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How the ACE Mentor Program is growing our industry, one student at a time

When giving back does more than just pay it forward

By Tara Sall, EIT (Sarasota, Florida)

When I was in seventh grade, I received an invitation from Duke University to take the SAT for their “talent search.” I was shocked. As a seventh grader, all of sudden (between climbing trees, riding my bike with my brothers, and dealing with headgear and braces), I was overwhelmed with the very grown-up concept of college. But my initial thought was, “What does a ‘talent search’ even mean?” The educational experience has improved much since I was in school, and schools now offer more specialized programs in middle and high school to help kids understand opportunities available to them. However, I think we can still improve how we mentor children about the wonderful and exciting careers available to them, especially in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries.

So, after the invitation from Duke – and their belief in my impressive math skills – I randomly decided I was going to be a civil engineer and attend Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. I maintained that position from seventh grade until mid-junior year. Then the questions started. Why civil engineering? How do I know if this is the right career for me? The reality is I had no idea what civil engineering meant – my dad was enlisted in the military, and though the smartest man I know, didn’t get anything above a high school diploma until his early 30s. My mom was an artist that trained at Parsons School of Design in NYC. Obviously, I did not come from a lineage of Ivy League college graduates, let alone engineers. So, I am very thankful that Google and the Princeton Review Board website existed when I was reaching the end of high school.

After online research, I decided that I was, in fact, going to major in architectural engineering. With only a handful of accredited schools available at the time, I chose the University of Missouri – Rolla (now called Missouri S&T). I graduated with my bachelor of science degree, cum laude, in architectural engineering with emphases in material design and construction management.

Throughout a roundabout career path, I was hired by Stantec in 2013 in the Community Development group to work as a civil engineer-in-training. Through Stantec’s involvement, I was invited to participate in the ACE Mentor Program and help with the final push of launching a new affiliate in the greater Sarasota, Florida region. The ACE program offers genuine interaction with our industry and its professionals to high school students. When people tell these students, “You’re so good at math and science – you should be an engineer,” they now know exactly what that means and if it’s truly a good career choice for them (which we hope it is!).

The ACE Mentor Program matches industry professionals from architecture, construction, and engineering with high school students so the mentors can teach students about the industry and mentor them throughout a 3-5 month period. These elements of the program make it different from other high school professional programs I have encountered. Many times programs only last one weekend or one afternoon. But ACE is an investment in time, and though sacrifice is required, the personal reward of getting to really know the students you’re working with is worth any late night you may have in order to make up hours missed at your day job.

If you haven’t already, definitely look into your local ACE Mentor Program. I am so proud of the Sarasota ACE Chapter. We’ve invested in 140 students with (a projected) $8,000 given in scholarships over the past two school years. We are looking to add another school next year and a potential third within the next two years. Every mentor, board member, guest speaker, and professional involved in our program has a unified sentiment of wishing we had something like this when we were in high school. We’re changing lives – and we can feel it. Now that’s something to be excited about!

Learn more about the ACE Mentor Program and Stantec’s involvement.

Tara Sall is an engineer-in-training and vice president of Sarasota’s ACE Mentor chapter

Our team of Sarasota ACE mentors

We’re changing lives, and we can feel it

ACE students presenting their projects

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