Since 1994, the ACE Mentor Program of America has provided hands-on after-school education to high school students, introducing them to architecture, engineering, construction, and related industries. Supported by companies from these fields (which also supply volunteer mentors), the nonprofit engages more than 10,000 kids annually across 77 chapters, or “affiliates,” in 37 states, plus Toronto. Each year, 70 percent of ACE seniors head to a trade school or college with an industry-related major, and, over the years, the organization has disbursed $21 million in scholarships to its alumni.

ACE groups students into teams of no more than 20, pairing them with a group of professionals from various parts of the design and construction sector. Over the course of 15 two-hour sessions, participants and their mentors work together to solve a “real world” problem, like designing improved water-management infrastructure or a new public monument. "We want them to see and understand all the different career paths in the integrated construction industry, so that they can make an educated decision about their own futures," says ACE president Diana Eidenshink.

Photo courtesy ACE Mentorship Program

Most groups are school-based, ranging from charter and inner-city public to suburban and private, and, while the program is open to all, 69 percent of students are people of color, and one-third are women. Affiliate directors in each city build relationships with staff at underserved schools, charting the course for this diversity by helping to guide student recruitment efforts, says communications director Tiffany Millner, an architect—and the 233rd Black woman to become licensed, she notes—who served as a mentor, then ran the Philadelphia chapter for six years.

This coming school year, the program will operate online, thanks to a new virtual resource center.