ACE Mentors: Encouraging the next generation of designers

May 10, 2017 Diego Barrera

Partnering with a mentorship program allows us to do what we do best—give back to our local communities


At Stantec, we make a difference through the services we provide. Our commitment to our communities goes beyond our day to day work—it’s about what we do after hours, too. This year, Stantec was awarded Firm of the Year by the AIA Dallas Chapter. As I look back at what got us here, it is evident that it is our commitment to make a difference in our community that set us apart from our competition. One great example of this is how our Plano office is involved with the ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor Program of North Dallas.



In 2014, I was serving as co-chair of the AIA’s Dallas Chapter Educational Committee. The chair at the time mentioned to me that she was also involved in the ACE Mentor Program of Dallas/Fort Worth. She told me that students enrolled in the ACE program met weekly with mentors to work on engaging, ACE-related projects. I was intrigued. Even more impressive, the Dallas program had a 2-to-1 student-to-mentor ratio, allowing mentors to spend personal time with each student in addition to group discussions. As excited as I was to hear about this program, I was disappointed to hear that it was only hosted downtown, making it unavailable to many of the students in the surrounding communities. We’re working on a daily basis with clients in these outer-lying communities and, because we’re also committed to the students our designs impact, I felt compelled to act.



So, I had a bold idea. What if we launched an ACE Mentor program in North Dallas and hosted it at our local Stantec office? After pitching the idea to office leadership, they were excited and totally supported the idea. We had an office-wide brainstorming meeting, and it was clear others in the office supported the idea too. The challenge? We needed to enlist enough mentors to maintain the 2-to-1 student ratio of the Dallas program. (Ego? Maybe, but I knew our chapter could be just as individualized.) Most A/E firms are in downtown Dallas, so the downtown ACE program has a large pool of potential mentors from which to recruit. In North Dallas, where our office is located, we are the largest A/E firm in the area—which meant that our team would have to make up most of the mentors. The good news? Our office was up for the challenge.

In the spring of 2015, we launched the ACE Mentor program of North Dallas, in partnership with the Dallas Fort Worth Chapter. We had 35 students and 18 mentors, all from Stantec, participate in this rigorous and engaging program. It was inspiring to see my colleagues engage with the next generation of architects and engineers. The students were highly motivated and appreciative of the support. Our first program was a success because of the support from the ACE Mentor DFW board, our mentors, and our office leadership. Samantha Markham, who’s served as mentor coordinator with me these past few years, has been a great resource for the students, as she is a former intern-turned employee at Stantec. She’ll lead the program moving forward—and I’m filled with such pride to see all my colleagues rise up and make this ACE Chapter a success. 


This fall, the ACE Mentor Program of North Dallas will begin its fourth session. To date, 76 mentors have worked with 124 students, and we have awarded $34,000 in scholarships. And today, two of my colleagues sit on the ACE Mentor Board of Dallas, Fort Worth—Stephanie Laughlin and Al Hernandez—and our partnership with ACE continues to grow. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our Chapter as we continue to engage and excite students with the work we do, because soon, they’ll be the ones mentoring the next generation of professionals committed to making a positive difference in their communities.

About the Author

Diego Barrera

Diego Barrera is a design architect focused on Education projects in Texas. He specializes in creating innovative solutions using the latest technology, resources, and trends affecting educational architecture.

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