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The Experiences of an ACE Mentor: Part IV

by Shawn Balon, ASLA, and Clifton Hall, 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.

Since I last posted regarding class activities and our field trip, students have had the opportunity to learn from guest speakers in the field of Virtual Design and Building Information Modeling (BIM). The students have also begun focusing on their final project, which will include a hotel and casino component. I am excited to see where the next few sessions lead us as the students begin conceptualizing and designing their final project. As we hit a slight lull in our semester, I wanted to take this opportunity to share an experience I recently received from an ASLA member who has been active with the ACE Mentor Program for the past six years. As the series continues, I hope to share multiple experiences from ASLA members, but for now, we will head to the great state of Texas to learn the experiences of ACE Mentor Clifton Hall, ASLA.

Since 2012, Hall has been a mentor with the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Affiliate ACE Program. The DFW Affiliate supports three locations; Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano/Frisco. Each of the locations has the ability to structure their program in terms of activities, guest speakers, and the duration of each program in accordance with the ACE National guidelines. However, each program is responsible for keeping a line of communication open between the Associate and Executive boards (the two local supervising boards). The Associate Board is charged with the overall operation of the programs in all three locations, while the Executive Board is responsible for governance and fundraising. To date the DFW affiliate has awarded over $400,000 in scholarships that have been presented to selected candidates, furthering their education in a related field of architecture, construction, and engineering.

2017-1219 ACE Mentor Part IV
Image credit: Clifton Hall, ASLA

After six years of mentoring and involvement, Hall is currently involved with the Associate Board and has taken responsibility for marketing efforts, but most importantly he is the liaison to the Fort Worth location, where he resides. The Fort Worth ACE Program is set up on a 16-week schedule (from October to March), where interested high school juniors and seniors meet one evening each week at a firm in the downtown area. By hosting meetings at a different office each week (some reoccurring), students are given the opportunity to see firsthand what their potential career could look like in a professional setting. This was an important aspect to the program that the mentors wanted to incorporate and continue each year. The mentors also worked to secure two site visits of projects under construction to offer insight on contractor and skilled trade career opportunities.

As this program year begins to wrap up, we take a look at some of the great opportunities provided to the students over the last few months in Fort Worth. The mentor team and a network of collaborative community members have offered students the opportunity to explore topics such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), architecture, civil engineering, structural engineering, interior design, and even an evening exploration led by Nick Nelson, ASLA, showcasing landscape architecture (pictured above). Additional activities outside of the weekly meetings included an event hosted at the local Contractors Association with a Build-a-Brick Wall night to feature the skilled trades (pictured below). Students also took part in two construction site visits to explore a new STEM and Performing Arts expansion at an inner city historic school and a tour of the newest (and tech savvy) high rise building in downtown.

2017-1219 ACE Mentor Part IV
Image credit: Clifton Hall, ASLA

Similar to the Washington, D.C., affiliate program, the Fort Worth students are currently working hard on their final project that will be presented during the awards and presentation evening at the close of the 2017-2018 program year. To kick off the project, mentors held a design charrette for the student teams on a Saturday. It was decided that the project would focus on the design of a new library for the City of Fort Worth. As the students individually introduce precedents for their projects, they will continue through the design process and work towards the deliverables for their final presentation. The students will continue to work with the mentors to create site plans, floor plans, elevations, a narrative, and (at their choosing) an additional item such as a probable cost analysis, site logistics plan, or an interior finish out. Here’s to a fun and exciting month ahead as the students complete an amazing design for a new library!

Clifton Hall, ASLA, also currently serves as Chapter president for the ASLA Texas Chapter; 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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