Finegold Alexander Celebrates Volunteering Month: ACE Mentor Program

Inspiring today’s youth with a love for design, three Finegold Alexander teammates shine some light on the high school program

ACE Mentor Program of Greater Boston, led by Boston AEC industry professionals, introduces high school students to careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. Three Finegold Alexander architects, Megan Carriere, AIA, Josephine Penta, AIA, LEED AP and Leah Wolkovich-Quartey, AIA, LEED AP have all been involved in the program, from 2010-2015 and again 2020-present, 2020-present, and 2020-2021 respectively. For this second installment for volunteer month, we sat down with them to reflect on their time working with Boston’s future architects, designers, and engineers. Megan, Josephine and Leah shared highlights of the school year, the program’s development over time, and the influence ACE has on participating students.

Q: To begin, when did you first get started with ACE and what inspired you to get involved?

Leah Wolkovich-Quartey: I participated in the ACE Program last year, in their 2020-2021 session. In college I was involved in a program, Architecture for Kids, which had a similar goal of introducing the industry to students early in their academic career. That program actually included a wide range of ages, from kindergarten all the way up to high school.

Megan Carriere: I first joined the ACE Program in 2010 when I was working at a previous firm, and someone in the office recruited me. I was involved until 2015, when I took a pause due to life obligations before starting up again last year and continuing on since.

Josephine Penta: For quite some time now, I’ve managed the interns at Finegold Alexander, which exposed me to a type of mentoring relationship with students. It has always been a positive experience that I enjoyed, so when I received some emails regarding the ACE Program and knew a few familiar faces involved, it had sparked my interest. Similar to Leah and Megan, I got involved last year and continue presently.

Q: How has the ACE Mentor Program changed since you first were involved?

M: I think there has been a significant change in participation over the course of my involvement. A silver-lining from the past few years is the introduction of remote sessions and through that, the program has been able to spread its reach to students from new communities within Greater Boston. Also, over the years there is a lot more talk about sustainability which has been fantastic to see! These students already know so much about sustainable design, it is inspiring.

J: The program itself really seems to be always evolving and growing. Compared to last year, I definitely see a real increase in student engagement. Whether that is due to less screen fatigue or some other reason, students are a lot more active and engaged which has been great.

Q: What have been some highlights of your involvement?

L: What was really rewarding was watching the students grow over the course of the sessions. For example, some of the kids that were a bit shyer came out of their shell toward the end. It was great to watch them blossom that way. Also, listening to their perspectives was honestly refreshing. It is easy to look at things more logistically now as professional Architects since we understand all the technicalities that have to be considered. The imaginations of the kids and the fact they aren’t jaded, for lack of a better term, means they often suggest fun outside-the-box ideas.

M: As part of the session, we cycle through disciplines and every participant is encouraged to speak before we break into groups. It is refreshing to see their perspectives on programming and how many different ideas came from the same set of challenges. When they work in groups too, seeing them collaborate and work together to develop a solution, whether it be offering constructive criticism, explaining the reasoning behind their suggestions, or anything else, they are gaining these critical skills we need as professionals in the industry.

Also, the final presentation at the end of the program is such a fantastic conclusion and I think something that the mentors and the students all really look forward to. Having this opportunity to practice presenting and public speaking, a skill we all need as professionals, is so great. And to be able to practice by presenting something they are clearly passionate about makes it all the better.

Q: What do you hope the students get out of the ACE Program?

J: Well of course, exposure to the industry at a young age can be really helpful when it comes to making those big decisions around career paths. While it may be obvious, I hope they learned a few things in the field and had a good time doing it. Echoing what was said before, having the opportunity to speak and present your design ideas in front of a large group can help build confidence and make you an even better communicator in the future, regardless of what field you choose.

L: I think there is something to be said about experiencing this form of collaboration, learning to tackle a problem, and communicating your thoughts effectively at a young age. It makes them better teammates, speakers, presenters, and builds overall confidence.

M: I hope they gain a unique perspective of their own built environments. The built world around us is always changing, and hopefully the tools and resources the students learn during ACE help them to stay curious and want to learn more about our evolving built environment. Also, I hope they leave with a confidence that their opinion matters. Speaking your opinion in a public forum isn’t easy, but it is such an important skill.