Mentored ACE camp at MTSU gives participants ‘conc...

Mentored ACE camp at MTSU gives participants ‘concrete’ career ideas [+VIDEO]

Opportunities are endless for the 18 teenagers visiting Middle Tennessee State University as part of the fifth annual ACE Mentoring Camp Program.

Not only are the 14 boys and four girls from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee residing in Corlew Hall, eating in McCallie Dining Hall and enjoying the Campus Recreation Center, they’re learning about the university’s programs in concrete and construction management, architecture and interior design, and engineering.

ACE — which is an acronym for architecture, construction and engineering — and its mentor program is a national, 18-week after-school option for students interested in pursuing a building industry career. The ACE Camp, which is funded by MTSU and the ACE Mentor Program, is free to attendees.

Dr. Janis Brickey

“There are so many opportunities at MTSU,” said Dr. Janis Brickey, an associate professor in the Department of Human Sciences. She specifically noted the University Honors College visit they will make Friday, July 21, where they will hear from Dean John Vile.

“Even with an undergraduate degree, you can do more with the Honors College.”

School of Concrete and Construction Management Director Heather Brown and the program’s lab director, Kevin Overall, guided the students in making concrete cylinders during the July 17 morning session.

Nine professionals oversaw their hands-on progress and collaborating in teams with architecture and design exercises.

“This prepares me, whether I want to do this in my career or not,” said Cherish Johnson, 16, an Atlanta resident and a junior at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Georgia, who plans to pursue architecture.

Richard Sparkman of Columbia, Tennessee, a senior at Columbia Central High School, can thank his older sister Nekia Booker for discovering the camp online. He hasn’t been involved in an after-school program because he was unable to find one in Columbia.

“If there was an ACE Mentor Program near me, I’d do it,” Sparkman said. “This is pushing me toward being an engineer. … We get to work with concrete and other things, have fun, stay in dorms, go on different trips, meet people and open up and talk with them.”

Ravenwood High School student Riley Mason mixes concrete.

Ravenwood High School student Riley Mason mixes concrete in a hands-on project made by ACE Mentor Program Camp attendees July 17 in a classroom. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Jack Tipton, regional director of the ACE Mentoring Program, said there’s a “big demand and we would love to have them in our industry.” He added diversity is a major factor in the makeup of camp participants.

Camp attendees heard from MTSU alumna Elizabeth Kurtz, a 2015 graduate, who assisted with the architect and design portion July 17. She has worked for Inner Design Studio in Brentwood, Tennessee, for two years.

Holly Baird of Nashville, a regional director for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, attended for the fifth year as “a way to support the architect, engineering and design profession and encourage these young students to pursue a path in one of these vocations.”

Along with Brickey, those guiding the campers through the architecture and interior design phase included Alan Hayes, Maggie Wohltjen, Rachel Gresham and Annsley Reynolds of TMPartners PLLC in Brentwood and Sherry Mendel and Cory May of Nashville’s Earl Swensson Associates.

Tom Gormley, an associate professor of concrete and construction management at MTSU, helped facilitate many of the on-campus activities.

The group visited Roscoe Brown Inc. and toured the new justice center in Murfreesboro July 18. The rest of the week finds them on campus July 19 and July 21, sandwiched around a road trip to Nashville to visit the new Tennessee State Museum construction site, conduct an activity with Vanderbilt University’s engineering department, and tour a bridge building and green studio.

Tipton said the ACE Mentor board hopes to expand the camp in the future and seeks new mentors. Interested students can apply with an essay and need a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, background. For more details, visit

— Randy Weiler (

MTSU engineering lab director Rick Taylor explains a differential to students attending the fifth annual ACE Mentoring Program Camp at MTSU July 17 in the Voorhies Engineering Technology lab. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Students hear from professionals at ACE Mentoring Program Camp.

ACE Mentoring Program Camp attendees hear from Sherry Mendel with Earl Swensson Associates July 17 as she helps guide them through a hands-on project. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

Ravenwood High School student Daniel Pert learns about concrete industry from professionals Heather Brown and Kevin Overall.

Daniel Pert, 15, of Nashville, right, a junior at Ravenwood High School, works with MTSU School of Concrete and Construction Management Director Heather Brown, center, and lab director Kevin Overall during a hands-on project. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Kevin Overall explains the process of making concrete cylinders to ACE camp students.

Kevin Overall, MTSU School of Concrete and Construction Management lab director, explains the process of making concrete cylinders to high school students attending the ACE Mentoring Program Camp at MTSU July 17. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)