From Student to Mentor, Bridget’s ACE Story

ACE Mentor Program

The ACE Mentor Program is a free, award-winning, after school program designed to attract high school students into pursuing careers in architecture, construction, and engineering. The benefits of the program are widespread, as students work with professionals from various disciplines, experiment with real-life scenarios, and contribute to realistic project Request for Proposals (RFPs). It’s a national program that draws more than 10,000 students annually.

As one of Coughlin Porter Lundeen’s longest standing partnerships, the firm has provided mentors for years. The program is one of several ways we are committed to mentoring local students. We believe in ACE and love hosting students in the office for lessons.

Bridget's Journey

Civil Engineer Bridget McFaul was one of those students.

ACE features prominently in her career journey as she went from ACE participant and student to Coughlin Porter Lundeen intern, then to full-time employee and active ACE mentor.

Growing up, Bridget always liked math and art. She thought she’d grow up to be a real estate agent or a math teacher until discovering architecture. In high school, there aren’t elective classes for “pre-architecture,” so she took STEM classes like physics and AP computer science.

“ACE offers high school students a unique opportunity to learn what the design industry is and how each discipline contributes to the success of a project. Without ACE, I don’t know if I would have found civil engineering, and if I did, it wouldn’t have been as an undergraduate college student. I want to give high school students, specifically female-identifying students and students of color, hope that they can be successful in the design industry.”

At Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Bridget was a very involved high school student who didn’t think she could add one more thing to her schedule. But with ACE, she discovered she could do just that. “We met every other week for a couple hours and I remember each session being different from the last and fun,” says Bridget. “I was able to meet others interested in the same things as I, and meet mentors who were who I wanted to be when I grew up. I was literally staring into the future.”

“At my first ACE meeting, as each of the mentors introduced themselves, I distinctly remember one who stood out. Not only because she was one of the few women in the row, but because she had participated in ACE as a high school student. She was a tangible example of how the program worked and I had the thought, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do the same thing!”

When applying to undergraduate programs, Bridget chose schools that had an architecture program. Well, all except one – the one she ultimately attended and graduated from, Gonzaga University. Instead of studying architecture, she graduated with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. She attributes this selection to her experience as a high school student in the ACE Mentor Program.

A Coughlin Porter Lundeen Internship

In the summer of 2020, like most college sophomores, Bridget started researching companies that she would be interested in working for. Still unsure if she wanted to pursue structural engineering or continue toward civil topics (like stormwater and geotechnical) that were calling her, she wisely reached out to Gonzaga alumni for guidance.

From there, Bridget connected with Coughlin Porter Lundeen’s Michelle Hoffman, class of 2017. While interns had already been selected for the summer, Michelle introduced Bridget to NAIOP’s DEI program which was offering a fellowship for students interested in the commercial real estate industry. It was an opportunity to connect with and learn from industry leaders within the Puget Sound area. Bridget stayed in touch with Michelle throughout her junior year of undergrad and eventually applied for Coughlin Porter Lundeen’s summer internship program for the following summer, 2021.

“During my internship experience I gained an unparalleled amount of understanding and insight into the world of consulting engineering and what it means to be a civil engineer in the Pacific Northwest. And I can say that the work I did as an intern was foundational to the work I do as an entry-level staff engineer. I learned how to navigate city coordination, work with project managers and project engineers, and develop technical skills.”

Bridget extended her internship into her senior year of school, allowing her to stay involved in the projects she’d worked on during the summer and continue to develop her technical skills. One year later, she is four months into a full-time position as a civil staff engineer (and loving it!). She’s a member of the civil Stormwater Technical Group and a mentor for the ACE Mentor Program. “I’m learning more each week and am so thankful to ACE, Gonzaga, and Coughlin Porter Lundeen for helping me grow to be a civil engineer,” says Bridget.

ACE Forecast 2022/2023

School is in session and ACE sessions have begun! Meetings happen biweekly from November through May.

In addition to hands-on lessons, students respond to an RFP.

The scope of the RFP this year is a new Center for Aquatic Life on Harbor Avenue in Seattle. The facility will function as a visitor and learning center that can accommodate community educational programs, tours, and events, approximately 15,000 square feet total. Student presentations include deliverables for architecture, civil, landscaping, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering categories.

The closing presentations are the culmination of the student-led projects that participants work on all year. These presentations to industry professionals and mentors are always a highlight, as they allow the students to step into a new role, grant them public speaking experience, and reveal just how much participants have learned!

ACE offers scholarships too, distributed across a four-year college program. Bridget was a recipient and says, “Each year I filled out the form confirming I was still studying for a role in AEC, I remembered why I chose civil engineering and the mentors I have to thank for the experience.” There’s a scholarship ceremony for student recipients in June.

ACE Mentor Program of Washington 20th Anniversary and Scholarship Event © ACE Mentor Program of Washington

For Mentors

ACE has three locations in the Puget Sound area: Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. Each location had a kickoff for all its mentors in early October. The Seattle location met at McKinstry where more than 100 mentors from all over the city met in person for the first time since COVID-19 moved the program online. There were three different sessions, the first of which was an overview for all mentors including stats on the program, its mission, and safety protocols. Mentors then had two sessions, the first with all mentors within a design field and the next with individual mentor groups. Both focus groups brainstormed how to make this school year a success, ways to excite the students, ways to problem solve rare but difficult situations, and how to plan the schedule of events.

Other ACE mentors from Coughlin Porter Lundeen include Ana Perarnau, Laura Lindeman, Sean Umeda, Kelly Weiler, Katie Rand, and Bailey Cook. They bring unique perspective and helpful advice to fellow mentees having participated in the program year after year. Some great takeaways for mentors include:

  1. Attend as many meetings as possible. Attendance as mentors is critical to retaining students. When you show your commitment, they will too!
  2. Come prepared to each meeting with clear idea of which topics will be covered.
  3. And while you come with a clear plan, be flexible too! Encourage questions, and when tangent conversations happen, go with it. It’s important to encourage curiosity and that students enjoy what they’re learning, versus checking topics off a list.
  4. Listen to what the students have to say; meaningful conversations require talking and listening!

“Coughlin Porter Lundeen’s EETG (Employee Engagement Task Group) does a great job of identifying ways staff can volunteer and give back. There are so many great organizations supporting not only students, but the greater Seattle community, so many ways to share our talent and time. I was drawn to ACE because I believe in the mission of the program and believe that I have something to offer the students even though I’m only four months into my full-time career.”

For ACE Students

We asked Bridget what advice she has for high school students in the program. She knows what it’s like to be in those shoes! Here’s her advice: “Come in excited! You’re getting to learn in such a unique environment, straight from the source! When I started the program, I thought I wanted to be an architect, but by trying something new, and being flexible within the program, I found engineering. From experience, I know that it can be exhausting to go to another event after a full day of school and after school extracurriculars, but ACE is worth it. What kept me coming back to meetings, was looking forward to seeing the friends I made through the program; ACE was what we had in common despite being from different high schools.”

Learn more about ACE Mentors: acementor.org, read about some of our other nonprofit partnerships, and explore NAIOPWA’s local Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) programs.