ACE Volunteer with students working on a project.A little volunteer work is good for the soul, and some CAP faculty and alumni have found a calling as mentors in the ACE Mentor Program designed to encourage teens who are interested in construction and design professions.

ACE stands for architecture, construction, and engineering. And although the acronym doesn’t include them, landscape architecture, urban planning, and interior design are facets of the program.
One of those volunteers is Adrian Russell, who graduated from Ball State in 2011 with a major in construction management. He knows the ACE program inside and out having started as a student member during his senior year at Arsenal Tech High School in 2007.

“I had only a faint idea of what I wanted to do,” he says. “I was in a computer-aided drafting course, and I had a general interest in design and architecture, but I lacked a concentrated focus.” He credits ACE mentors, including a cousin who was a Ball State CAP grad, with helping him find his way to Ball State and then into the Construction Management program.

While attending Ball State, Russell traveled back to his alma mater to help with ACE whenever he could.

Today he’s a project manager at Mattcon General Contractors and an enthusiastic ACE mentor, senior board member, and head of the ACE Ambassadors.

“It’s very rewarding just knowing that not that long ago I was in their shoes,” he says. “It gives me an accomplished feeling knowing that I’m helping to empower young people.”

ACE Volunteer with students working on a project.

“Many of the students may not have thought of college or the trades as a possibility for them,” says Katie Hull, an ACE volunteer who graduated from Ball State with a major in Architecture in 2004. “ACE gives them an introduction to the building trades, and an opportunity to try one or two on for size as they work through the project semester. The fun part is getting them to think beyond what a 'right' or 'wrong' idea is when it comes to the project.”

Students and mentors in ACE meet for two hours every other week during fall semester to learn about ACE-related fields. They take field trips to firms and/or construction sites and invite guest speakers to campus, largely based on the mentors’ and the students’ interests. There is curriculum to guide the process, but there’s also plenty of leeway to individualize the experience, says Les Smith, a retired landscape architecture professor who recently won a mentorship award at another Indianapolis school.

By mid spring, meetings move to weekly as work on the annual project amps up. The six Indianapolis-area schools this past year were given a goal of creating a new habitat area for the Indianapolis Zoo, a hypothetical project for which a zookeeper provided guidance about animal behavior and habitat creation.
If that sounds like an excellent introduction to CAP studio work, you’re onto something. Ball State is a natural fit for all but the most engineering-oriented of the ACE students, mentors say.

Jim Jones, chair of Ball State’s Department of Construction Management and Interior Design, has been an ACE board member since 2015. The board chooses the projects each year and raises scholarship money, $57,000 this year. He also helps organize mentors, so each Indianapolis school has a variety of professionals involved.

Russell and Hull say their employers are supportive of their volunteer efforts.

“They know how much I value the ACE program and how much it means to me,” says Russell. “I don’t believe for one second that I would be where I am today without the ACE program.”

The Indianapolis area’s 2018-2019 project will involve a new justice center, and Jones says one goal there is to get students thinking beyond detention to community uses such as basketball courts where police and neighbors could interact. Other ACE programs around the country have their own projects. Interested volunteers and students can visit to learn more about the program.