Universities Teach

Building the Future of Masonry

Brick by Brick

Andy Sneed

In 2003, I heard that a group of area professionals in the fields of development, architecture and engineering had started a Nashville chapter of the ACE Mentor Program.

The program, launched in 1994, was conceived by structural engineer and educator Charles Thornton, PhD, PE, Hon AIA, Hon ASCE, founding principal of Thornton Tomasetti and chairman of Charles H Thornton & Company. Facing the possible closing of the engineering program at Manhattan College, his alma mater, Thornton generated interest by starting a summer internship program in the building trades, available to New York City high school students. He quickly saw that active mentoring was a way to ensure the industry’s survival. The ACE Mentor Program soon grew from that realization. Today, about 8,000 high school students in 36 states and Puerto Rico are served each school year by ACE mentors affiliated with more than 200 chapters, who expose them to the diverse careers available in the architectural, construction management and engineering professions.

As part of the ACE program, students gain hands-on experience by simulating the design process for an actual project. Working closely with the mentors, students experience the entire design process, including such aspects as working as a team, developing a business concept, site selection, interior and exterior design and material selection. At regularly scheduled meetings over the course of the school year, students are exposed to all building-related disciplines, from mechanical engineering and heating/air conditioning all the way to role-playing the professional interactions between property owners and developers.

The highlight of the program is the annual spring banquet, during which students present their design project to parents, teachers and other students. Selected students from the program are nominated to receive scholarships to study architecture, construction or engineering at the college of their choice. In its 20+ years of existence, the ACE Mentor Program has awarded more than $14 million in scholarships nationwide.

In 2002, with backing from other ACE chapters, national companies and a dedicated team of community volunteers, the Nashville ACE chapter began. Beginning with 40 students, it would soon explode in size and impact. I have always been interested in mentoring youth, and I personally and professionally get involved in mentor programs whenever I can because I have learned that building relationships is the key to success. I volunteered to serve on the board of directors, where I made new relationships with school system leaders, developers, principals of architecture firms, engineering firms and general contractors.

Those who become involved as volunteers are the community’s forward-thinking business leaders who recognize the value of investing in the American building industry’s next generation. Several of the men who work at our mason contracting company, WASCO, Inc, became mentors at local high schools. Our company tries to maintain a mentoring/training culture. It Students and mentors get to be creative with their projects, building arches, openings and experimenting with bond patterns. has benefitted us in recruiting and retaining quality employees.

Alongside mentors from other areas of the industry, we met with students biweekly, taking groups to view operations at the mentors’ respective offices. Along with the opportunity to promote our trade to the students came an additional and advantageous benefit: we were able to promote the masonry industry to the developers and designers who were also involved as mentors, making lasting relationships with them in the process.

Hands-On WASCO’s volunteer mentors began inviting our assigned student groups to our shop, where we showed them the vital part masonry plays in building quality structures. This was followed by a laboratory experience that involved teaching them how to lay brick or concrete block.

Students enjoyed the hands-on aspect of our masonry demonstration, which quickly became the most popularfield trip of the year. This year, our masonry apprentices were paired with students from our local Architecture Construction CareerAcademy to lay block on their school softball dugouts that the ACE team designed, submitted to the Codes Department for approval, obtained permits for and raised the funds to construct.

The Nashville ACE chapter has grown from its original 40 students to 124 students from 14 high schools in three districts. Since its inception 13 years ago, the Nashville chapter has awarded about 200 scholarships totaling $400,000. ACE scholarship winners often return to the program as mentors.

Mentors have also grown in number, but due to an increasing need, efforts to recruit more volunteers have intensified. When the number of student groups became larger than the number of available volunteer mentors, WASCO changed its model. Now we host a field trip for not only our own assigned students but for each and every group that desires to come see and participate in the undertaking of a masonry project. Students and mentors get to be creative with their projects, building arches, openings and experimenting with bond patterns. All involved, including other ACE mentors and the students’ instructors, receive exposure to masonry basics. We have a great time showing off the best construction product in the industry-one that’s in our blood and that we love—and, best of all, the multiple benefits of masonry—resiliency, durability, long life and beautiful aesthetics-are assured a place in our city’s future.

There are still a lot of opportunities for growth. Masonry professionals can impact their communities by joining, or forming an ACE chapter. For more information about the ACE Mentor Program of America, visit acementor.org. If you are interested in becoming involved, click on Contact Us for a list of staff members who can assist you becoming involved in your area.

Andy Sneed is president/ CEO of WASCO, his family’s mason contracting company, headquartered in Nashville TN. Sneed chairs the Mason Contractors Association of America’s Education Committee, sits on the boards of Y-Build and National Workforce Development Committee and is a member of the TN Quality in Construction Committee. He was previously on the board at the Associated General Contractors of America, the ACE Mentoring Program and served as president of Masonry Institute of Tennessee. Sneed studied at Tennessee Tech and Nashville State Technology Center, earning his associate degree in Civil Engineering. He is also a certified Masonry Inspector. wasj@wasco-inc.com | 615.244.9090

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