Skanska’s abiding partnership with ACE mentoring program supports students when it matters most
Each year, the ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE), guides over 10,000 high school students into the possibilities that accompany a career in construction.
For years, Skanska team members have partnered with the program in its mission in various capacities.
As a new mentorship cycle gets underway, those involved are more convinced than ever of the value of ACE for both students and Skanska.
Vice President—Account Manager Gary Orton has been involved with ACE since 2005. The program continues to inspire him today.
“It’s always energizing to see the students’ enthusiasm, because they’re the future of our industry,” he reflects.
ACE focuses on creating environments that encourage high school students to pursue careers in the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, including skilled trades.
Founded in 1994, ACE is a free program. In addition to mentorship, ACE awards scholarships and enables internship opportunities for participants.
Over the years, ACE has given away more than $23 million worth of scholarships to students.
Connecting high schoolers to AEC industry
Currently, ACE functions across 38 states, and Canada. Its heartbeat is found in the commitment of around 4,000 volunteer mentors from firms with architects, construction managers, engineers, owners and trade employees.
Each fall, participating students are assigned to mentor-led teams whom they meet with bi-weekly for approximately 15 sessions.
Teams select a project to focus their learning around for the year. Together, they work through the structures’ design process, with a focus on developing students’ hard and soft skills.
ACE’s award-winning model holistically guides students into the complexities, and promise, of a career in this industry. 40 percent of ACE participants are female, and diving deep into a project’s design and engineering shows them that a career in this industry doesn’t look just one way.
“There are so many different avenues you can pursue. From accounting, to estimating, to safety, to being a superintendent or a project manager,” says Gary. “Or if you have a legal mind for example and are interested in law, and you bridge that with a construction emphasis, that’s powerful.”
Senior Project Manager and ACE alum Brittany Otis acknowledges the program’s influence on her career trajectory.
“My senior year of high school, my mom found ACE. I had thought about pursuing a construction or engineering career, but I wanted to see if it was something I really wanted to do,” says Brittany. ACE was Brittany’s chance to do just that.
In a recent conversation, Brittany told Gary that ACE was the reason she entered this industry.
“I went into Civil Engineering at Manhattan College and received the ACE Mentor scholarship which paid for my schooling,” says Brittany.
Since participating in ACE and graduating from college, Brittany’s career has led to her being in a leadership role at The Heming.
Outside of sessions in a traditional office setting, ACE prioritizes field exposure for participants. Throughout the year, teams visit active construction sites.
This year, some ACE participants spent time at The Heming, interfacing with Brittany and other team members.
During Women in Construction Week 2022, Brittany and several young women in ACE shared about their experience.
“It was cool to see the excitement these women had while walking the job site,” says Brittany. “I experience our environment everyday, and I sometimes forget the wonder of it. It was nice to get a reminder that what we do is pretty cool.”
Mentorship model molds both Skanska team members and ACE participants
Skanska team members are involved with ACE at the mentor, local chapter and national level. Serving at different vantage points provides a window into the multifaceted impact of ACE.
Vice President—Operations Brad Nystrom sees the big picture serving as Skanska’s representative on the ACE National Board.
“ACE is a beneficial program for everyone involved,” says Brad. “ACE supports the communities where Skanska works while improving the diversity of the pipeline of post-high school construction-related studies.”
Sixty-nine percent of ACE participants are minorities.
“ACE also provides Skanska professionals opportunities to engage in mentoring relationships,” says Brad. “And mentoring skills are something we want to foster in Skanska’s culture.”
Project Executive Pete Maslenikov has been involved with ACE for 16 years. He currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for the ACE Mentoring of Washington Affiliate.
“Mentoring students has been a highly rewarding experience,” says Pete. “Providing guidance and developing relationships early in their lives really gives them an advantage going into college to help shape their careers.”
Each year’s cycle culminates in students presenting projects to their mentors, family and friends. The exercise is meant to mirror a typical design presentation for a client.
As a mentor himself, and co-chair of ACE’s Frederick, Maryland chapter, moments like this are what keep Gary coming back year after year.
“The end of year presentations are rewarding because you see how much effort the students have put in, along with the volunteer hours. It’s incredibly motivating,” says Gary.
Pete is also energized by the event. “Each year I’m amazed at the presentation skills and knowledge the students have learned when they present their projects. The growth and knowledge that they have gained in the year’s 15 meetings is invaluable as they head into college.”
Seeing the growth of mentors over the course of the year is special for Pete too. “It’s equally impressive to see the mentors develop their leadership skills and grow alongside the students,” says Pete.
Through exposure early on, ACE helps break industry barriers
With decades of experience connecting high schoolers to AEC opportunities, ACE is continuing to empower future industry leaders and budding minds.
“ACE is motivated by this idea that you can’t be what you can’t see,” says Brad. “If you don’t know something exists, how are you ever going to aspire to become that?”
ACE is taking steps to break down any existing barriers to long-term career success that might have been overlooked in the past.
“They [ACE] have recognized a pattern. Students get excited about the industry but then hit roadblocks in college,” says Brad. “Some students arrive to college and face courses like calculus, and aren’t properly prepared. It’s a hurdle they have to get through to be successful.”
“If you can make it through the initial semesters, your odds of making it all the way through dramatically increase,” says Brad.
To better prepare students for those inevitably difficult college courses, ACE is launching a tutoring initiative. The offering will focus on equipping students with hard math skills in advance of their freshman year of college.
Brad continues to believe there’s great value in Skanska partnering with ACE.
“The idea is to drive exposure to the industry as early as possible in these students’ lives. It’s about giving them the tools they’ll need far in advance,” he says. “Supporting them today will unlock doors later on.”