Mentoring Program Boosts Kids’ Career Options

The ACE team from Hodgson Vo-Tech HS: Aatiq Vann, Keith Thomas, Anissa Berry, Briya Miller, Brandon Shimko, and Sonni Alvarez. Students designed a community center and garden.

With half of skilled trade workers in Delaware expected to retire in the next five years, a mentoring program is looking to help talented high school students fill a growing demand for skilled laborers in the design and construction industry.

The ACE Mentor Program is working with students at four Delaware high schools – Delcastle Technical High School, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School, St. Georges Technical High School, and William Penn High School – to give these young people practical experience that will accelerate their entry into the workforce following graduation.

ACE, which stands for architecture, construction management and engineering, helps prepare high school students for careers in design and construction through mentoring by industry professionals. The organization teaches students about the entire process of designing and building a project, and they work with leading architects, contractors, engineers and business owners who volunteer as mentors.

William Penn students Madison Gac, Mateo Acosta and Marshal Baker share what they learned on the field trip to Christiana Care Hospital.

The students strive to learn as much as they can to make their projects the best they can be. They exhibit hard work, enthusiasm, drive and grit throughout the many months they devote to their ACE assignments.

Since the Delaware chapter launched in 2010, the ACE Mentor Program has mentored more then 300 students and awarded $70,000 in scholarships.

“The exposure to real life trade experiences is invaluable,” said University of Delaware freshman Juan Daniel Zamudio, who is studying mechanical engineering and spent three years in the ACE Mentor Program. “I did this because I knew I wanted to pursue a job in engineering and this program exposes you tall of the different fields of engineering.” Zamudio also won a $2,500 college scholarship. 

The ACE team from Delcastle Technical High School plus alumni Juan Daniel Zamudio and Alejandro Pantoja, instructor Marty Baeriswyl and Principal Dr. Clifton Heyes.

This year the 88 students who participated in the program took field trips to the Town of White Hall, the new parking garage at Christiana Care Hospital and M. Davis & Sons, where they met industry leaders and toured facilities.

“We are always excited to work the ACE Mentor Program,” said President of M. Davis, John Gooden. “These students are always engaged and asking tough questions. You can tell that they already have a plan together for their future,” he said.

At the ACE Mentor Program scholarship breakfast and design show last week, students proudly showcased hypothetical design projects – three for the Town of White Hall in Middletown.

Students formulated goals and spent months planning their team projects, which included concept development, architectural design, floor plans, budgeting, identifying materials, workflow management and scheduling.  Each team chose five students to present the concepts and models to breakfast attendees.

Delcastle students (l to r) Miguel Cerrito Abriel Santiago, Nathan Hotchkiss, Crystal Solano, Cindy Zavala, Ajah Quawiy and Angelica Burgos with models of their proposed children’s museum.

The designs were for major construction projects and were incredibly detailed, and students were able to clearly articulate the reasons for the design choices they made. “This year was notable because there was a lot of team building. We saw some natural leaders evolve out of this process,” said ACE Leader Vicky Newton.

William Penn students came up with cost estimates and construction timelines for a $24M community center, library and parking garage at White Hall.

Delcastle Technical High School students came up an idea for a Children’s Museum at White Hall. The students who presented their project shared their initial concepts, floor plans, site plans, landscaping, identified materials they would need and developed a construction schedule. One student remarked that it was helpful for the team to learn how to estimate and schedule a construction project as well as to give speeches and pleasing presentations.

Hodgson Vocational Technical presented models showing a community center with eateries, a community garden and green space, and even an attractive parking lot with cherry trees and other bits of landscaping .

The Team from St. Georges Technical High School constructed a mock-up wall

St. George’s Tech is new to the Delaware ACE Mentoring Program this year. Their students constructed a mock-up wall with all of the different trades that are included in most construction projects: carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and technical drafting. “It was hard to learn all of the trades and figure out how to bring it all together in one display,” said junior Hunter Jolly.

St. George’s Tech Coop Coordinator Jermaine Williams said perhaps the greatest benefit was the collaboration of the students as they worked to solve executional problems along the way. But his students found the program to be incredibly rewarding. “The whole bus ride home our kids talked about how excited they were about the program and that they can’t wait to continue it next year,” he said.

Newton is thrilled that new schools are joining the program – two in the last two years. “ACE a great community-based program that continues to grow and thrive because of our fantastic volunteers,” she said.  

Dozens of Delaware businesses support ACE and contribute to the scholarship program, including EDiS Company, Wayman Fire Protection, Whiting-Turner, Mitchell Associates, Skanska USA Building and Tevebaugh Associates, to name a few.  

For more information, visit Ace Mentoring Program Delaware.

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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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