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The Experiences of an ACE Mentor: Part III

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.

2017-1219 ACE Mentor Part III
Image credit: Shawn Balon, ASLA

Since I last posted regarding class curriculum and activities, students have had the opportunity to learn from guest speakers in the field of civil and urban engineering and take part in an exciting field trip to conclude the fall semester. I had the opportunity to join the class to visit the construction site of Audi Field, the future home of D.C. United, Washington, D.C.’s American professional soccer club. Even though we happened to pick the coldest day in December to visit the site, this did not steer the students away from participating.

Upon arrival to the construction trailer, representatives from the construction team presented the concepts and construction schedule for the stadium. The students were fully engaged and interested in understanding the timeline and the intense collaboration necessary to complete the project successfully. This was a great opportunity to show the breadth of careers needed to design and construct a single project. I could see the wheels turning in every students’ head on how this relates directly to how they will conduct their final design project later this semester.

2017-1219 ACE Mentor Part III
Image credit: Shawn Balon, ASLA

After the presentation, the team led us on a tour of the construction site of the 20,000-capacity stadium. It was impressive to see the steel superstructure come to life around us and witness the delivery and installation of the precast stadium seating on the lower deck. As we continued through the site, students had the opportunity to view a mockup of the stadium facade, watch steel welders work their magic on giant steel beams, and visit the underground locker rooms which lead to a great Q&A about the importance of collaboration between architects and engineers (for example, how is all of the HVAC ductwork coordinated with structural beams and architecture?). This was an invaluable experience for students to understand how our built environment is constructed and to identify the many job opportunities a construction site can offer. I would love to have the opportunity to go back once construction begins on the field, streetscape elements, and plaza design.

In the coming month, I look forward to working with the students as they make final decisions regarding their design project including site selection and career focus (I have high hopes that multiple students will be interested in focusing on amenities designed by landscape architects). Guest speakers on mechanical engineering, LEED, BIM, and virtual design will also stop by to share their experiences. As we progress through the curriculum over the next semester, I will continue to 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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