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ACE Mentor Program students provided their presentations

What is the ACE Mentor program?

Founded in 2006, the ACE Mentor Program of Greater San Antonio, Inc. consists of building industry professionals and educators who help high school students learn more about potential careers in architecture, engineering and construction (ACE).

During the program, students work in teams under the mentorship of experienced professionals, who guide them through projects that meet real industry requirements. The result is an opportunity to gain practical insight into what building industry professionals do to transform their ideas from an initial concept into a finished building or roadway.

In addition, every qualified high school senior who goes on to ACE degree paths in college is eligible for a local scholarship.

To learn more, we caught up with Mike Frisbie, PE, ACE Mentor Program of Greater San Antonio Chairman, Senior Vice President & Marketplace Leader for San Antonio and Austin for Raba Kistner, Inc.

Mike Frisbie, P.E.

When and why did you decide to join the ACE Mentorship program?

The ACE Mentor Program has been around for 25 years and had a local chapter in San Antonio for 15 years. I joined the board 10 years ago and I became the chair eight years ago. I was serving as the City Engineer and had two leaders from the industry come meet with me: Travis Wiltshire, P.E., owner of CNG Engineering and Mike Kaiman from Turner Construction. They had both been on the ACE board for some time and wanted me to join the board. I immediately recognized the value of the program. The local program supports young adults going into technical degree paths and provides essential workforce development. We are giving high school students confidence going into college. They can get internships and graduate from high school with valuable experience. Former ACE students now serve as mentors to current high school students, taking the program full circle!

What are your responsibilities as Chairman of the ACE Mentor Program of San Antonio?

I provide oversight over the 12-person board and the program, making sure our agenda is effective. This includes overseeing organizational roles and ensuring we are receiving feedback from schools. We have up to 30 students per class and they meet with our professional mentors after school, from October to May every week or every other week. 60 companies have members that serve on our board or serve as mentors for students.

How are students guided through projects?

Over 200 students divided into twelve school-based teams (Brooks Academy, CAST STEM, East Central, Highlands, John Jay, Lanier, Regan, South San, School of Science and Technology, Stevens, Thomas Jefferson, & Warren), work on projects that address real-world situations.

In addition to working on their projects, students visit professional firms, attend College Night at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and attend lectures on industry topics.

At the conclusion of the program year, students present their design solutions and receive feedback from local industry leaders.

Schools have mentor teams and, at a minimum, have six mentors per high school class, with about 100 total mentors. The mentors teach students about a project with planning, design and construction. As a board we give them a list of projects to choose from and sometimes those are bond projects, fire stations, libraries, parks. The classes can ultimately pick what they want, like a stadium complex or movie theater complex. Sometimes they pick their school for an expansion or new campus. Past projects include San Antonio Zoo Elephant and Polar Bear Exhibit, Fire Stations, Lone Star Brewery Mixed-Use Development, San Pedro Park, Woodlawn Park, and a downtown grocery store. Students are getting hands-on experience using professional design software including AutoCad and SketchUp to complete their designs.

How do sponsorships help drive the ACE mission?

I focus on our ACE annual sponsorship. Each spring we award scholarships. That money comes from our ACE Annual Sponsors. Last year we had 30 Annual Sponsors and gave out $43,000 in scholarships. This year we also have 30 Annual Sponsors, including Raba Kistner, and we have raised $60,000 in scholarships. Raba Kistner has been a big supporter of ACE for the past decade as Annual Sponsors and with Raba Kistner President Chris Schultz serving on the Board. The support from the community has been tremendous. People are concerned about "brain drain" meaning once students graduate high school we don’t see them again in San Antonio.  ACE provides opportunities for internships with local companies in high school and college, building relationships before they graduate. We also have great partnerships with UTSA and San Antonio College. San Antonio is growing really fast. We are projected to add another one million people to our population by 2040. Workforce development—keeping talented workers—is key.

How has the organization adapted with COVID-19?

The school superintendents, principals and students have gone through so much with COVID! As we communicated with the ACE School Champions, who are the teachers that helped with the ACE classes, superintendents and principals all wanted the ACE program to continue this year. Willy Burroughs, SAISD Chief Operating Officer, is on the ACE Mentor board.  Having a partner at that high level helped solidify support. They wanted to keep opportunities for students to learn and earn scholarships. It’s a feather in the cap for these schools. This year we have gone completely virtual due to COVID-19. Looking at colleges can be very intimidating for students, especially first generation students. Architecture, construction science and engineering degrees can be intimidating. ACE provides confidence so the students realize they can do it.

How are you measuring program successes?

Eighty percent of ACE students go on to those technical degree paths in architecture, construction sciences and engineering. There is no charge to participate in the ACE program. It helps students determine their track before trying college and getting into debt for something they may not be interested in. These are traditionally male-dominated professions but times are changing. Women now account for 20 percent of the graduates in these university programs. Our San Antonio ACE program is 40 percent female. Ninety percent of ACE participants are minorities. We have a great mix of cultures in San Antonio, which is reflected in the program.

Giving out scholarships at the end of the year is one of the most exciting parts, along with watching the presentations by the students. Some of the recipients are high GPA, high SAT-scoring students with other scholarships. While those are great I also love it when we can provide scholarships to students who worked hard and choose a less-expensive collegiate route.  One of those that I appreciated the most was when we gave a $2,000 scholarship to a young man who was at the scholarship banquet with his dad. He said "this has provided the money that I needed to go to San Antonio College and start my architecture degree. Without this scholarship I wouldn’t have the funds to do anything. With this scholarship I can get my two-year degree and move onto UTSA to earn my four-year degree."  Now that’s life changing the ACE Mentor Program way!

Thanks to all employees who participate in various mentor programs. Participation demonstrates one of our core values, community, as we work to support the education of future generations and maintain active involvement in the communities in which we live and work.