Make A Difference: ACE Mentor Program

Make A Difference: ACE Mentor Program

Making an impact in the community is an important part of IKM’s mission. Our employees reflect our work by actively being involved in the Pittsburgh community. Not only is it important to IKM that our employees get involved, but one program in particular holds a special place in our employees’ hearts—a mentoring program called ACE.   


What is ACE?


ACE is a national, afterschool program that is designed to help high school students (grades 9-12) prepare for a career in architecture, construction, or engineering. Participating students meet every other week, with sessions running September through May. Throughout the sessions, students have the opportunity to go on tours and site visits, as well as visit contractor companies and architecture firms that host sessions in their respective fields. IKM hosted one of the two architecture sessions this past December where students saw their designs come to life through model building.

During the year, students also take part in a “Bid Day” where they must have estimations done for their designs and make bids to mock-contractors for the work. These mock-contractors would put fake numbers to the work that the students had to bid on to win and meet their budget. It is a fun, opportune way for the students to learn.

Sometimes, while students are working on their designs, mentors will interrupt in the middle of their work and pretend to be the owners to call and say that they wanted to add rooms or balconies, periodically. It gave the students the chance to adapt to surprises and reassess their designs.



What Drives the Mentors to Participate?


A shared desire to give back and participate in a program that affords opportunities for students is what drives IKM mentors Catherine, Sam, and Jason to take part in the Western chapter of ACE.

These project architects each had different reasons for why they chose to participate in ACE, but the common theme that ran through each of their accounts was the desire to give back and participate in a program that they found beneficial to future generations.


Project Architect Catherine Wick 

“These students are from the area and it’s likely a lot of them will return to the area, and so these are the people we will be working with in the next ten, fifteen…twenty-five years. These are our future peers, and teaching them what we know and getting to know them as people when we will eventually one day run into them again.”






Project Architect Sam Smelko

“I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life for a very long time and I sort of fell into architecture. I do it because I didn’t have that…so having people be really excited about a profession and to learn about it, and to share resources with high school students when really you don’t have any direction I think is really important—that’s kind of why I do it because I wish I had mentor.”





Project Architect Jason Hindes

“I started doing ACE because when I was in high school at Baldwin Whitehall, I did a program very similar to ACE which was the Explorer’s group…but ACE is important to me because it [the Explorer’s group] was instrumental with me becoming an architect…it just confirmed my passion in architecture.”





Why is ACE beneficial for students?


One of the main benefits to participating in ACE is because it is a fun way for the students to explore without having the pressure that comes with deciding a major as soon as they get to college. There is no requirement to stay with whatever avenue the student has chosen.

“I get pretend upset,” Project Architect Jason Hindes said with a light laugh. “But if a kid says I don’t want to do architecture anymore I think I want to go into civil engineering…it’s reaffirming for them and helps them to not make a very costly decision in their life if they’re able to figure it out now before they go to college.”

Project Architect Catherine Wick stated, “There are some students that go into the program thinking that they want to do one thing and then they’ll learn about something else…and they change what they wanted to do. I think that having that exposure to different disciplines is really important.”

Mentors can also provide advice on choosing a college as well as reiterating the importance of attending an AIA accredited school for those seeking to go into the field of architecture. ACE helps students prepare for that.

“You have to go to an accredited school…but if you don’t know that’s a thing, that means that you have to go to another college that is accredited to get your master’s afterwards if you ever want to be licensed,” Catherine elaborated. “…having that perspective going into it is really beneficial because you know what you’re signing up for.”

Project Architect Sam Smelko added, “It’s something that I wish I would’ve had in high school just because it gives you such a well-rounded perspective of what the entire industry does.”



You can make a difference too!


ACE is important to our mentors, as well as the students that participate in the program. If you or someone you know might want to be a mentor for ACE and get involved in this awesome organization, you can reach out to Kellie M. Johnson, MS at the link below. ACE is an excellent opportunity for those in the fields of architecture, construction, and/or engineering to give back to the community, and share their skills and knowledge with our future generations.


To learn more about ACE or get in contact with the ACE leader for the Western Pennsylvania chapter, you can visit