Michigan Contractor & Builder

Dedicated to the people who make our built environment better and safer. We tell your stories and celebrate your successes.

Register with us and receive industry news and content only available to subscribers.

Subscribe
Contacts

Indianapolis, IN, USA (HQ)

903 E. Ohio St., Indianapolis, IN 46202

Call: (317) 423-2325

info@acppubs.com

First Year of West Michigan’s ACE Mentor Program Starts Labor Pipeline and Leadership Incubator

by: Julie Devine
Chris Daniel, an ACE Program Mentor, offers insights, feedback, and advice to an ACE student group.
Chris Daniel, an ACE Program Mentor, offers insights, feedback, and advice to an ACE student group.
“Finding skilled workers is proving to be more difficult every day,” said Mike Verhulst, Vice President of Rockford Construction in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The ongoing shortage of skilled workers poses a significant risk to future economic growth, so a great way to address that concern is to place young people into higher-paying careers in construction.”

To help make that happen, Rockford teamed with Progressive AE, also located in Grand Rapids, to launch the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of West Michigan last year. One of more than 70 affiliates of the nonprofit ACE Mentor Program of America, the free, afterschool program helps high school students learn about career paths and work-life in the design and construction professions. In Michigan, a second ACE Mentor chapter works with students in the Detroit area.

“Part of the focus of this program is to identify all the avenues by which you can be successful in the industry,” said John Rizor, Project Architect at Progressive AE and Chair of the Board of Directors for the West Michigan ACE Mentor Program. “We don’t want to pin students into one simple path to success. We highlight trade schools, job training, and apprenticeships, in addition to four- and six-year degree programs.”

In West Michigan’s 2019-2020 program, 22 students from 11 high schools worked with almost 30 volunteer mentors, including construction management professionals, civil engineers, structural engineers, interior designers, and architects.

Building Blocks
Rizor first introduced the idea of an ACE Mentor Program to his company a few years ago.

“I had experience as a team leader with the Chicago affiliate before I relocated back to Grand Rapids,” he said. “Because I saw such value in the Chicago affiliate, I wanted to continue that work here. Progressive AE was looking for new ways to reach students and I brought up that we could tap into this existing organization with all their resources.”

SITECH
Your local Trimble Construction Division dealer
SITECH Michigan

Once plans began to form, “We looked at Rockford almost immediately as a partner,” Rizor said. “They’ve shown a continued commitment to keeping the local economy strong and serving the community.”

Rockford had already spearheaded the Dimensions Program to mentor minority construction business owners. “This ties in to educate students sooner rather than later on the opportunities that exist in architecture, construction, and engineering,” said Verhulst, who now serves as First Vice Chair for the West Michigan affiliate. “We have some pretty deep roots and good relationships in the urban core of Grand Rapids. That was something we could bring to the table to help with what Progressive AE was doing on the diversity, inclusion, and equity side of it.”

A partnership with Kent Intermediate School District helped spread the word to local high schoolers.

Work-Life and Design Projects
West Michigan’s program included two, eight-week semesters. Two-hour, weekly meetings began with a meal and alternated between the offices of Progressive AE and Rockford.

In the first semester, beginning in October, “We usually had a panel of professionals who talked about everything from their academic paths to what they do on a day-to-day basis, who they collaborate with, and what kind of project responsibilities they have,” Rizor explained. “After that the students worked on some sort of design thinking exercise, basically a small-scale version of what we do on a daily basis.”

Those activities included master planning for a riverfront school and a design-build exercise where students budgeted a project and bought materials. “This part of the program primed the pump for the collaborative design project in the second semester,” Rizor said.

Deere SS
Your local Deere & Co dealer
AIS Construction Equipment

The national organization offers design competition briefs, but the West Michigan group chose a local project, International Terminal C for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, taking cues from a master plan created by local professionals. To complete the mock design of the terminal, students chose which small group they wanted to participate in, then mentors from those disciplines worked with the groups.

“As students got more involved in their groups, we could start to tease out some of their personal interests and skills,” Rizor said. “On the construction management side, that group looked at estimating, scheduling, and safety planning. Architecture was broken out into interiors, exterior, and universal design and wayfinding. Within structural engineering, we divided up site and building engineering. Civil engineering looked at things like vehicular approaches, stormwater drainage, and geothermal. The building structure group looked at the steel, beams, joists, and girders.”

