My neighbor John Solomon is a retired Army colonel who taught calculus at West Point after graduating from the Academy and later, after retirement, in Fairfax County, Va., public schools. His great joy was to help define and implement a mentorship program at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where he invited me to attend a Mentorship Fair in late May. It was old home week for John but an amazing revelation for me – “boggled” in the truest sense of that word, impressed and amazed with the quality and level of competence displayed and proven by these young people, primarily high-school seniors.

Instead of regaling you with what these young people specifically did, it is more important to urge you to assist replicating what has been achieved. Mentoring is part of a strategy to help young people succeed in life. It also provides a means for mentors to motivate young people and assure availability and quality of tomorrow’s human capital. Mentoring processes have been documented, and a quick look is in the book The Elements of Effective Practice, written in 1990 with an update last year. It describes methods for designing a mentoring program, managing it, developing a financial plan, recruiting participants (mentors and mentees) together with training both and evaluating activities during and after implementation. It is a nice background, but there is an easier way.

It turns out that the ACE Mentor Program, launched in 1994, has done much of the “heavy lifting” here. ACE (architects, construction, engineers) is a nationwide effort with 136 chapters across America. This program is a partnership between local school systems and their students with local industry and professional organizations to identify gifted and talented students with an interest in learning more about work activities and careers in ACE industries.

Mentor programs are structured over a full school year (or single semester) and entail participating students working 40 hours minimum (180 hours for those at Thomas Jefferson) at meaningful research and hands-on jobs under personal tutelage of a mentor. Last year, the ACE program had about 30,500 students enrolled in over 600 programs across America, teaching and aiding young people to understand how career paths develop and how those careers will evolve in life experience. Over 90% of these students entered college or apprenticeship programs.

A short description of this model program can be seen at www.acementor.org. What really supports this matter is the thought that readers of this journal and their companies should join forces with industry association IHEA and replicate the ACE Mentor program as a means to create tomorrow’s human resources. One of the ACE concept features described is that this is a grass-roots and inexpensive means to build and bank human capital for a small investment today, just like time we spend with our children, so that they learn and aspire to rewarding career objectives.

I spoke with ACE executives, and they expressed strong interest in working with other industrial sectors in extending and expanding the mentorship program they have defined and documented. It is my recommendation that IHEA follow the ACE model as a starter and engage our industry in this useful endeavor that builds for tomorrow.

Indeed, near Washington D.C. there are many high-quality mentoring laboratories at federal agencies and in supporting industries. But a mentor program does not require such a rich environment. It seems only to require willingness of the local school system to solicit student interest and to teach them about the obligations, intent and benefits of the program. Then, initiative of industry leaders is required to establish and nurture the system. In addition, the selection of meaningful and challenging study projects for students and identification of a mentor to supervise a student on a one-on-one basis are needed. Communities where mentors and their companies reside must be personally accessible to students.

It requires more research, but I understand that the Small Business Administration can authorize financial assistance to “eligible associations” that aid small businesses participating in volunteer mentoring programs and whose members can receive Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts, as stipulated at 15 USC Section 657e. The amount of such grant assistance ranges from $50,000-$200,000 for establishing a volunteer mentoring program.

My neighbor John said he would love to help … one more time. Me too. IH