ACE Mentorship Program

For nearly a decade, Swenson Say Fagét (SSF) has proudly mentored students for the ACE Mentorship Program (ACE). This free, award-winning after-school program’s mission is “to engage, excite, and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction through mentoring and continued support for their advancement into the industry.” – ACE Overview and Mission Statement

Since 1994 ACE has paired high school students with design professionals to work on mock design projects. Each project team mimics a real design team, and students are guided through the process for 15 weeks with their architecture, construction management, engineer, and tradesperson mentors. At the end of the year, all teams present their designs to their families, teachers, and one another.

ACE has over 75 chapters in 38 states and Canada in approximately 1,450 high schools; they work with 4,100 mentors and 10,000 students and award $2,500,000 in scholarships annually. They boast an impressive success rate of more than 70% of ACE students entering either a college or skilled trades program with an industry-related focus. In the Seattle area alone, ACE has helped over 3,500 students in the past 20 years and has given out $1,121,000 in scholarships to students who pursued A/E/C higher education.

Two of SSF’s very own, Bethany Brown, PE, and Mat Johnson, PE, have been ACE mentors for the past 7 and 8 years, respectively. When asked why they enjoy participating in the program, they had the following to say:

“I went into structural engineering because I had teachers and mentors growing up that gently pushed and encouraged me toward engineering. After all, they saw that I was strong in math and science and was interested in buildings and design. And I was never discouraged from following that education and career path simply because I was a woman. I have also always enjoyed volunteering, mentoring, and teaching. When I learned about ACE, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to volunteer and be in the community, mentor and teach high school students, and have the chance to be the adult that helps encourage the next student to pursue a career in the built environment. And it has been exactly that for me. I love working with the students and seeing them learn and grow over the program year. I am always blown away by the projects they develop and the amount of information that they retain. It is a lot of hard work, but it is such a fun and rewarding experience. Mentoring and leading a team virtually for two years was draining, challenging, and difficult, but being able to finally meet again in person at the end of last year re-ignited the spark of why I love to participate in the program year after year. This year will be my 7th year mentoring and 4th year as a team leader. I have also helped with student and mentor recruitment as we have been pushing to get ACE rooted in the South Sound.

ACE does a fantastic job of introducing high school students to all the different career possibilities within the built industry. Many students come into the program just thinking architects design buildings and don’t understand the various careers involved, like engineering, landscape architecture, and construction which are all vital parts of the process. Every year at the scholarship night event, you hear about students who have participated in ACE for several years who started the program thinking they are interested in architecture, for example, only to realize that they prefer the construction side. It allows them to begin narrowing down what they are interested in high school versus potentially wasting time in college.” – Bethany Brown, PE

“My original motivation for joining ACE was to give students interested in the building construction industry a chance to evaluate it before committing to a major and college for that profession.

I was fortunate in high school to think I knew what I wanted to do, so I went to a very specialized school for structural engineering. Many people I went to school with quickly learned engineering was different than expected. While I originally got into structural engineering because I wanted to design roller coasters (I didn’t think I’d be doing houses or offices, etc.), I still enjoyed the principles of engineering, so it worked out well for me. But for those whose expectations didn’t align, it was a tough transition to get out of a purely engineering school without starting over. I saw how frustrating it was for college students and wanted to enable high school students to try to flush things out a little more thoroughly before committing. While this was the original motivation for my volunteer service, watching the students learn and seeing what they can do with minimal resources is astounding (they are far more advanced than I was at their age). The entire program is extremely rewarding.” – Mat Johnson, PE, LEED AP

Two new comers to ACE Lan Nguyen and Karina Bovee had this to say about why they decided to become mentors for the 2022-2023 school year:

“When I was in high school I knew next to nothing about engineering, It wasn’t until I took a physics class my senior year that I began to consider it as a possible career. I decided to join ACE because it seemed like a fun opportunity to work with students who are trying to find out if they have a passion for engineering and could use a mentor to encourage them along the way. This year I’m most looking forward to helping students learn to work together as a team and find creative ways to solve problems.” – Karina Bovee

“I previously volunteered with the Youth & Family programs of the local Seattle Architecture Foundation. I enjoyed working to inspire the younger generation to pursue a career in architecture, engineering, and construction. Because I did not have an ACE experience when I was young and had to switch majors a couple of times in college, I am excited to be part of this opportunity to teach students about our industry. Learning about other mentors’ experiences with the program also made me want to get involved and share what I have learned.” – Lan Nguyen 

SSF looks forward to the 2022-2023’s ACE Mentorship Program’s Presentations, and we are thankful for industry professionals like Mat and Bethany. They ensure that future generations continue to have an outlet to explore their interest in A/E/C careers.

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Bethany Brown


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