The power of mentorship: Choosing to help students find their career path
May 15, 2019
May 15, 2019
Texas architect Samantha Markham on mentoring: “I’m doing what I love every single day—helping others”
When I graduated high school, I didn’t have a career plan. I had lots of ideas for careers I might like, but nothing really seemed to be the right answer. My high school didn’t offer any career classes—no drafting, no culinary arts, no nursing—so I was really on my own to figure it out.
Now, less than a decade later, I’m a registered architect. I’m working on some amazing projects, have learned more than I can imagine in my five-year career, and continue to find incredible opportunities to learn and grow. Because of my personal experience and wandering unsure through my first year of college, I find it important to help high school students get a good head start on their future careers.
I was drawn to the ACE Mentor Program, a nationwide program that pairs professionals from the architecture, construction, and engineering fields with high school students. The ACE mission is to engage, excite, and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in our industry. It’s a privilege and honor to work with high school juniors and seniors, helping direct their educational and professional careers.
The ACE Mentor Program already had a solid downtown Dallas program and a Fort Worth program. But in 2014, my co-worker Diego Barrera took the initiative to get a Plano/Frisco location of ACE started. As soon as he presented the idea to the office, I was sold.
I wanted in, so I gladly volunteered to help him in any way I could. And now, within ACE Dallas-Fort Worth, we have three strong locations—downtown Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano/Frisco—and mentor more than 300 students every year.
When we started our ACE Plano/Frisco Program in 2014, our Stantec Plano office hosted the weekly meetings. It was great to bring all the students into our “work home” and showcase what we do. For the 2018–19 school year, we wanted to grow the program so that we could accommodate more students from more surrounding school districts—we wanted every student possible to have the chance to be a part of our ACE Program. So, with the help of a new industry partner in Hilti, we doubled the number of students in 2018–2019 and Hilti hosted the program. We went from serving 1 school district and about 30 students in 2014, to serving 90 students representing 9 districts in 2018.
It’s a privilege and honor to work with high school juniors and seniors, helping direct their educational and professional careers.
We also offer scholarship opportunities to our senior ACE students. Our first year we awarded $16,000 in scholarships to three seniors. With our growth, it also meant more scholarships for more seniors—this year we awarded more than $30,000 to six seniors! While I love the entire mentor program, handing out the scholarships on our Presentation and Awards Night (the last night of our ACE Program each spring), is one of my absolute FAVORITE events of the year. We literally had one of the scholarship recipient’s teachers jump out of his chair in excitement and run to the stage when she was accepting her scholarship—a pretty awesome thing to witness.
Reaching 90 students this year was a huge milestone for us. Not only did we double our students, we had 50 mentors involved from more than 20 different A-C-E firms in the area. The relationships that are made in this program are unlike any other. This program connects students to professionals. It also connects students to other students and professionals to other professionals. We all end up with great connections through the program, which is good for our careers. But more importantly, ACE helps us form friendships and relationships that will last for years.
Our very first two years of ACE, we had an incredible student named Chandler Householder. She was a rock star from the start—collaborating with her group, leading them when needed, and working hard. She went on to win one of our ACE Scholarships her senior year and is now wrapping up her third year of architecture at the University of Texas (UT) Austin. Chandler has continued to stay in touch with myself and Carter Moore (my co-coordinator of our ACE Program), writing us emails, sending us pictures of her projects, grabbing coffee or lunch with us when she’s in town, and overall just checking in our lives.
She has continued to be a rock star in her collegiate career—she was in our inaugural Intern Bootcamp Program we hosted in our Stantec Plano office in 2017, she was a full-time summer intern in our Austin office in 2018, and has another full-time gig this summer. But beyond being an amazing student, she is an incredible person (Carter and I still question how she does everything she does). And while we still offer her advice and mentorship, she has become an inspiring friend over the years—and she is a great example of why I love getting to know students through the ACE Program.
Mentoring students through ACE has allowed me to have a better connection and perspective on the users of what I work on everyday—K-12 schools. I love the education sector because of the opportunity to touch so many lives through one project. Designing schools allows us to impact students for generations to come through thoughtful, innovative, and purposeful design.
Besides ACE and my normal daily gig, I’m always looking for other opportunities to get involved or volunteer. Since I moved to Dallas in 2014, I’ve been actively involved in AIA Dallas (American Institute of Architects) in various roles. In 2017 and 2018, I chaired the Women in Architecture Committee and created AIA Dallas’ first ever Empowering Conference, a conference to connect, promote, and inspire women in the design industry (now in its third year). I currently serve as the AIA Dallas Director of Education and hope to help the Board start a new mentorship program later this year (see a trend?).
I also try to support students in UT Arlington’s College of Architecture by mentoring upper-class students in their Architecture Mentorship Program and volunteering to speak and moderate panels. What absolutely made my year recently was going to UT Arlington for one of the Mentor Program’s events to meet with my mentee (a fourth-year student) and found out the she, in turn, is mentoring one of my former ACE students (who is currently a first-year student)! It was amazing for the three of us to get to chat and goes to show the importance of mentorship at every level.
Thankfully, after all those years of feeling unsure of what I’m supposed to do, I’m doing what I love each day—helping others. Whether it’s through the middle school I’m working on, prepping for our next ACE session, or planning our summer intern program, I’m getting the chance to help others find their way.
I’ve met a lot of incredible students and people through ACE, my career, and AIA. I love having the chance to help others, but most importantly, I’ve learned that you never know what’s going on in a student’s life. Sometimes that relationship they have with you (as minimal as it may seem) can be a game-changer for them. Last summer, one of our students told me that a close family member had passed away recently and the main thing that kept him going during this tragic time was architecture and his experience with us. If you have never mentored before, I highly encourage you to do so. Make time to do so. You never know whose life you can change.