Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 7: Leadership, ACE Mentor Program

After Chris Martin and I launched the Building PA Podcast in April 2020 and released about 20 episodes, we were approached by a podcast consultant. This professional offered to give our podcast a listen and provide some advice to us. After he listened to this episode about the ACE Mentor Program, he said this was an excellent one, probably our best so far. He said our guest, Allison Hanna, was an energized speaker who you could tell really enjoyed talking about the topic she was invited on the show to discuss. To listen, and to see if you think her excitement is contagious, visit: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/leadership-in-construction-ace-mentoring-61532379/

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to The Building PA Podcast, a construction industry podcast recorded right here in the great state of Pennsylvania. My name is Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association, and joining me is Chris Martin, the other co-host from Atlas Marketing, they tell stories to people that make things. Hello, Chris, how’s it going? You ready for another great episode?

Chris Martin:

I am very excited about this episode. I understand that you’ve lined up a great person to talk about ACE Mentor. So I’m real excited about this. This is good. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Jon O’Brien:

I mean the start of every year KCA surveys its membership, its contractor members. And we want to know about, you know the upcoming construction season: how much work do they anticipate? And we look a lot at employment as well. So we want to know, do you plan on hiring people this year and the results we got? I’ll share them with you right now. So from our construction company members, they, 64% expect to increase employees in the field and 35% construction companies in Pennsylvania expect to increase professionals in the office. So there sounds about online with the national average, right? Yes, absolutely. Yes. So there is a, quite a challenge for the industry to, to get the word out there and raise some awareness of these great careers in the industry. And, and there’s a lot of great groups out there. Like you touched on an ACE mentor earlier and today I’m glad to welcome. Alison Hannah. Alison is a alum of the ACE mentor program. And you want to say hello to the crowd? Alison?

Allison Hanna (01:43):

Yes. Hello everyone. Okay.

Jon O’Brien (01:45):

Yeah. We’re glad. We’re glad you could join us. I’m very glad. Thank you. You’re a engineer with Snyder security and associates.

Allison Hanna (01:54):

Yeah. Yes. I’m a landscape architect with Snyder security and associates.

Jon O’Brien (01:59):

Awesome. And you’re also the, the resident ACE expert in my eyes.

Allison Hanna (02:08):

Yeah. I think it’s a little bit on both sides of the program. So I, I know it pretty well. Yeah,

Jon O’Brien (02:13):

Absolutely. So, so for the benefit of our audience, could you kind of introduce them to ACE?

Allison Hanna (02:18):

Yes. Gladly. So ACE Mentor Program. ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering, and it is a national program. And basically, what it is, it’s an afterschool program designed to attract high school students who are interested in pursuing careers in what I mentioned before architecture, construction and engineering. And we also include skilled trades in there as well. It’s not just the people sitting in their office, so we get them involved with a little bit of the skilled trades too. So nationally there are about 70 affiliates. And then it’s operating in 37 States too. So you can see how big this program is. And we have our own chapter here in central PA and within the central PA chapter, we have programs in Dauphin County, in York County, in Lebanon, and in Lancaster, and then the County that I am, the chair of is Cumberland County, but we also include Perry County in there as well.

Allison Hanna (03:22):

So kind of my background, if I can go into that, if that’s okay.

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely.

Allison Hanna:

Okay. So my background in the program is when I was in high school, my senior year from 2009, until 2010, I was a student in the program and this was the first year that it was offered at my high school in Cumberland Valley. And I also went to come on, Perry Vo Tech too. And my teacher told me that this program was coming in and it was kind of be good for me to go and like network with all the people there and kind of get a feel of all these different programs and different sessions that they offer to the kids. So I was like, sure, why not? I’ll go sign up. And I know they had a landscape architecture session. And when I went, I don’t think that I learned about all these different things, but when I went through it for the landscape architecture session, they had a landscape designer, like a local landscape designer come in and design residential projects.

Allison Hanna (04:17):

And in my head, I’m thinking I want to do more than just residential stuff. I want to do commercial. I want to do bigger things. So I told myself as soon as I graduated with my degree, that I was going to come back and, and be a mentor. So after like a year of graduating from college, I kind of got myself situated at home in the working professional world. And in 2015, I came in as a mentor in the Cumberland County program. And a couple of years after that, then they wanted me to kind of coordinate the Cumberland County program. So I got involved with that. And then I’m also a board member on the central PA chapter as well. Just doing a little bit of everything with ACE mentor here in central PA.

