September 17, 2014

Ask a typical high school student what a career in construction looks like, and it’s likely he or she will describe a worker on a jobsite, swinging a hammer. Few will think of the project engineer creating a BIM model, the estimator crunching numbers in a LEED Platinum certified, net zero energy office building, or the project executive collaborating with team members on ways to make their project more efficient.

ACE Mentor students tour the Kaiser Morse jobsite in Sacramento

In an effort to introduce more students to real-world opportunities in the construction industry, DPR employees in San Diego, Sacramento, Tampa and other regions work closely with ACE Mentor. The program brings together architecture, engineering and construction professionals with high school students in a formal extracurricular enrichment program. DPR co-founder Doug Woods also serves on the Leadership Council.

Sparking Students' Interest in College

DPR began participating with ACE Mentor in San Diego in 2004. Since then, the program has grown from three or four high schools to 11 schools currently serving between 180-220 students per year. DPR’s Whitney Dorn served as an ACE mentor team leader for five years and as a member of the San Diego Board since 2009, the last two as fundraising chair.

“There’s a real satisfaction in seeing a light bulb go off for a kid who came in without having any kind of expectation about what we were going to be doing,” Dorn says. “I feel like we’re providing a great service and opening the eyes of students about the industry. Over the years I have felt like ACE was the reason many of them went to or even considered college.”

In Tampa, ACE Mentor students visited DPR's Main Terminal Modernization project at Tampa International Airport.

Dorn points to one particular student, Omar, as an example of the impact the ACE Mentor program can have inspiring young people. Omar signed up for the program in his high school even though his family, struggling to keep a small restaurant afloat, didn’t fully support the idea. Dorn met with Omar’s parents and persuaded them about the value of the program. The end result? Omar went on to become the first in his family to go to college, and as a result is building a promising future for himself in the industry.

In Sacramento, DPR’s Rodman Marquez serves on the ACE board of directors. He has also seen many positive outcomes and says one of the most rewarding aspects is when former students of the program come back to serve as mentors.

Seeing the students gain confidence as a result of the program over the year is another highlight, Marquez says. “It’s pretty rewarding to see a kid in the beginning of the year who is very shy and maybe not communicating well, and then at the end of the year be up onstage giving a presentation about their project to people in the industry.”

Career Development For Mentors Too

 “All different types of people in the industry come together to serve as mentors for the ACE Mentor program,” says Dorn. “It has provided a great way for our younger entry level project engineers who participate to get exposure, meet other people in the industry that are not on projects with them and kind of understand what other roles are in the industry.”

Adds Dorn, “Over the years it’s been so much fun to walk into an owner’s or job meeting and know people there from different companies because I worked with them in ACE. It really brings our industry together for a common purpose.”