No substitute for experience

By Sarah J. Thomas, Gannett Fleming

Nearly a year ago, Bryan Edwards, P.E., CxA, CEA, LEED AP BD+C, received an email that would change his life, and the lives of at least three students in Central Pennsylvania. Edwards is a mechanical engineer with Gannett Fleming, a leader in global infrastructure solutions with a focus on planning, design, technology, and construction management services located in Harrisburg, Pa. In 2014, Edwards volunteered to be a mentor in the ACE Mentor Program of America, Inc. (ACE) Central Pennsylvania Affiliate.

ACE helps mentor high school students and inspires them to pursue careers in architecture, construction, and engineering. It’s now one of the construction industry’s fastest-growing high school mentoring programs, reaching over 8,000 students across the nation annually.

The ACE Mentor Program in Central Pennsylvania runs four concurrent county programs in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties. While the Central Pennsylvania affiliate has served the region for 10 years, the Cumberland County program is entering its sixth year of participation. More than 200 students have benefitted from the program in Cumberland County, and approximately 180 architecture, construction, and engineering professionals have volunteered their time. Additionally, students are eligible for scholarships. Since the program’s inception, the ACE Mentor Program in Central Pennsylvania has awarded $51,000.

The students who Edwards mentored participated in 19 work sessions between October and May, developing their engineering skills. The sessions focused on architecture, civil engineering, landscape architecture, structural engineering, LEED, mechanical and plumbing, electrical engineering, construction management, estimating and bidding, HVAC and electrical, and more. Edwards helped the students understand the process to size the pipes needed for a building, by teaching them to understand fluid flow and the continuity equation. Their new skills were put to use renovating student housing in Harrisburg.

“ACE gives students the opportunity to get experience in the field before they pursue additional schooling in these areas,” Edwards pointed out. “I think one of the benefits of the program is that they are able to learn from experienced professionals currently working in the industry.”

Edwards goes beyond mentoring them in the technical aspects of the job. He encourages the students to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website to see the occupational outlook for the fields that interest them.

“It is important for these students to take a realistic look at the future when making a decision on which schools and programs to pursue,” Edwards explained.

Gannett Fleming has other employees involved with ACE across the U.S. as well. Giuseppe “Joe” Tulumello, AIA, LEED Green Associate, vice president in Gannett Fleming’s New York City office, has participated with the ACE New York City Chapter program for several years.

“I enjoy sharing industry knowledge with young individuals. I believe we need to do more, as an industry, with programs like ACE. They’re solid and fundamental. It delivers a strong message that the career opportunities are out there,” Tulumello shared. “There’s a great need for young driven professionals. I wish I would have had the opportunity to be mentored.”

Richard Heinick, P.E., resident engineer/construction manager based in Gannett Fleming’s Harrisburg office, has been a driving force in the program in Cumberland County. Involved with the program since its inception, Heinick runs a session for the students on construction management each year.

In this workshop, the students are split into groups and then act as the general contractor on a project. Heinick plays the project owner, and the students must work out an agreement with him. Other industry professionals play roles as well. Heinick brings in a construction lawyer, code inspection company, surveyor, concrete and stone suppliers, excavator, electrician, materials testing technician, and plumber. The students must follow the construction sequence correctly and pass tests from the inspectors. Although the activity is a simulation, Heinick tries to make it as realistic as possible. He incorporates incorrect information into the paperwork and randomly selects a group to fail their plumbing pressure test, forcing them to redo that section. The group who completes the project correctly in the least amount of time is rewarded with PAYDAY candy bars.

“ACE is a way for both students and their parents to learn about the options within our industries,” Heinick explained. “Many students and parents fail to take the student’s personality into consideration when choosing a discipline. Through involvement in ACE, the students have the opportunity to get a taste of many of the disciplines in the architecture, construction, and engineering fields before they make their course choices in college or technical school.”

For the 2015-2016 school year, Edwards, Heinick, and Tulumello are all returning to the program as mentors. In Cumberland County, this year’s student renovation project is the Hershey Downtown Center, a multi-use building that houses a farm-to-table restaurant, gift shop, 9,050 square feet of office space, and will add a third-floor art gallery with artist workspaces. Students will add a new exterior envelope that provides a new aesthetic appearance, add the third floor of the building, and make interior upgrades, including plumbing for the restaurant kitchen and restrooms for the restaurant, gift shop, and offices.

ACE is one of several programs Gannett Fleming’s employees participate in. The firm works to foster an interest in engineering careers through involvement in the Future City Competition, Junior Achievement, job shadowing, and other science, technology, engineering, and math-related programs.

“Gannett Fleming connects to our communities through our projects and through our employees who actively volunteer to make the world a better place,” said William Stout, P.E., FACEC, chairman of the board and chief executive officer at Gannett Fleming. “After all, building healthy and vibrant communities is part of our firm’s DNA. As engineers, planners, designers, managers, scientists, and other professionals, the desire to create a better world is at the heart of what we do.”

To get involved in the ACE Mentor program, visit to find a program near you. For more information on Gannett Fleming, please visit 

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