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Youth Take High Road to ‘STEAM’ Careers with ‘ACES’ Program

ECC’s commitment to building a sustainable and just economy for the next generation has taken unique form in Los Angeles, where the Architecture, Construction and Engineering Students (ACES) Pathway Program is preparing high school students for high-road careers.

Thanks to ACES, more than 170 LA-area young people from diverse backgrounds are exploring and getting a head start on careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM). ACES enrollees also earn community college course credits transferrable to campuses within the California State University and University of California systems and, during paid summer internships, gain hands-on work experience alongside industry professionals.

For all those reasons, “ACES is a win-win-win” for LA high schoolers who might not otherwise find fulfilling, family-supporting careers in the STEAM disciplines, says EC Los Angeles Program Director Veronica Soto, who oversees Emerald Cities’ involvement in the program.

The ACES Engineering Pathway Program works in collaboration with campuses within the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), including East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and with industry partners and local schools, including Alhambra High School, Legacy High School, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, San Gabrielino High School, Mark Keppel High School, SIATech Charter, YouthBuild-Boyle Heights and 5 Keys Charter. 

In addition to financial and staff support from Emerald Cities Los Angeles, ACES receives staff support from the LACCD $6.2 billion Build Program – a community economic development program emphasizing local business and local hire participation – and in-kind support in the form of classroom space at the Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center, which is part of a citywide program offering job skills training, tutoring, college preparation and other services.

No Barriers

ACES creates academic pathways regardless of participants’ GPAs and socio-economic challenges by employing a collaborative, proactive case management approach that engages high school principals and teachers, community college faculty and administrators, charter school executive directors and counselors at Boyle Heights Youth Technology Center.

Besides taking introductory STEAM-related college courses, ACES students go on field trips to construction sites and universities and attend seminars that prepare them for summer internships with industry partners.

Diversity, Mentoring

“The ACES Program aims to increase the diversity of students pursuing academic pathways in the design and construction disciplines and to develop mentoring between industry professionals and students,” Soto observes. “And seminars focusing on topics such as work-readiness and financial literacy gear up ACES students for their summer internship experiences.” 

The subjects that ACES students study in community college courses include engineering, surveying, building information modeling (BIM), robotics, geographical information system (GIS) mapping and design by computer. They also are enrolled in apprenticeship preparation training conducted by YouthBuild-Boyle Heights, which uses the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) created by the National Building and Construction Trades Council to ensure a pathway to union apprenticeship upon high school graduation.

Doing it All

ACES students like Legacy High School senior and scholar-athlete Ricardo Marquina do it all, juggling a full high school class schedule and extracurricular activities, plus at least one college course. Active in football, volleyball and the yearbook staff, Marquina is also a member of the National Honor Society who plans to major in engineering.

During his paid internship last summer at the LACCD Build Program, Marquina worked on BIM files alongside an office architect among other tasks. "Through ACES, I learned to use auto-cad, sketch-up and other software. The college classes benefited me because engineers are using these software programs,” he said.

He added, “Also, I've got some experience working in a project office that will help me in the future. The challenging part for me was working in the office, because I wasn't used to working in an environment where everyone is quiet doing their work.”

Direct Access, Direct Pipeline

One of the participating principals, Carla Barrera-Ortiz of Legacy STEAM High School, said ACES “has transformed our school's culture and academic program by giving our students direct access to college-level coursework, workforce development and hands-on training through paid internship opportunities.

“Because of the ACES program,” she added, “student enrollment at STEAM has increased by over 45 percent since we opened in 2012. ACES has helped Legacy STEAM H.S. create a direct pipeline into the architecture, construction and engineering career pathways within a community that has historically been under-represented in the STEM fields.”

Delivering on the Promise

Following its recent accreditation review, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges “recognized and celebrated ACES as a dynamic program that delivers its promise to increase college and career readiness for our STEAM students,” Barrera-Ortiz continued.

“This partnership is helping STEAM H.S. realize its vision and mission, as promised to our students and their families,” she concluded.

Soto said that upon receiving the necessary funding, ACES will be expanded to other Los Angeles regions, specifically South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

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