Our long history as a firm includes decades of volunteering our time to teach students and young adults about the building and design industry.
For many years, our staff was involved with B.E.E.P. (Built Environment Education Project), where we worked with school children to design imaginary projects. Topics ranged from designing animal enclosures for a zoo to masterplanning the former Naval Training Center (now Liberty Station).
More recently, many of our staff have become mentors through the ACE Mentor program, working with high school students to inspire them to pursue careers in Architecture, Construction and Engineering.
Nationwide, more than 9,000 students from 1,000 high schools annually participate in ACE, completely on a voluntary basis. In 2003, a group of local architects, engineers and general contractors founded ACE Mentor San Diego.
ACE students, who are paired with a handful of professionals in those fields, receive an invaluable, hands-on education — they learn to understand the day-to-day workings of a planning or building project by living and experiencing it.
Students who commit themselves to the ACE Mentor program may even earn scholarships from ACE. Since its inception, ACE has awarded over $15 million in scholarships to promising participants. Just last year, ACE students in San Diego collectively received $130,000 in scholarship money.
Members of our staff have volunteered through ACE at Hoover High School, San Diego High School and Eastlake High School. Each group of students and A/E/C design professionals decides what they would like to develop and then identifies the steps that would be required to bring that idea to fruition.
One of our firm’s principals, Naveen Waney, headed a group that chose a park site near their school and then designed a multi-purpose facility for training and meetings, which also featured a kitchen and gym.
Platt/Whitelaw architect Luke English led a group that also chose a site near their school and designed a center to help the homeless by providing social and employment services as well as housing.
Our firm’s Mackenzie Sims is leading a group that is choosing between their school campus or a nearby site for a student and community center and outdoor event space, while Yolanda Velazco’s group hashed out a transit mobility plan and station design as well as ideas for complementary pedestrian bridges.
Tackling challenges of land availability and iatrophobia (the fear of going to the doctor), Thomas Brothers’ group created plans for a welcoming health clinic, complete with a playground, that would sit on top of a bridge over Interstate 5.
“It’s been a lot of fun working with students,” says Mackenzie. “They bring new perspectives and ideas.”
“They don’t have limits,” adds Yolanda. “They’re super creative and think outside the box.”
Naveen, who has served as a mentor for three ACE programs and hopes to do so again in the future, says he kept coming back because “it’s so rewarding to see students’ faces light up when you tell them stories about your work.”
Luke knows the value of having extracurricular opportunities like ACE. “I was lucky – we had a vocational center at our high school. I had taken drafting courses, and it interested me in architecture.”
Thomas, who, like Naveen, had also participated with B.E.E.P., says the reward for him is in “connecting with the students, listening to their lives and seeing what they’re doing.”
“Hats off to ACE for putting together this very well-run program,” says Naveen, adding that more students need to know about it and understand that committing to a full ACE Mentor session may lead to a college scholarship from ACE.
If you are interested in volunteering with the ACE Mentor program or know a student who may want to be involved, we are happy to share more with you about our experience. You can also visit https://acementorsd.org/.