Mentoring program gives SDHS students real-world experience

Betsy PickleOur Town Teens, South Knox

“Experience is everything,” says Jeff Bryant, a CTE teacher at South-Doyle High School who is guiding 12 students through a hybrid program that incorporates training and mentoring in architecture, construction science and engineering.


The ACE Mentor Program of Greater Knoxville was launched this fall by the University of Tennessee’s College of Architecture and Design, the UT Institute of Agriculture’s construction science program and UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, along with local mentors who are local practitioners in those fields.

South-Doyle was chosen as the inaugural high school site, said Scott Poole, dean of the College of Architecture and Design, because “we had an interested principal, Tim (Berry), we had a great facility and the promise of a great teacher, and we found him in Jeff Bryant.”

UT students inspired the three UT colleges to create a mentoring program at the high school level.

“We have a number of students who participated in the ACE Mentor Program in Nashville, and they are 19 now,” said Poole. “And so we thought it was about time we started one in Knoxville.”

The ACE Mentorship Program of America is a nationwide program founded in 1994 to help meet the design and construction industries’ future workforce needs. Last year it involved 1,100 high schools and more than 10,000 students, two-thirds of whom came from minority and underserved communities.

On Monday, representatives from UT, industry mentors, ACE students, Berry, Bryant and Knox County Schools Career Technical Education leaders met with the press to highlight the innovative program.

ACE students Ewan Johnson, Stover Evans and Manayeh Linton focus on details in their design project.

The students are working in teams on the same project: a vacant commercial space in Knoxville that previously was occupied by three businesses. The students are envisioning a new life for the dormant space using the disciplines of architecture, construction science and engineering – and using some industry-standard computer software to do so.

“The idea is that the students would be exposed to all three disciplines in this project,” said Poole. “They are actually designing, and they are thinking about the development of the site, the way a construction manager would, and they’re going to engineer it at some point.”

The students receive feedback and insights from their mentors, and they also get out into the real world to see ACE in action.

“We’re doing a lot of building on campus, so at some point we’re going to take students on tours of buildings under construction,” said Poole. “So this is not just a classroom experience, it’s also a hands-on experience where they’ll actually be on building sites, seeing construction, talking to the workers and the architects and engineers building it.”

The program is open to all grade levels and is held during the students’ “advisory” period. Bryant recruited students he’d known previously and got recommendations for others. He hopes to add more students in spring semester.

Some of the students have definite goals within ACE industries, and others are simply interested. It’s a program that could pay off in scholarships. Earlier this month, A. Gordon Heins III, president and chairman of A.G. Heins Co., established the inaugural scholarship for the Knoxville program. Scholarships will be awarded to South-Doyle students in spring 2020.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran entertainment, features and news reporter who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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