The ACE Mentor Program is a nationwide organization that promotes the fields of architecture, construction and engineering (ACE). The program is designed to engage and mentor high school students who may be interested in pursuing careers in these interrelated industries. Participating students meet weekly after school and work within groups of about 15-20 on a year-long design project. Leading these projects are industry professionals who guide students through the project, acquainting them with the design process and with their own professions along the way. At the end of the school year the students present their work to their families, teachers, and the local community.
In the summer of 2009, the Chicago branch of the ACE Mentor Program was approached by ASLA and asked to participate in the 2009 Legacy Project, a program for which ASLA coordinates a service-oriented project in the city that is hosting that year’s ASLA Annual Meeting. ASLA facilitates the donation of professional services and construction materials and also features the project at the annual meeting (Chicago, September 2009).
The site chosen for the 2009 ASLA Legacy Project was a courtyard redevelopment project at the ACE Technical Charter High School at State and 55th Street in Chicago. The ACE Mentor Program was brought on board, and they in turn contacted the University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture, seeking volunteers to participate in the project. Two people from the department responded, Visiting Lecturer Andrew Weiss, also of the Champaign Park District, and PhD student Douglas Williams.
On July 24, 2009, therefore, the ACE Mentor Program and the ACE Technical Charter High School held a design charrette, sponsored by the ASLA Legacy Project, in the downtown offices of OWP & P Architects. Weiss and Williams organized and administered the charrette in conjunction with Lynn Hollenberg, an independent landscape designer who chaired the ASLA Legacy Project. Twenty students, broken into five groups, spent the day working with professional landscape architects and putting their ideas to paper. At the end of the day the designs were presented to a jury consisting of Scott Mehaffey (Assistant to then Mayor Daley), Josephine Bellalta (Principal, Altamanu, Inc.), Yamani Hernandez (Director, Education and Career Programs, Chicago Public Schools) and James Miletello (Director of Development and Evaluation, ACE Technical High School).
Kettlecamp & Kettlecamp Landscape Architecture and Altamanu, Inc. volunteered their time and expertise to combine the charrette designs into a usable plan. Construction of the new courtyard was mostly completed in March of 2010, all of the construction material was donated, and much of the construction work was accomplished by the ACE Charter High School students.
Weiss believes that working with the ACE Mentor Program provided an important opportunity to reach out to high schools, colleges and community groups that he does not ordinarily get to experience. He says that he would “love to see” more public engagement projects in the future and looks forward to his next opportunity to work with the ACE Mentor Program.