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ACE Mentor GTA program fosters future design, engineering professionals

Dan O’Reilly
ACE Mentor GTA program fosters future design, engineering professionals
ACE MENTOR GTA - CMiC Chief Operating Officer and ACE Mentor GTA chair Pat Shah congratulates two of the scholarship recipients at the close of the 16-week session.

In the event the City of Toronto decides a new community centre is needed for the historic and scenic Grange Park neighbourhood near the Art Gallery of Ontario, it won’t have to look far for some design ideas.

Five designs of the imagined community centre were created by five different high school groups earlier this year as part of a free 16-week education workshop organized by ACE Mentor GTA. Four of the students received $5,000 scholarships at the end of the program.

Headed by a three-member board of directors and supported by a number of committees, ACE Mentor GTA is the first Canadian chapter of the ACE Mentor Program. The acronym ACE stands for Architecture Construction Engineering.

First launched in New York City in 1994, the program is an initiative by architecture, engineering and construction companies, working in partnership with local school boards, to attract high school students into pursuing careers in those fields.

“We saw the good things that were happening in the U.S. with ACE and started the Canadian group with donations from some of the mentors’ respective companies, namely CMiC, Stantec, Entuitive, Turner + Townsend,” says chapter director Ian Trudeau on its origins.

CMiC chief operating officer Pat Shah is the chapter chair and the third director is David Sauve, senior vice-president, infrastructure with Stantec.

The founding of the chapter coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and for the first years of its operation the program was a pared-down version offered in a virtual format. However, it had its first-in person launch last December.

Drawing from an overall group of approximately 25 industry professionals, the chapter lined up between five to six mentors for the weekly two-hour sessions which were held in a downtown Toronto office, says Trudeau, a senior associate with Entuitive.

There was no rigid criteria for interested students, other than they had to be in either Grades 11 or 12 and be willing and able to travel to the office for the duration of the 16-week session, he says.

During the first half of the program there were numerous hands-on activities and workshops conducted by guest mentors. Then, the student groups began working on their respective designs for the Grange Park community centre.

“We (the chapter) decided to focus on community centres since they are very visible and accessible buildings in any community, and the students would be able to visit the site on their own in between sessions to observe some of the principles they had learned.”

In a final event to showcase that knowledge, the five groups presented their creations to the mentors and their parents.

“We (chapter members) were quite impressed by the quality of the designs,” says Trudeau.

Comprised of a mix of virtual displays, PowerPoint presentations and display boards, the designs were not judged, but that is something the chapter might do in the future, he says.

However, it did award the scholarships to high school seniors intending to enrol full-time in three- to-four-year undergraduate architecture or engineering programs at accredited colleges or universities.

CMiC, through the Allen Berg Memorial Scholarship Awards program, donated two, $5,000 scholarships and two other $5,000 scholarships were provided by Stantec.

The recipients were selected on their standing in answering essay-style questions based on what they learned, says Trudeau.

“We hope the success of this year’s program will inspire others to participate.”

Plans are well underway to conduct two sessions in the Greater Toronto Area next fall. As well, there is strong interest in ACE in the Vancouver area and the GTA chapter is in the process of recruiting a regional committee to plan and launch the program in that city, he says.

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