By Martie Thompson

In an effort to enlighten high school students and encourage them to pursue careers in the design and build industry — to include architecture, engineering, and construction — the ACE Mentor program was founded in New York in 1994. Today, there are 75 affiliate programs nationwide, including the Northeast Florida Affiliate, which was founded during the 2006 – 07 school year. Ten full locations and one teacher-led program are made up of about 195 participating students and approximately 100 mentors. In St. Johns County, programs exist at Bartram Trail, Creekside, Pedro Menendez, Tocoi Creek, and Nease high schools.

According to Jacob Thurlow, Director of Operations, Risk and Controls at Haskell and team leader for the ACE Mentor program at Creekside, he became involved because when he was a new high school graduate at Fletcher High School, he was unaware of the many opportunities available in these industries.

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“It wasn’t until I was headed to college that I considered the design build industry,” Thurlow said. “Once I obtained my degree in building construction management, I was led to the ACE Mentor program so I could help enlighten students earlier.”

Thurlow said the primary way the program works is for professionals in the industry to serve as mentors. They go into local schools and talk about what they do. They meet with interested students weekly beginning in December and then from January through April, begin work on a team project, which is presented at a year end competition.

“Local teams are provided a Request for Proposal (RFP) to work on,” Thurlow said. “Just like the real world, the teams are expected to demonstrate that they should be selected to design and build the sample project.”

Creekside’s team, under the direction of Kevin Davenport, teacher at the Creekside Engineering Academy, was started in 2014. This year, 53 students participated (the most of any location), along with 10 mentors plus multiple guest speakers. Creekside had four regional competition teams and two national competition teams.

At the end of the year competition held on April 28 at the Schultz Center in Jacksonville, 20 Northeast Florida teams participated; each was responsible for a 10-minute presentation, which the professional volunteer board then reviewed and decided on the winners. Creekside sent two teams to the final competition and each won “Best Presentation” for their option (either School of the Future or Community Support Facility), one won “Best Proposal” for their option (School of the Future), and one won “Best Overall” for their option (Community Support Facility).

Senior students can also apply for scholarships, which are announced at the event.

“Of the $42,000 total in scholarships, $27,000 was awarded to St. Johns County schools with $20,500 awarded to Creekside students,” Thurlow said. “Creekside also had a $32,000 national scholarship winner, Kendall Reckamp, who is Creekside’s third winner of this national scholarship in five years.”

Thurlow said ACE Mentoring also offers a springboard for summer internships; Haskell will have 14 high school students join the firm this summer. 

“We are always seeking students for internships and school year activities,” Thurlow said. “We are also always on the hunt for new mentors.”

Visit for more information. Potential mentors should click on the link ( to inquire about opportunities to help out.

Photo courtesy Jacob Thurlow

Creekside mentor Mark Harvey at an after school ACE session.

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