing business of solving big problems. One concern that gets too little attention, though, asks: In this golden age of distraction, where will we find the next generation of problem-solvers?

Hope Still springS eternal

This week in Chicago, where the springtime optimism of local baseball fans is at an all-time high, I found answers to that question as real and as encouraging as the season, itself.

On the evening of April 6, I squeezed into the back of a packed house at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Forum to see the team presentations and scholarship announcements for nearly 100 participating high school students competing in the annual ACE Mentorship Regional Finals. The event was the culmination of five months of weekly meetings between the student teams, their faculty advisors, and professional mentors from such nationally-known industry mainstays as AECOM, Arup, Burns & McDonnell, CannonDesign, Clark Construction, Gensler, Gilbane, HNTB, Jacobs, Lendlease, Mortenson, Perkins + Will, Power Construction, Sargent & Lundy, SOM, Turner Construction, Thornton Tomasetti, and dozens more.

Smiles ruled and youthful energy and creativity abounded seven teams of Chicago area high schoolers presented architectural and engineering concepts that ranged from fanciful and clever to sustainable and recyclable. Summer internships were announced and some $250,000 in college scholarships were awarded, drawing on proceeds from the local program’s annual February fundraiser. “It was another successful year,” said an exhausted Patricia O’Connell after the event. ACE Mentor Chicago’s executive director noted that this was the program’s 13th year.

“There is absolutely no career more exciting than construction, architecture, and engineering ”

— A. Ross Myers, CEO, Allan Myers Inc.

Packed house: ACE Mentor Chicago's finals last week drew hundreds of students, teachers, mentors, and parents.

Packed house: ACE Mentor Chicago’s finals last week drew hundreds of students, teachers, mentors, and parents.

Last year, Chicago’s winning entry also took home the top prize at the ACE Mentor Program of America’s National Design Competition in Washington DC. Co-sponsored by the Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT), this year’s 10th annual competition will take place April 25 when nine teams from across the U.S. will present their projects to a jury of industry CEOs. To date, the mentoring program overall has awarded over $14 million in college scholarships, while reaching more than 8,000 students annually from 200 communities in 38 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Our mission is to engage, excite and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction through mentoring and to support their continued advancement in the industry. ACE Mentor Program  

The program was started in New York City in 1995 by Thornton Tomasetti co-founder Charlie Thornton, who saw the nonprofit as a means to introduce disadvantaged teens, mostly minority students, to the wonder and awe of design and construction and to the enormous potential that field offers as a future career choice. Gaining momentum that it has yet to relinquish, the group formally incorporated as a 501(c)3 in the District of Columbia in 2002.

Rise of the Millennials

Similar energy and enthusiasm was on display in even greater numbers the following night at the Hilton Chicago, where BuiltWorlds served as a media partner for the Boy Scouts of America’s Annual Construction Industry Dinner. Drawing some 2,000 attendees, the fundraiser had raised $670,000 for BSA even before the night’s over-stocked silent auction for sports and entertainment memorabilia had actually begun. (Yes, that framed photo of The Three Stooges boasted authentic autographs of Larry, Moe, AND Curly! Opening bid: $425!)

scout hat - 17116983_3.jpg

Chicago industry heavyweights like Pepper Construction, Clayco, ITW, Hilti, WJE, and more, were out in force, networking, deal-making, bidding on auction items and keeping an eye on tomorrow.

“Tonight is all about attracting that next generation to our workforce,” said event chair Ken Egidi, Pepper’s president and CEO. Thanking the audience for its generosity and support of the Scouts, Egidi delivered his remarks light-heartedly wearing a traditional Scout Leader Stetson.

Studio BW: Students led off our 3D printing program.

Studio BW: Students led off our 3D printing program.

Of course, helping to attract that next generation to this industry is a big part of what BuiltWorlds is all about, as well as nurturing those who have already chosen the AEC path in college. In fact, our most recent BuiltWorlds show, The Realities of 3D Printing, led off with a talented team of teens studying mechanical engineering at Northwestern University. Hopefully, many of you know that BuiltWorlds had been following the students’ weekly updates as they built their own 3D concrete printer. You can review their fun weekly diary entries here.

In keeping with that next generation theme, BuiltWorlds last week began a new series of blogs from engineering students at Illinois Tech (formerly IIT) as they prepare for the regional finals of the annual American Society of Civil Engineers’ National Concrete Canoe Competition, another one of our industry’s more fun traditions. Read the first entry here, but stay tuned for much more as the big local race fast approaches for the ASCE Midwest student chapters.

Engineers have more fun? Apparently yes, at least when it comes to building your own concrete canoe!

Engineers have more fun? Apparently yes, at least when it comes to building your own concrete canoe!

After that, stay tuned for more joyous team-building with the upcoming National Steel Bridge Competition later this spring, as well. Unspoken in all of this, and deadly serious amid all the frivolity, is how necessary and vital the collective contributions of these bright young minds will be to all of our collective futures. Indeed, it is not really much of an exaggeration to say that they may very well represent the last, best hope for our planet.

So, if Generation Y is truly looking for careers with meaning, as studies like The Hartford’s 2015 Millennial Leadership Survey suggest (see below), then they need look no further than our own fascinating industry. Indeed, the entire world can be their sandbox. We just have to help them to discover that. As the Hartford survey also notes, that message is not yet getting through.

At BuiltWorlds, we’re committed to helping to turn those numbers around.

NOTE: Above, only 7% of those surveyed reported any interest in construction. 

NOTE: Above, only 7% of those surveyed reported any interest in construction. 

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