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ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland. PWP Landscape Architecture >

The Experiences of an ACE Mentor: Part VI

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.

Since I last posted sharing a classroom hands-on activity, students continue to focus on their final project for the ACE Mentor Program school year and seniors were given the opportunity to apply for the ACE Mentor Affiliate Scholarship. Our team recently found out that one of our students was awarded a scholarship, and it was great to see his excitement in a recent mentor session. This is a great opportunity for high school students to gain funding prior to venturing into a community college or bachelor’s degree.

On the project front, the class has made a decision on the location of their hotel and casino project, and the design work is in full swing! The chosen location is just outside of Washington, D.C., in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the students have decided to repurpose an existing building whose current tenant will be leaving in 2019. I won’t give away any names, but you may recognize it as the building that celebrates shark week in many ways.

A recent conversation in class focused on reasons behind picking the location. They included budget, adjacent amenities, access to a local Metro station, and bringing more jobs to the area. The students are starting to pick up on the “whys” and are now in the process of creating concepts, drawings, and material boards. The students continue to brainstorm and work in their respective groups (or professions), such as architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, LEED consulting, project management, interior design, and scheduling, and will bring their designs together into a final PowerPoint presentation.

There’s only a few weeks left to pull it all together, so we have ramped up our mentor duties. Our team has decided to do our best to show up every Wednesday over the next four weeks. Even if all of the mentors are unable make it, it will be very helpful to have a mentor in the classroom each week to offer ideas, direction, and assure the project is delivered on time.

In mid-May, the students will be presenting their final project to a panel of judges at the American Institute of Architects in downtown Washington, D.C. Some of the basic criteria that will be judged include creativity, feasibility, cost, environmental considerations, and overall presentation. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the different student groups from D.C. and Maryland schools present their final projects that evening. But, we can’t get too excited about the presentation in mid-May, because there is still a ton of work to be done right now. Here’s to a productive final month full of inspiration and excitement!

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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