Will there be enough architects, construction managers and engineers to fill the industry’s needs ten years from now?

The ACE Mentor Program is working hard to make sure there will be. The national program was founded in 1995 as an innovative way of attracting students, particularly students of color, women and low-income populations into careers in the architecture, construction and engineering industry. ACE’s mission is to inform and excite high school students about career opportunities in architecture, construction and engineering; encourage students to pursue secondary and post-secondary education that will prepare them for careers in the integrated construction industry; and support the development of basic and technical skills through mentoring relationships.

The ACE Mentor Affiliate of Chicago was established in 2000 and has a 19-year partnership with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Since our founding we have touched the lives of more than 3,500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from 36 Chicago public schools.  ACE Chicago places a special focus on recruiting students of color and female students; groups that are significantly under-represented in the construction and design industry, and in professional occupations overall. 93% of participants are minority and 30% are female.

After School Program


The core of ACE Chicago is its after school program which runs from late October through March of each school year. During the course of the free program, each team of 20 – 25 students and their mentor leaders meets after school for 17 weekly sessions to work toward development of a hypothetical project from concept to delivery. Our mentors, all volunteers, are drawn from a pool of the leading Chicago design and construction firms who are working on some of the world’s most exciting and innovative projects. When meeting ACE’s learning objectives, mentors improvise and add/substitute creative elements that play to their strengths and knowledge and which incorporate the industry’s current critical topics such as LEED Certification and other environmental innovations and concerns . As one ACE student described the experience, “I was coming downtown weekly and working with real, practicing architects, engineers, and construction managers.  I was immediately struck on the first day by the vigor of the program.  It was geared towards helping students better understand what is really involved in entering the profession.  Working with people who had achieved this goal made my interest in architecture and pursuing a career in the field much more concrete and real. ”

ACE mentors follow a developed curriculum and a project-based learning strategy and draw upon a tested body of hands-on activities that reflect many aspects of designing and constructing a building. The program builds skills that can be carried over to school subjects such as math, physics, engineering, and graphic design. As the students learn about industry disciplines and are immersed in the design process, they are engaged in imaginative thinking and continuously challenged to solve complex problems. Participants’ soft skills are additionally refined through collaborative teamwork, actively listening to and motivating each other, and defending their design decisions. At the conclusion of the program, the students present their project in a public forum. “Deliverables” typically required for a final project include sophisticated computer generated project simulations, architectural drawings with sections and/or a model, site plans, landscape design drawings, structural design plans, finish boards, mechanical and electrical schematics, estimated construction costs, and a construction schedule.

Learn more about what our current student teams are up to »

ACE Summer Design/Build Workshop

ace DB collage for web

In 2010, ACE Chicago and CPS launched a highly successful Design-Build program; a summer studio providing hands-on experience working with a real client on a real project.  The program introduces our students to a real world design problem and asks them to respond with a creative design solution.  And then we build it!

The annual summer workshop is free to ACE students, who also receive a college/university scholarship at the end of the program.  It is a exciting and challenging opportunity for students who have completed one year of the ACE after-school program.  For more information, see the link below.

Learn more about the Summer Design/Build Program »



Through the generous support of our industry partners, we are able to provide roughly $150,000 in college scholarships each year. Students who participate in our school year program can apply starting in February. Students apply on-line on the same site they used to register for the program. Scholarship money can be used for any school related expenses, including for trades apprenticeship program costs. 



Highly qualified students are eligible to receive paid summer internships at Chicago area firms. These jobs provide valuable opportunities, connections and experience as you start your career. Internships are full-time and between 6 – 8 weeks long, to be negotiated between each intern and their host firm. Students who participate in our school year program can apply starting in February. Students apply on-line on the same site they used to register for the program.

ACE Alumni
Where Are They Now?

ACE Chicago is a Nonprofit Organization   Help with a Donation