ACE mentors give Lafayette students insight into field
Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Monday, January 05, 2015
For Lafayette High students in the ACE Mentor Program, a behind-the-scenes look at the Commonwealth Stadium renovations provided valuable information as they explore career options. The group trekked to the University of Kentucky’s campus one cold, wet December afternoon to meet up with professionals who shared a bit about the project and their roles. “It was really fascinating,” said sophomore Elizabeth Yates. “Just pouring a slab of concrete is such a process. All the construction workers and engineers have to work together for all these big decisions. Although it’s still early, you could see where they’re headed and it’s so cool.”
Through ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering), professionals volunteer to mentor teams of students as they design hypothetical projects and tour local work sites and offices. Lafayette’s after-school club meets every other Thursday. The group of about 20 includes mostly pre-engineering students, though everyone is welcome to join.
“Our program really does try to put some real-world lessons into what they’re studying, more from a professional standpoint,” said Stacey Wiseman, coordinator of ACE Mentorship of the Bluegrass, the Lexington affiliate. “The immediate benefit is to ask questions of someone in that field,” such as which classes to take in college and what it actually means to be an electrical engineer. “In the long term, it gives them exposure to companies working in this area and contacts they wouldn’t normally have.”
The students typically work alongside their mentors on projects that provide hands-on experience in solving everyday challenges. The teams can also learn how to use advanced computerized tools, such as AutoCAD, while other activities show the demand for people skilled in various disciplines. “A lot of kids here have the creative, artsy part and also the math part together, and that’s often what an engineer is,” said Gene Toth, director of Lafayette’s pre-engineering program. “Overall, it’s a great fit here.”
ACE, which is in its fourth year at Lafayette, invites students to tackle a year-long project in digestible chunks such as schematics, floor plans and HVAC systems. This stadium project, however, is very detailed. In the fall, students focused on overall concepts; this spring, each will take on a specific component and see it through. For instance, what kind of material and support is needed for cantilevered art lighting? Or, what types of displays are right for the proposed retail store?
“Essentially, they’re imagining their own renovations to Commonwealth as it happens,” Wiseman explained. Students sketched over the GoogleEarth image with their own ideas as they compared several stadium renovations across the country; the UK site visit was crucial to their understanding. “The main takeaway is seeing what goes on in a building before it’s finished (like ductwork, wiring and structure),” she said. “Walking through a site opens it up and gives them a little more perspective to take back to their project. Sometimes it opens up design possibilities, and the rest of the year they try to figure out how to make it happen.”
In previous years, ACE students designed a workout room and a school café at Lafayette. The college stadium project is on a grander scale with broader challenges, such as parking, water runoff and environmental impact. “The mentors give us insight on what we could improve, such as the flow of people and the flow of cars,” Elizabeth noted. “They’ve really been helpful in telling us changes to make to our design and all the structural aspects.”
Nima Mahmoodi, a senior, also gathered useful insight during the field trip as the hosts covered everything from bidding and other financial implications, modern updates and expansion proposals, to the technology behind the steel beams. Students also saw preliminaries of the new suites in the upper deck. “There are so many different aspects when you look at a stadium, and you want to make sure all those things flow well together,” Nima said.
Now in his third year with ACE, Nima vouches for the club’s impact. “ACE, with the mentors they provide, helps us solidify our decisions since they show us so many aspects. It helps us grasp what field we want to go into,” he said. “With all the background and experience, it’s a great way to show us what it’s like to be an engineer on a day-to-day basis.”
Elizabeth, who joined ACE last semester, said the program has also helped her narrow her list of possible career fields. “I’m really interested in projects and solving problems and design like architecture and drawing, so ACE seems to fit really well,” she said. “The mentors know what they’re talking about and share really insightful things.”