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Experiences of an ACE Mentor: Part I

by Shawn Balon, ASLA

What does it take to be an ACE Mentor? Over the past few years, I have always wondered how I could become an ACE Mentor, and as I embarked on ASLA’s career discovery and diversity initiatives earlier this year, I also decided to learn more about what it truly means to be a volunteer for the ACE Mentor Program of America Inc. (ACE). Over the next several months, follow me as I journal my experiences as a professional volunteer at a local high school in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

First off, if you are not familiar with the program, it’s a simple mission: ACE helps to engage, excite, and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction through mentoring and to support their continued advancement into the industry. It’s awesome to have a mentor program that is focused on the built environment, but there are still a few professions that are not well represented. Do you think you can guess one of those professions? Drum roll please… landscape architecture is one of them. From my experience thus far, and hearing other ASLA members’ experiences, it’s time for landscape architecture professionals to step up and join the ranks of the ACE Mentor Program to bring exposure to the profession.

So how do you become an ACE Mentor? ACE is a national organization that functions in various regions of the United States. Each local program may organize volunteers and registration processes differently. Here’s a few easy steps to show how I became an ACE Mentor and assist you in making the first steps to becoming a volunteer.

Step One: Learn about what it means to be an ACE Mentor.
Step Two:Find an affiliate near you; it’s as easy as sending an email or picking up the phone to learn what volunteer efforts may be needed in your area.

Step Three: Register -- ACE recently updated their online registration system, so once I had a chance to understand how I could volunteer locally, I signed up online by creating a profile and viewing a simple training session. I selected to volunteer at a local school for an entire school year (2017-2018), but there are other opportunities such as volunteering as a guest speaker during the school year. Once again, it all depends on the region where you live and the volunteer opportunities that are available.

Step Four: Attend an optional or mandatory training session; once my information was reviewed online, I attended an in-person training session to review the rules and regulations of the ACE Mentor Program nationally and regionally.

Step Five: Background check -- Before being fully approved, the final step included a background check to make sure that there are no known liabilities when working with high school students.

Yes, this may seem like many steps, but most of the work is completed on the back end with your local ACE affiliate, and once approved, you are in the system and ready to go! My volunteer assignment takes me to a local high school just outside of Washington, D.C. My ACE Mentor team includes three construction professionals and myself. I am looking forward to bringing a design aspect to the team, and they too have said that it will be valuable to have a landscape architect join the ranks. As we progress through the curriculum over the next six months, I will share my experiences in LAND in hopes to gain traction and interest toward the ACE Mentor Program and also answer any questions or doubts you may have regarding becoming a volunteer in your region.

Shawn M. Balon, ASLA, PLA, is Career Discovery and Diversity manager at the American Society of Landscape Architects. Questions? Feel free to send emails to

ASLA is a sponsor of the ACE Mentor Program, a national effort to engage high school students in substantive, in-depth projects and exercises that expose them to real-life work in the full range of design and construction professions. Why not get involved yourself? Visit to learn more on how you can apply to be a mentor in your area or how your firm or company can sponsor this program.

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