For Local High School Students Learning about Careers in Building Design and Construction, Columbia Opens a Door

Sunday, February 1, 2015

For a small group of Manhattan high school students, getting exposure to the construction, engineering and architecture fields has meant presentations from professionals with decades of experience and one of New York City’s most prominent construction sites as their classroom.

The students from the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem are being led by a team at Columbia University’s Manhattanville development as part of the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentorship program.

The ACE program has grouped students and industry professionals throughout the city to help prepare high school students for careers in design and construction through mentoring.  This marks the sixth year that a team of students from the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics have worked with professionals at Columbia’s Manhattanville development.

The program, which takes place over the course of the academic year, kicked off for the team from the Center for Science and Mathematics with presentations from professionals involved in the Manhattanville development to expose the students to all facets of a construction project. 

The Manhattanville Development Group at Columbia University gave a presentation from the perspective of a project owner.  Other presenters included Lend Lease, the construction manager; JB&B, a mechanical and electrical engineering, plumbing and fire protection consulting firm; Davis Brody Bond architects; Stantec, a provider of civil engineering consulting services; and WSP Group, structural engineers. 

For students, the exposure has been invaluable.  Ashley Lopez, a junior at the Center for Science and Mathematics, has developed a strong interest in architecture as she participates in her third year in the ACE program with Columbia.

“Before ACE, I never gave much thought to the little things that go into designing a building beyond the four walls,” said Lopez.  “After working directly with professional architects, I understand the challenges and enjoy the work.”

The ACE mentorship program includes a city-wide contest where teams compete on various criteria as they develop plans and models for a simulated construction project.

The Columbia Manhattanville ACE team will be designing a student center that would be located on the Manhattanville site between two buildings that make up the new Columbia Business School.  While the project is a simulation, the team is forced to follow real-world constraints including height zoning restrictions, utility availability, and the design theme for the overall campus.  For the student center simulation, the height restriction is three feet above ground, indicating that the building will be a below-grade structure.

“The height requirement has forced the students to get creative with the building design, with many focusing on the architectural challenges such as bringing or simulating natural light in a below grade structure,” said Adriana Collazo, assistant project Manager for design and MEP management for Columbia’s Manhattanville Development.  “While the height restriction has presented challenges, the students are finding other aspects of the Manhattanville campus advantageous, such as the transparent design theme and the access to utilities that are already below grade for the campus’s other buildings.”

The ACE program culminates with its annual scholarship luncheon on May 15 at the Mandarin Oriental, when the teams present their final projects.