ACES Program Clears the Way to STEM Careers

Grades, scores, not a barrier

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In an upcoming issue of Black Enterprise, I’ll be writing about STEM in education. However, this program in Los Angeles is too exciting to hold onto until then.

I’m talking about the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering Students (ACES) Pathway Program, which is providing diverse LA-area high schoolers the chance to explore high-paying, family-supporting careers in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. This isn’t just education; this is workforce development.

The program and its emphasis on STEM careers or STEAM sounds great. But, the downside is it’s only serving around 170 students. ACES should be expanded and offered in every LA high school that wants it.

What makes the program so compelling?

  • It gives students the opportunity to earn community college credit.
  • The college credits they earn are transferable to campuses within the California State and University of California systems.
  • Students go on field trips to construction sites and universities.
  • Seminars prepare students for summer internships.
  • Students get hands-on work experience alongside industry professionals during paid summer internships.
  • Students are enrolled in apprenticeship preparation training to ensure a pathway to union apprenticeship.

Another great feature? Instead of using GPAs and income as a barrier—which is typical—ACES creates academic pathways regardless of participants’ grade point averages, test scores, and socio-economic status. The program uses a collaborative, proactive case management approach that engages high school principals, teachers, community college faculty, and more.

ACES now partners with the following local schools: Alhambra High School, STEAM Legacy High School, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, San Gabrielino High School, Mark Keppel High School, SIATech Charter, YouthBuild-Boyle Heights, and Five Keys Charter School.

STEAM Legacy High School’s principal, Carla Barrera-Ortiz, said in a statement, “ACES has transformed our school’s culture and academic program by giving our students direct access to college-level coursework, workforce development, and hands-on training through paid internship opportunities.”

“Because of the ACES program, student enrollment at Legacy STEAM H.S. has increased by over 45% since we opened in 2012. ACES has helped our school create a direct pipeline into the architecture, construction, and engineering career pathways within a community that has historically been underrepresented in the STEM fields,” she continued.

ACES is part of the Emerald Cities Collaborative, a national nonprofit network of organizations working together to advance a sustainable environment while creating economic opportunities for all. For more information, visit its website.



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