As a black architect, Dana Mitchell knows he is a rarity in his field.
Only 2% of architects are black, according to a 2021 industry report.
As senior vice president of architecture and engineering firm PRIME AE, Mitchell also knows what it means to other students, especially those of color, who are interested in the field to see someone like him in this job.
That’s why Mitchell jumped at the chance to get involved with the Akron-Canton Chapter of the ACE Mentoring Program, which is now in four Akron Public Schools schools and one in Canton City Schools.
“There’s not even a high level of black architects that you can name, let alone have regular interaction with, in any way,” Mitchell said. “It is important not only for people from diverse backgrounds, but also for people in general who are part of our profession, to present what we do and the exciting and fun advantages we have as architects, engineers and builders.”
After two difficult years during the pandemic, ACE – which stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering – is working to recruit students and industry professionals for the after-school program.
Students from the five schools – Firestone, Garfield and Ellet Community Learning Centers in Akron and Early College High School and McKinley High School in Canton – have the chance to meet every two weeks for two hours with professionals in the ACE fields, and during the year, work on a hands-on design project. At the end of the year, ACE organizes a banquet and each school presents its project in the form of a competition. McKinley is the defending champion.
“Invaluable experience” to meet those who are already doing the work
It’s where Mitchell volunteers his time and where he met Amir Stokes, a McKinley graduate now in his freshman year at Ohio State University.
A math lover, Stokes became interested in engineering and joined the ACE program.
“I think the experience is invaluable just because you can actually talk to people doing this job,” Stokes said. “You can reach out, you can touch them, you can connect with them, you can see their personality type.”
As a black student, Stokes said it was important for him to meet Mitchell and see someone like him in a job similar to what he wants to do.
He plans to study mechanical engineering in college and benefits from more than just mentoring help from ACE. The program awarded him $25,000 in scholarships at the banquet this spring.
ACE seeks to grow, diversify areas
Dennis Check, chair of the Akron-Canton ACE Chapter board of directors, said the scholarships come from donations and other fundraising efforts made by the program during the year. The national organization ACE also contributed to the Stokes scholarship. The program is free for students, and everyone but an administrator is a volunteer.
Check, president of Hasenstab Architects, said he likes to talk about what architects do, whether it’s for kindergarteners – his wife is a kindergarten teacher – or for high school students, so ACE was a natural choice. .
“It’s been an enriching experience to reach some of these kids who otherwise might not have been exposed to what we do,” Check said. “And that’s what our program is for.”
Students not only learn the ACE domains, they learn how to work in groups, problem solve, take on leadership roles and present themselves in front of large groups of people – skills that will be important for all the next steps you take. they will cross after high school.
The program is aimed at all students, but it also aims to diversify and develop the field.
“I think the architecture and engineering professions have a long way to go before they reach the level of diversity that we want to have that would benefit our respective professions,” Check said.
ACE helps students confirm or exclude their career path
Nathan Cebula, project architect at GPD Group, said the program gives companies the opportunity to look at the talent pool four to eight years from now.
Cebula was one of Akron’s Firestone CLC mentors. One of his first mentees, Allison Agosti, is now in her third year of the architecture program at the University of Cincinnati.
It was great to see his growth, Cebula said, and his commitment to the field.
“Honestly, it’s fun to see students who don’t really know what they want to do sometimes be able to engage with industry professionals and mentor them and have them develop a career path , find a career path they like or tick one off the list that they don’t want to be involved in,” he said.
ACE, he said, can either help solidify a path for a student or eliminate one, and both are success stories. Cebula said he sees the program as a way to help make a college degree more interesting if students are given enough exposure to the field in advance to ensure they make the best choice for themselves.
Cebula said she chose architecture on a whim after taking a drawing class in high school.
“It made me realize that I really wanted to be involved in ACE, and if I can get someone to say, ‘Hey, I want to do this’, that’s great. If I can get someone to say a: ‘Hey, it’s not for me’, it’s great because I helped them refine their career path,” he said.
This is the same mission as Akron’s College and Career Academies, rolled out to Akron high schools for the past five years. Academies allow students to choose a career path to focus on, from sophomore to senior year, exposing them to areas such as engineering, marketing, culinary arts and more before they graduate. diploma.
The program works alongside the efforts of academic and professional academies
Deputy Superintendent Rachel Tecca, who previously served as the district’s first director of academies, said the ACE program complements ongoing work at the academies, which also feature real partnerships with industry professionals. ACE is another level beyond what academies can offer, with twice-weekly face time with the same group of mentors.
“I think what he’s doing is giving a bit more intense commitment of time and talent with a mentor and a small group of students,” Tecca said. She said she was unaware of another similar program that offers this level of time and hands-on project work.
Over the years, ACE student projects have included designing a pavilion for Summit County Metropolitan Parks and an aquarium and science center in downtown Akron.
Agosti, a Firestone graduate, said she didn’t yet know what kind of architecture she wanted to do. Moving her family to a new home while in college sparked her interest in building design and structure, and ACE helped her turn that interest into a career path.
She only participated in the program for a year, which was cut short by the pandemic, but said she kept in touch with her mentors and was able to job shadow at their company one summer. She hopes these relationships will lead to a job when she finishes her studies.
“I know I have the support of these people back home and I think that’s what keeps me going,” she said. “I have people on the other side supporting me.”
ACE is hosting a training day for mentors on September 27. To get involved, go to www.acementor.org/affiliates/akron-oh/.
Contact educational journalist Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.