EASTON — Excellent teamwork, diligence, deadline compliance, poise under pressure — skills professionals in the fields of architecture, construction and engineering practice every day — earned a trophy for a team of local high school students.
The 10-member ACE team from Saints Peter & Paul High School applied their burgeoning architecture, construction and engineering skills to their winning design of a mile-long Rails-to-Trails extension for south Easton. They presented their design at the 18th ACE Awards Program on March 9 at Elks Lodge 1622 in Easton.
The event was sponsored by ACE Mentor Program of Maryland, Eastern Shore Founder Charles H. Thornton.
“The trophy represents the hard work that we have put into the ACE program and in our project this past year,” said team leader and senior Joshua Sambrano.
The team’s overall presentation achieved “the wow factor,” said James Cook, an engineering consultant with Rauch Inc. in Easton, and one of three judges, who also included Rick Van Emburgh, Town of Easton Engineer, and Jen Trego, president of D.W. Masonry in Denton.
The project, “Connecting Communities: An Extension of Rails-to-Trails from Wayside Avenue to the SSPP Church,” was “inspired by another Rails-to-Trails extension that’s currently being planned by the town of Easton,” Sambrano wrote in an email.
“The SSPP ACE Team wanted to provide a scenic and safe walking route to parishioners as well as give the local community the opportunity to travel in-town and simultaneously reduce environmental impact,” he wrote. “This project will also contribute to the identity of the Eastern Shore with crucial additions, including a bridge and a garden circle.”
“We decided to do an extension of Rails to Trails because we were looking at a current extension that the town of Easton was working on,” senior Preston Evans said. “And we thought that it would also be useful to have a walking trail to our new school since there’s no real sidewalks … to get (there).
The Saints Peter & Paul team competed against one ACE team from Easton High School and two from St. Michaels Middle High School.
“I think all the teams did a great job,” Cook said. But the SSPP team “really hit the mark on each one of those benchmarks.”
“It was a professional presentation that took a lot of thought, a lot of planning,” he said. “So overall, it was an extremely impressive concept and presentation.”
“It was obvious … that a lot of time and effort went into putting their project together and researching the many challenges that would come with such a project. Their attention to detail was superb,” Trego texted. “(A)ll of the teams in Talbot County had excellent presentations.”
“There are a lot of different components of engineering the team took into account,” Cook said. “They covered electrical (components), civil site work, architecture, cost-benefit analysis and those types of things. They hit on all the major components that would be required in an engineering job.”
The four teams presented their concepts to an audience comprised of the judges, town and county officials, educational leaders and parents. Judging criteria included a realistic concept, application of science and math principles and a clear, cohesive presentation — all real-world skills engineers and designers use in real life, mentor Rebecca Saduck said.
This is Saduk’s third year mentoring the team. “I tell them at the start of each year, this is how real engineering life looks like. We work in teams and pick project leaders.”
“It’s amazing how, by the end of the year, they’ve just absorbed all of this really cool knowledge,” Saduk said. “I’m super proud of them. They worked really hard. They did a great job working independently. We were there to guide them and give them our feedback that they always took in stride. I’m just happy to be part of the program. and I’m going to miss my seniors.”
Along with Sambrano, members of the SSPP ACE team are seniors Ellie Mertaugh, Kevin Kyle, Preston Evans and Eugene Casey; juniors Maguire Perry, Sam Lovell and Will Hamilton; and freshmen Sam Mosner and Nathan Palmer.
Early on, the students said they put in about two hours a week on ACE team work, but as the date for the project’s completion approached, they upped that time to four to eight hours per week.
Coaching the team throughout the school year were volunteer mentors Benjamin Hallett, an engineer with Gipe Associates in Easton and a Saints Peter & Paul alumnus; Rebecca Saduk, Associate Civil Engineer with Easton Utilities; and Eric Anderson, director of technical customer service with the U.S. Green Building Council.
A Talbot County native, Hallett said his own experience with the ACE program directly led to his engineering career. He earned his degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and returned to Easton to work where he interned. He has been an ACE mentor for five years.
