Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2017

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ACE Mentoring and the Laney College Tiny House
by Cameron White

Students checking out a tiny house at Laney College

The ACE Mentoring program is in full swing, from now until May. ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering. It is a nationwide, well established mentoring program for high school students, which serves 8,000 students a year. It is a free, non-profit organization, whose mission is to engage, excite and inspire high school students to pursue careers in the construction industry through mentoring, and to support their continued advancement through scholarships and grants. The program runs from January through May each year. ACE Mentorship reaches out to students at local high schools, and the program emphasizes diversity in the students and mentors.

Top: Tiny House Exterior Bottom: Tiny House Interior

I am serving as a mentor this year in the Oakland group, which is meeting weekly at Laney College. The design project this year is a tiny house, with the goal of finding workable solutions to local homelessness. Since I’m very interested in both mentoring students and new options for housing homeless people, I enjoy learning more about the Laney project while volunteering for ACE.

Leading up to the final design project, the students are learning about precedent through other tiny house designs. They were introduced to the Laney College Tiny House project and the Fab Lab, which has a facility for digital fabrication.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District held a design competition, and Laney College took second place, with their submission of a tiny house prototype. Their current design, called The Wedge, is a net zero design which includes solar panels and a composting toilet. It is built using digitally fabricated plywood in lieu of 2x4 construction. The team developed a kit of parts that could be used for manufacturing more of the units. The budget per unit is in the range of $25,000. Adding solar to it increases the budget by $10,000.

The City of Oakland awarded Laney a grant to build more of the units in an effort to help address the problem of homeless people occupying tents around the city. They’re now engaged in developing plans to build more of the units.

A typical ACE meeting has 25-50 students and 10-20 mentors. It starts with a short lecture and ends with a hands-on activity. For the last few meetings, the students and mentors focus on the final projects, which are developed in teams. Each team works on a design, draws it up and creates a final powerpoint presentation. The teams are given programs, budgets and schedules they must work within.

Several years ago, OWADP supported ACE through scholarships and mentor participation (Rachel Slonicki, Christie Coffin and myself). OWADP awarded a scholarship of $1,000 to a female student who was planning to go into architecture. Each year at the end of the term, an awards ceremony is held. It was wonderful to see a worthy young woman receive OWADP’s scholarship, to be used for college expenses.

I have asked the Steering Committee if we can sponsor a donation for a student through the ACE Mentoring program again this year and they have factored it into the budget. I believe ACE goals mesh well with our purpose to increase the number of women architects.

ACE’s website is If anyone is interested in volunteering this year, it isn’t too late. There are programs in several cities.

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