Jon O’Brien (05:00):

Absolutely. Yeah. Your efforts are awesome and appreciated. So keep it up.

Allison Hanna (05:06):

Yes. I love doing it.

Chris Martin (05:08):

Yeah. Keep it up. I like that. Can I ask you a real quick question? Alison, you mentioned that you went to Cumberland Valley. Where’d you go to college?

Allison Hanna (05:17):

I went to Temple University. Yeah. So they offer a four year degree in landscape architecture, whereas most schools it’s five years. So I just, didn’t want to spend that extra year in college. That’s why I decided to go to Temple.

Chris Martin (05:31):

That makes complete sense to me.

Allison Hanna (05:33):

Yeah. Save a little bit of money.

Chris Martin (05:37):

Yeah. Was there any assistance from ACE, either finding a college or while you’re in college, any sort of outreach or connection with ACE at all?

Allison Hanna (05:46):

Yeah. Through ACE. I mean, what I loved about it was so each session we go through, so we go through a little bit of everything between architecture, civil engineering, like I said, landscape architecture all the way down through like construction, admin and management. But we have working professionals that come in and give a brief presentation about like what they do. And then also kind of the skill set. You need to go into that field and then also do like a little work session to kind of like, get you integrated about like what you would do on like a daily like your daily work life. So during that time, I always like myself included when I was going through the program, but I always encourage the students to talk to these mentors, like network with them, get all the information you can. Cause they’ll be the people that you can go to, to ask for like a job shadow or even like an internship once you get to college and everything. Right.

Jon O’Brien (06:43):

And as far as hearing about ACE, you had mentioned that that your high school teacher had mentioned something to you about it. Is that kind of the typical route, how kids hear about it?

Allison Hanna (06:51):

Yeah. Mainly what we do at least in Cumberland County is we reach out to all of the all the schools in Cumberland and Perry County, their guidance counselors, career counselors, and they get the information out to the students or if they have particular teachers that they know that they know or like related to those fields, they will contact those teachers. And those teachers will get the word out to the kids. Yeah. My particular instance was at Vo Tech my teacher there, she knew I wanted to go into landscape architecture and she heard the program was just starting. So she wanted me to get involved with it.

Chris Martin (07:27):

Are there any challenges when it comes to running a program, it sounds pretty complex and it could cause you’re in all these different counties and all these different mentors are needed. So what are some challenges?

Allison Hanna (07:39):

Yes. I think our major challenge is definitely getting mentors to come and donate their time. I know it’s a little hard for some mentors to show up week after week, which I don’t expect mentors to show up every single week. Cause our program does run from like the middle of October all the way to the middle of March. So I know it could be a big commitment. But as long as you can come for just a couple of the sessions, especially like our work sessions that we have with the kids to really get them to know about what field and like the field that they’re going into and how it relates back to the big overall project that we have the kids work on. So each year we have like a different almost like a set project for the kids.

Allison Hanna (08:26):

So this year in Cumberland County, there is a project in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania that we’re working on, that the kids in architecture get to design the architecture of the building, the students in civil engineering will get to actually design the site and figure out the parking. And if they want to get into stormwater, if they can do that too. And my kids that are interested in landscape architecture, I make them pick plants and kind of figure out native versus non native and just like little things like that, that you would get to do on a daily basis at work.

Jon O’Brien (08:57):

Do you know of any sort of feedback or data that shows the positives of the ACE mentor?

Allison Hanna (09:03):

I personally, I don’t, but what I love about the program is that I see kids coming back year after year. It’s not just like a one year you do it and you’re done. We have had many, many students come back year after year. It goes through the program. Cause you learn something new each year. And I learned something new each year, cause it’s not like we have the same mentors that come back each year, some years we have different mentors that can help out cause the other mentor the previous year that has time restraints and everything. I mean I learned something new each year and I always encourage the kids to not just make this a one year and done thing like come back next year. It’s gonna be beneficial to you.

Jon O’Brien (09:47):

Have you also seen students come back after they graduate college? Have you seen any other alumni?

Allison Hanna (09:53):

Hmmm not in Cumberland County and I think because I’ve only been involved in since 2015 that hopefully in these next couple of years, I’ll start seeing some of the kids that I knew when I was going to mentor program come back. But I know in other central PA programs, I think in Dauphin County, they also have kids that were students come back and be a mentor there for the program, which is great news. We love that. Cause it definitely helps the other mentors that have come in and aren’t exactly sure about the program and it’s always good to have those people that went through the program, actually know how you feel when you sit there and you listen to the mentors talk the whole entire time and you kind of see like what works and what doesn’t.

