CHS student Hayley Owens awarded the ACE scholarship by Craig Kotarski of the Timmons Group - Jan. 2014

Charlottesville area students had the opportunity to participate in the ACE Mentoring program this year, which pairs building design industry professionals along with students interested in pursuing a career in architecture, engineering, or the construction field.

“Our objective is to educate the students in a way that introduces them to all the different design fields that make up the building industry and then allow them to apply what they are learning,” said Craig Kotarski, a civil engineer with Timmons Group who is in his third year of leading the program in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.  “The most gratifying part of the program is to see the students taking ownership of the design, asking questions, and really thinking about what makes a great space.”

This year the program found its home at both Charlottesville High School and Monticello High School, where students have been working on design projects ranging from a mixed-use building to a park welcome center.  In addition to the design the students have had the opportunity to listen in on a learning lecture series from local design firms, such as VMDO, Nelson Byrd Woltz, and Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates, as well as sharpen their skills with design based software.

The lectures, along with interaction with the mentors, present opportunities for the students to experience industries within the design field, which they may not have otherwise been exposed too.

“I had known that landscape architecture existed and was interested in it before, but it was not until the presentation at ACE on landscape architecture that I realized that it was something I was seriously interested in pursuing,” wrote one student on their scholarship application last year.

The program is sponsored both by the Association of General Contractors and the local division of The American Institute of Architects, which allows the program to be offered freely, while providing scholarship opportunities to the students as well.

“Historically, the local program was funded solely by the [Association of General Contractors], however as we saw interest in the program increasing, we reached out to the AIA to see if they were willing to partner with us.  Thankfully they were!” noted Kotarski.  “The additional funding will allow us to look into increasing our scholarship giving, with the goal being to assist and keep up with students throughout their college career.”

Last year’s scholarship recipient, Hayley Owens, recently finished her first semester at Virginia Tech and credits the ACE program for her decision to start down the path of a career in architecture.  “[ACE] gave me the opportunity to be excited about the design field and helped me realize the best thing for me would be to go directly into an architecture program [after high school],” stated Owens.  “Prior to ACE, I was on the fence, but my experiences in the program were really transformative for me.”

One of those experiences was a field trip to the Charlottesville High School STEM lab, as well as a visit to VMDO’s studio.  “The point of the field trips are to get the students to see how designs come to life,” said Kotarski.  “There is so much for the students to gain, whether they’re seeing a two dimensional design being constructed in front of them or at an architect’s studio listening to how ideas come about and are matured.”

This year’s program wraps up in March with an end-of-year event where the students will present their designs and scholarships will be awarded.