In addition to the design activities, the cohort spent one evening on a construction site walk-through. “The mentors walked alongside students and talked about how their disciplines contributed to the project,” Verhulst said. “This was a great opportunity for the students to take the classroom learning into the field and see first-hand how a vision turned into a drawing, then turned into a structure created with not just a beautiful outcome but a place with soul.”

The curriculum also included a college night. “We split into two groups so 11 students circulated among seven area colleges,” Rizor said. “Before the event, we talked about interview readiness and special attire, encouraging the students to prepare.”

With experiences like that, “Participants learn a lot of life skills beyond the work of an architect, engineer, or constructor,” Rizor said. “A lot of these students don’t have much experience with public speaking. At the end of the program, every student has the opportunity to present to the community about their scope of work. On a weekly basis, they’re asked to report on their design exercise. It helps them find their voice and gives them more confidence. The program also helps students understand how to collaborate and take ownership in a project.”

Deere SS
Your local Deere & Co dealer
AIS Construction Equipment

To help students find their career path, the program encourages repeat participation. “A student may go through the design project one year looking through the lens of architecture; if they engage in the program again next year, they can look at it through the construction management or engineering lens,” Rizor said.

Leadership Incubator
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit. The mentoring aspect also provides professional development.

“It’s a leadership incubator,” Rizor said. “The mentors take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, outside of their day-to-day work responsibilities. A structural engineer might be in charge of developing a curriculum to teach students the basics of compression and tension. That requires a growth mindset. Within our organization, we tapped some individuals for opportunities based on their performance in this program.”

For the businesses that participate, “It’s a pipeline tool,” Rizor added. “If there’s a student with a certain aptitude, we’re exposed to that early on and have a prolonged engagement with them.”

Moving Forward
The 2019-2020 program finished in March right before Michigan schools closed due to COVID-19. The program’s leadership team is now exploring options for virtual and in-person programming for the coming school year, based on what happens with Michigan schools.

In the first year, Rockford and Progressive supplied all the mentors, but professionals from other organizations already registered for next year’s program. Rizor and Verhulst hope to add more student teams by involving more organizations.

“We were looking at adding another team this fall, but now with the pandemic, I think that’s likely a 2021-2022 initiative at the earliest,” Rizor said. “Ultimately we want to expand our demographic and geographic reach.”

SITECH
Your local Trimble Construction Division dealer
SITECH Michigan

Across the country, almost 70 percent of program participants are minority and one-third are female, with 25 percent of ACE seniors entering college as first-generation students.

“We believe everyone has the right to grow up in a strong neighborhood that produces happy, healthy, and hopeful young people,” Verhulst said. “I think this program widens pathways for these kids on their career journey, which leads to lifelong learning and stable housing, among other things. Hopefully we’re a foundation for building stronger neighborhoods down the road.”

For more information on how to join as a mentor or student, visit acementor.org/affiliates/michigan/west-michigan

From the Students’ Perspective
Every student in the ACE Mentor Program of West Michigan receives college credit through Lawrence Technological University. Students who participate for two or more years will be eligible for scholarships from the national ACE program.

This year, the West Michigan chapter awarded three college scholarships. Craig Hudson received the scholarship from the Construction Specifications Institute Grand Rapids chapter.

Daniel Durocher, recipient of the scholarship sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Grand Rapids chapter, said of his participation, “I had the opportunity to solve real-life problems, form relationships with professionals, and improve my teamwork skills.”

Deere SS
Your local Deere & Co dealer
AIS Construction Equipment

Rachel Peterson, recipient of the scholarship sponsored by HCA Healthcare Capital Deployment, said, “I was able to receive a true understanding of what it feels like for an architect to work collaboratively with a group of other individuals and explore everyone’s ideas to execute a group project.”

Deere SS
Your local Deere & Co dealer
AIS Construction Equipment
Deere SS
Your local Deere & Co dealer
AIS Construction Equipment
SITECH
Your local Trimble Construction Division dealer
SITECH Michigan