Chris Martin (10:42):

Coming from the student’s side, Alison your experience is from the vocational technical side. Are you seeing that? Are you seeing that also for current students now? Are they coming more from the vo-tech vocational technical side or, you know, the, the general population,

Allison Hanna (11:01):

It feels like at least for Cumberland County, we have a lot more coming from just like the normal high school. We have very few that come from the vo-tech, which is unfortunate. Cause I kind of, I mean, being an alumni there too, I would like to see more of that because what I enjoyed about it was even though when I was going through vo-tech I got that experience, but we didn’t get like working professionals insights. Like we would get working professionals that would come in, but every single week, same working professionals, I’m learning about all these different career fields that you will have to work with you and you have to work with everybody getting that side was invaluable.

Allison Hanna (11:43):

Yeah. And I would imagine too, having the ability to work with a diverse way of thinking you know, not just you know, traditional high school approach or, you know, the, the VoTech, the vocational technical side has a little bit of a different way to look at things. So that’s going to be an advantage.

Chris Martin:

Yeah. Well, on that note are you typically seeing from your perspective and again, in your experience, who are the mentors? What are you looking for in a mentor so that they can, you know, people can or know, our listeners can look at it and say, Hey, this is something I need to get involved in. So from that mentoring perspective, what do you look for?

Allison Hanna (12:29):

Any mentor that has the willingness and wants to come in and talk to the kids. Sometimes we get mentors that just kind of show up and like sit in the back of the room, which is fine. Like we just need people there, but I love the mentors that can go up and talk to the kids, really get to know them and just teach them about what they do. So having like a person who will mentor, I just hold onto them and I try to keep them coming around year after year.

Chris Martin (12:54):

I don’t blame you. I’m like, no, I’ve done some mentoring myself. And I’ve always found that experience has been very helpful. You know, the longterm value of mentoring. Do you feel that it’s probably one of the challenges that you’re running into?

Allison Hanna (13:25):

Maybe I don’t understand your question. I’m sorry.

Chris Martin (13:27):

That’s okay. Like are you saying that, you know, the mentors that are coming in and are almost kind of expecting this, you know, immediate gratification versus the fact that, you know, they’re helping high school age students figure out where they want to go and kind of the return on that and time investment, if you will, is going to be probably five, 10, maybe even 15 years down the road. Do you see that as a challenge?

Allison Hanna (13:57):

Definitely. I think for the mentors that come in for maybe just one session, they’re not exactly understanding the whole process of ACE, right? So, I mean, we start from October and we go until March. So they get weeks upon weeks of learning all these different fields. And you have some kids that are interested in certain aspects. So you have kids that are really interested in architecture and that’s early on. And then they kind of slowly throughout like the sessions, they just lose interest. But once we get back to the work sessions, kind of near the end, that’s when their excitement builds back up. So when you have that architecture kid, whenever we’re kind of near the end and they’re listening to electrical and they’re like, Ugh, I don’t like this just isn’t as exciting, but when they come back from the work sessions, especially for me, cause I mean, I see these kids week after week and I see how like, I can see how differently they act and seeing them doing the work sessions. And then when they have to do their final presentation at the end and like that little light bulb goes off in their head, it just makes it all worth it. And having those mentors there as they go through the whole thing, they understand it.

Chris Martin (15:01):

Yeah. That that’s good to hear. So what I’m taking from you is give it a chance if you’re considering being a mentor you know, the instant gratification is if this is a longterm game versus a short term game.

Allison Hanna (15:16):

Yeah. And especially when you have those certain kids throughout the sessions that come up to you and ask you those questions. I mean, I personally grasp onto these kids too, and I want to see them do well. And even a couple of kids, like I’ll talk to them even after they go through the program and graduate and are off to college. Like if they have questions, they can always come back and ask me questions.

Chris Martin (15:36):

Yeah. And to that point, do you find that the kids are engaging from that perspective?

Allison Hanna (15:42):

Oh yeah. Cause I think they know, I think they understand that we’re there to help them and we’re there to guide them. Cause it’s not always an easy process trying to figure out what you want to do. And then also deciding on top of it, like where you want to go to school and the past to get a job around the area, if you still want to stay here. So that’s what I want these kids to get out of the program that we’re not just there to kind of teach them just that session. We’re there for as long as they let us.

