ACE mentors enhance Lafayette class’s experience
The Architecture & Civil Engineering class at Lafayette High School gains valuable career experience through the ACE Mentor Program of the Bluegrass, which molds the curriculum and the students. “This program has given me an in-depth look at how it would be (to work in that field), and I really enjoy it even more than before,” said sophomore Caleb Harrison.
As the end of school approaches, Caleb and his classmates are preparing for final project presentations, where ACE board members will see designed communities proposed by six teams. The small groups recently completed another test run for guests from Lexington’s Habitat for Humanity, this year’s mock client, which was interested in prospects for more dense or multi-family housing. “Our job was to come up with a home plan that’s up to Habitat’s standards, for possible use in the future,” said Caleb, an aspiring civil engineer.
The students in Marty Nolan’s class have had plenty of support in developing this yearlong project. ACE mentors Adam Gillett and Taylor Steele, who generally alternate class sessions, have also provided advice and constructive feedback. “We can get their professional insight on changes to be made, and they guide us along the way,” Caleb said.
In the elective class of fewer than 20, the students work closely with Gillett, a project architect with integrity/Architecture; and Steele, an architectural designer with CGL. “They get to dabble in all sorts of things according to their interests,” Steele said. Whether practicing with the Autodesk Revit software or polishing their public speaking skills, the teens can see the relevance of their classwork. Delivering a viable product to a client also makes it more real.
In the recent practice run, team members took turns describing their proposals for townhomes, duplexes, or single-family houses. They covered everything from floor plans, plumbing, and insulation to ADA accessibility, landscaping, and neighborhood amenities for all ages. “I could build that tomorrow and sell it,” Steele told one team after reviewing their six-unit model. He urged the students to connect with their audience and to use more visuals and less text in the PowerPoint. Jeremiah Myers, the resource development manager for Habitat, also advised them to lead with the “why” of their chosen lot and home design, and then elaborate with details such as a first-floor master bedroom. “Be proud of it,” he said. “Make sure you’re selling it.”
During the process, students have also had to deal with typical construction challenges, such as part of the property lying in a flood plain. One solution was to add a park. “It’s not just about a housing project but about building place and a community,” Gillett noted.
ACE (Architecture, Construction, and Engineering) at Lafayette has grown steadily from an after-school club started eight years ago to today’s in-class mentoring model. The professionals volunteer to guide students through hypothetical projects and take them on field trips to actual building sites. Another highlight is Trade Day, where contractors set up stations for students to try wall mudding, tile setting, pipe bending, circuit wiring, and more. ACE also brings in guest speakers to talk about various aspects of the industry.
“What the students get is a lot of good, unique exposure, and they get to ask questions of people in the field,” Gillett said. “They also get the sense of working through a process. The project has a lot of parties involved and a lot of money. It also has a lot of decision-making. There’s always questions and things you have to check, so it gives a very good sense of that. That’s critical in the design process as you test if ideas are solid and valuable. You evaluate and respond to that and change as you go. It’s also nice to partner with local groups (like Habitat) so students get an idea of how to work in a community.”
Nolan can attest to the practical benefits for his students, including internship opportunities. He recognizes the larger potential, too. “Ultimately,” he said, “the connections they make could lead to jobs and careers after college.”