“I love doing it,” Hallett said. “I love being there for the students and trying to teach them stuff and guide them. I want to keep doing as long as I can.”
Junior Sam Lovell said he appreciated Hallett’s experience and style. “We all liked him a lot because he didn’t take over the project. He let us do it, but he gave some pretty helpful insight on real life examples of what he does as an engineer in Easton.”
The ACE program “is a really good way to get scholarships, especially if you’re trying to go into engineering,” senior Preston Evans said. “But also, Mr. Hallett got his job through the ACE engineering program. So, it’s a really good way to not only get scholarships but have connections into getting jobs.”
Van Emburgh said all of the teams did a good job, but the Saints Peter & Paul team was a notch above in the balance they achieved in the design process and presentation. He said he was impressed that all of the projects were ones that “we’re actively thinking about or working on” at the town and county levels.
“They went through schedule and budget and and conceptual thoughts and more technical schematics, and it was impressive to see how they were able to go through the whole process in the way that we would do it in the real world,” Van Emburgh said.
Cook said, “The other ancillary components that they hit, which really impressed me specifically, would be their communication of the concept through the actual use of computer-aided design (CAD) and hand sketches. They did a great job creating what in the industry is called construction documents and exhibits to communicate that project.”
Cook added that they team “did a great job” on “sections and cross sections, which (are) the hidden components of the design features that are under the ground. So, they really put a lot of thought and effort into not only the overall concept, but the actual implementation of that concept.”
The ACE program gives a student “a practical hands-on view of how abstract concepts get transformed into the buildings that make up our everyday reality,” according to the website Acementor.org. The skills and knowledge students develop may not be taught in the classroom, but can translate to other aspects of their lives.
Freshman Nathan Palmer said the program “definitely taught me a lot of responsibility, and I’ve learned a lot from being professional, having weight on my shoulders to get stuff done (and) being part of the team. It’s helped me throughout my freshman career.”
“That’s one of the things I learned the most from the program,” Hallett said of his student days at Saints Peter & Paul. “I learned skills and relationships (that led to) my first job. My dream is one day to hire one of my former students. That would be pretty cool.”
“We’re always competing against sports for the students’ time,” Hallett said. “I like that we give it some competition. I’m always so proud of my students that they win, but to be honest, all the schools have great projects, and I always enjoy seeing all their ideas because they’re all so different.”
Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that postponed projects and the awards program for the past two years, both mentors and students are looking forward to the future.
“I’m proud of all my team members and how hard they worked this year, and I’m definitely excited for our underclassmen, especially the juniors to step up to the plate for next year’s project,” Sambrano said.
Nearly 20 businesses, organizations and individuals support the ACE program in Talbot County. The Easton Elks Lodge 1622 won the ACE Community Award for their continued support of the program.
Members of the local ACE board of directors are Chair Lindsey Hill, Founder Charles H. Thornton, Vice Chair Katie Reedy, Secretary Katie Northam, Treasurer Ida Heelan, Andy Cheezum, Jim Heelan and Carolyn Thornton.
The board awarded scholarships to 22 local students on March 9. Six students earned certificates of achievement.
According to acementor.org, the ACE Mentor Program of America is a “free, award-winning, afterschool program designed to attract high school students into pursuing careers in the Architecture, Construction and Engineering industry, including skilled trades.”
“One of the things that struck us was that … these are the faces of who’s going to be moving forward in the future,” Van Emburgh said. “We want these students to be able to go on to college or technical school or coming right out of high school and into the local workforce
One of the objectives of professionals and mentors in the community is “to try to provide opportunities locally so that they do stay,” Van Emburgh said. “It was striking to see that these are going to be some of the people who will be working with us in the coming years, and they’re presenting to us projects we want to do in the next five to 10 years.”
Founded in 1994, ACE is a federation of more than 75 affiliates (chapters), operating in 38 states and Canada and serving over 10,000 students and awarding $2.5 million in scholarships annually. A national office in Philadelphia supports the affiliate programs.