Austin Architecture Program Takes Flight

Aidan Gannon, Staffer

The Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program is an afterschool program that mentors students for a future career in the construction industry. Students from a variety of Austin schools take part in ACE, including LASA, which has 26 students currently attending. Karima Baqdounes, this year’s chair of ACE Austin, feels that this program provides a unique way to introduce high school students to the industry. ACE accomplishes this task by facilitating weekly sessions with students, pairing them with industry mentors, and helping students learn about the current building environment and the opportunities there are in the industry.

“The organization’s goal and mission is to engage and enlighten the next generation of professionals in the building industry,” Baqdounes said. “I feel that this program really provides a fun and collaborative way to introduce high school students to the industry. And it’s not just that you’re sitting in a classroom learning about what an architect does– you actually get paired with mentors.”

Baqdounes believes ACE gives students an opportunity to see if they want to get involved with construction, engineering, or architecture in the future. According to her, that exposure to the field early on can be helpful for students figuring out their career paths.  

“I think it helps students a lot because, personally, when I was in high school, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Baqdounes said. “I knew I liked buildings. I knew I liked architecture. But, I didn’t really have a good understanding of what an architect versus an engineer versus a contractor really does.”

Since the program is open to all high schoolers in the Austin area, they meet at an offsite location at the City of Austin Permitting and Development Center. In their latest meeting, Ram Dushyanthram, a project manager for Ryan Companies, a national construction company and a sponsor of ACE, gave a presentation about the architectural and stability issues of trying to get more light into the room. Dushyanthram is excited to be a mentor with ACE, and wished that he had this kind of program when he was younger.  

“ACE is probably one of the few organizations which I can connect with in a way where I say ‘I wish I had this program/guidance when I was in high school,’” Dushyanthram said. “This program gives students the opportunity to be curious, innovate, and learn from the mentors that are working in the real world. The level of impact you can create with the future generation is what drives me to be an active proponent of ACE”.

During each meeting, students pair up with one of over forty industry leaders from the architecture, construction and engineering industries. Each company has a mentor representing them, who will give a presentation to ACE Austin. After the presentation, the mentors will help ACE Austin members with a final group project. 

They work with their mentors on understanding the cost of materials so that they can create a budget,” Baqdounes said. “And then on the final presentation night, they essentially present the project that they’ve been working on all year to all their friends and family.” 

Jace Castleberry, a LASA sophomore involved in the program, said that he joined the program because of his sister. Castleberry likes that ACE Austin provides internships and said he was going to apply for the scholarship opportunities to help him pay for college. 

“I think this program benefits me,” Casteberry said. “It gives me an overview of engineering and I’ll be able to talk to professionals and mentors in the industry.”

According to Baqdounces, the program has grown a lot since it first began. Even she herself finds the work students do with their mentors to be inspiring and interesting.

“Since I joined ACE, I’ve been able to see our students grow and our organization grow,” Baqdounces said, “And, with that, these kids kind of allowed me to grow in my role and position as well.”