Purpose-Driven Culture : ACE Mentor Sara Schwartz

ABA Culture

Mentoring future architects has been core to ABA's culture since the firm’s founding nearly 40 years ago, and we continue to find purpose in uplifting emerging talent thanks to passionate team members who enjoy teaching and mentoring. Members like Sara Schwartz, an ACE high school mentorship program volunteer, who recently invited students to our downtown San Jose office.

Following a tour of the office, Sara led an interactive design charrette to strengthen high school students’ spatial thinking through intentional space planning. Using color-coded sticky notes labeled with common room types for three hypothetical project scenarios— a library, school, and welcome center, students collaboratively replanned layouts, creatively debating adjacencies based on public visibility, admin needs, and wildcard spaces like courtyards. Afterward, student enjoyed presentations on a variety of architectural topics by Principal Lee Salin, FAIA, architects Clayton Cravea and Jason Hull, and designers Daniel Ho and Maggie Bao. Highlights included practical insights related to sensitively expanding existing structures with complementary additions, and using 3D modeling software to create architectural visualizations that bring site plans to life.

I recently connected with Sara to learn more about her volunteer experience with the ACE high school Mentor Program over the past year:

Q: For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what The ACE Mentor Program is?
Sara: ACE stands for Architecture, Construction, and Engineering. It’s a program for high school students where they are paired with mentors in those industries to learn more about potential careers. The goal is to engage and enlighten students about career opportunities in design and the built environment.

Q: How and when did you first get involved with the ACE program?
Sara: I originally heard about ACE a few years ago from a friend who is an interior designer and involved in their program in Atlanta, GA. This was back when I was living in Boston, MA. It’s always something that interested me, but I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth since I was focused on getting my architecture license. Once I became licensed, I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. Then, I moved to San Jose, where I didn’t have any local friends or peers. With free time on my hands and a whole new network to build, I decided to sign up. It’s so inspiring to see the next generation of designers.

Q: What has been your favorite part of the experience so far?
Sara: I think my favorite part of the experience is that it is simply genuine fun teaching a new generation about why architecture is so special and exciting. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day tasks: the contracts, invoices, and building code compliances. However, being a mentor forces me to zoom out and start from the beginning - why did I sign up for this profession? Why is being an architect so exciting? What was the spark that inspired me? Then to see students engage and ask the same questions I once asked that got me to the position I am in today - it's exceptional.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in architecture or other related fields?

Sara: The advice I would give is to ask all the questions now – every single one. Don't be shy. You are in a delicate, fleeting time where asking questions is encouraged. But soon, almost overnight, you will grow up and be the one expected to answer them instead. Use this valuable time to fully explore different paths and learn from mistakes.

Posted February 15, 2024

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