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Local business helps advance interest in construction to students

In the next 10 years, the construction industry will be faced with a large question: will there be enough project managers, engineers and architects to fill the vacant positions left by many baby boomers coming up for retirement?

With this in mind, Turner Construction decided to get involved in the ACE Mentoring Program of American, Inc., which is a nonprofit organization that is geared towards getting high school students thinking about a career in architecture, construction and/or engineering and its related fields.

ACE, which stands for architecture, construction and engineering, started in New York in 1994 when 17 firms banded together into three teams, each organized like a typical design and construction team, and adopted about 90 students from local high schools.

Since then, the program has gone national and has a presence in more than 80 cities in the United States with local construction, architect and engineering firms becoming mentors in their local neighborhoods.

Three years ago San Diego became the latest community to take part in the ACE program and recently added a second high school to this growing program.

“I was talked to by the vice president of Turner and he asked me if I had know of any ACE programming (in San Diego)…and I said not yet,” Vera Howell, director of community affairs, explained how the program got started here in San Diego.

After this conversation, Howell went to Castle Park High School, in Chula Vista, because Turner was working on a project there.

According to Howell, the jobsite project manager, had already given tours to the students, so there was already interest on both sides for a program like ACE.

After Howell met with the principal and the after school program coordinator, and there was a curriculum set, about a couple weeks later, Howell announced the year long after school program geared to introduce students to the various facets of construction to the entire Trojan student body at a lunch assembly.

“We told them if they had any interest in construction, architecture or engineering to come to the after school program,” recalled Howell, who said there was 20 students who signed up for the coarse

This mentoring program, which is intended for about 15 to 25 students, runs from 3-4 p.m. once a week and is totally voluntary.

Students are mainly taught by Turner employees, but leaders in the architecture, engineering fields are also brought in to talk to the class to bring their knowledge to the students. Some the specific subject matter include green construction methods and estimating.

Mei Barry, purchasing agent for Turner and mentor, said her role in this program is to help the students understand the construction industry and the many layers with in like architecture and engineering and the different careers under those like interior design and estimating “that way when they get out their in the real world, they have a better direction on where to go.”

“I wish when I was going to high school that there was a program like this,” said Barry, who is in her second year teaching in the ACE mentoring program.

The program also offers the students jobsite tours and possible scholarship opportunities.

ACE has been such as success at Castle Park, that Turner has started the program at Helix High School.

At the end of the year, the students give a final presentation where they present their designs to their peers, families, teachers, prospective mentors and the affiliate administrators so all can share in the students' accomplishments.

The students' involvement in the program does not end here, though. Many remain active alumni of the program through the scholarships they receive, relationships they develop with their mentors and future employment opportunities they exercise like internships and post-college jobs.

One of these students is Mark Gonzalez. He is a graduate from Castle Park, and now is in the construction and engineering program at San Diego State University.

After being two years in the ACE program, he earned a summer internship at Turner and worked at a jobsite at Grossmont College.

“All of the knowledge I acquired with my internship over the summer has really helped me out in my Construction and Culture class,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of the content in my text are things I learned from Jason and the crew at Grossmont, and from taking the online courses.”

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