Jon O’Brien (16:13):

Well, that’s good though. I had a question and I forgot it. Well, as you know, I’ve been around ACE for around 10 years now, dating back to my Pittsburgh days. And when Pittsburgh launched its ACE mentor chapter and, and when I moved here, ACE national contacted the board in central PA and so I continue to be a fan. And I constantly pound that drum beat the drum about the mentors do not get enough recognition.

Allison Hanna (16:46):

They do not you’re right.

Jon O’Brien (16:49):

Yes. So that’s my goal is to get more recognition for all of you mentors, to not only encourage you guys to do more and get more involved, but then to draw more into the program.

Allison Hanna (17:02):

Yes we are. We are always looking for more mentors, mentors. There’s never enough.

Jon O’Brien (17:07):

Yeah, absolutely. So any, any ideas, suggestions, I’ll keep doing what I can to help, but don’t hesitate to ask us at all. And maybe this program, this episode can help too.

Allison Hanna (17:19):

Yeah, I sure hope so.

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

Yeah. And to that point, Alison, how, you know, I was in Pittsburgh, but now in central Pennsylvania and obviously, how can a listener to our episode get involved? Is there a place they can go? Can I call you, help our listeners out?

Allison Hanna (17:40):

Yeah. So the easiest way to go about finding more information about ACE mentor and also how to contact anybody in your area is go to ACE. So it’s www.ACEmentor.org and there’s tons of information there. It’s just general knowledge about ACE mentor, how students can get involved also mentors and volunteers. And then even in that mentors and volunteers section, there’s a nice little map of the United States and it takes you to different sections in the United States and you can click on different affiliates and then it has all of their contact information there.

Jon O’Brien (18:15):

Great. That will definitely help. Absolutely. Yeah. We’ll make sure to spread the word too after the podcast we’ll blast that info out as well. Yeah. So question for you, Alison, what has been your, your greatest experience or effort to date with mentoring?

Allison Hanna (18:41):

Hmm. I think personally, I just really loved working with the students. I feel like that’s my bread and butter of this whole thing. As much as I love working with the mentors I really love working with the students and just seeing them from day one, when they come into our orientation session and them thinking that they want to do one thing, like they have their mind and heart set on them wanting to do this one aspect of the ACE career field. And they start going through all these sessions and they learn more and then they start realizing that’s not exactly what they thought that was about. And they learn so much more about other disciplines and then they changed their mind and then they start working with the mentors more. And I feel like that’s my favorite part is seeing these kids, like when the light bulb goes on in their head and they realize that maybe what they thought they wanted to do, wasn’t exactly what they originally thought. And then just going into their final presentation and just, I don’t know. I just love seeing that little light bulb moment and them kind of glowing when they realize that, yes, this is what I want to do. That’s great. And even the kids that come in, even the kids that come in and they think they want to do something in these fields and then they come out thinking, Oh, I don’t want to do any of this. I’m fine with that too. That’s why we’re here. Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:05):

Awesome stuff. That is great. That is fantastic. Well Alison is anything else you’d like to talk about while we’re still here?

Allison Hanna (20:17):

I think that’s one thing I want to add is if you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, just come out to one of the sessions talk to the leaders, talk to the other mentors there, talk to the students. It’s so rewarding and I just wish there was more people that will come out and well, like Jon said, we’ll do our part. We’ll try to get as many people out there to focus on ACE mentoring and, and hopefully we’ll help that achieve it. We can do it.

Chris Martin (20:44):

Yeah. We can all do it. Yeah. Nothing wrong with giving back. Right.

Allison Hanna (20:50):

Oh, there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Jon O’Brien (20:51):

Yeah. Good. Well Alison on behalf of building PA podcasts, I want to say thanks for joining us.

Allison Hanna (21:01):

So thank you for having me.

Chris Martin (21:02):

Thank you so much. This was awesome. Very thorough. I loved it. Yeah. Very thorough. And as Jon has said in previous episodes, we’ll be following up with you in a few months and have you come back and maybe we could build upon this conversation and really help our listeners see you in the future and where ACE mentoring is headed.

Allison Hanna (21:25):

I would love that in a couple of months, we will be done with our Cumberland County session so I can come back with a report of all of my students.

Jon O’Brien (21:32):

Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Allison Hanna (21:34):

You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

Author: buildingpa

I am the proud father of three amazing daughters and I'm married to an awesome lady. When I'm not hanging with the family, I'm the executive director for the Keystone Contractors Association.

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