A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Engineering Champion Recruits the Next Generation

Last Monday morning on the NBC TODAY show, Jane Pauley of AARP’s Your Life Calling interviewed structural engineer and educator Charlie Thornton, a veteran and advocate of an industry in which he clearly takes enormous pride.

Thornton was brought up with tremendous respect for construction by his dad, a bricklayer who taught his trade to Charlie and to other young people from the neighborhood.  Charlie’s dad got other contractors to hire Charlie, and told the contractors to make him work hard so that he would be inspired to go to college.  Charlie ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Manhattan College and master’s and Ph. D. degrees from New York University.

After college, Thornton and a friend founded Thornton-Tomasetti Group, the largest structural engineering firm in the country, and he currently chairs the consulting firm Charles H. Thornton and Company LLC.  Over the course of his career he has worked on the design and construction of projects all over the world, including the New York Hospital, Chicago Stadium, the Nashville Arena, the United Airlines Terminal at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, the 95-story Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia, the 50-story Americas Tower in New York, the 65-story One Liberty Place in Philadelphia and the 50-story Chifley Tower in Sydney, Australia.

The focus of the TODAY show interview, however, was the program he started to inspire and recruit the next generation of architects, engineers and tradespersons for the industry.  When Pauley brought up our country’s aging infrastructure and its promise of future jobs for these students, Thornton agreed:

“We are predicting a huge shortage when we come out of this ‘quote’ downturn in the construction industry.  Highways, transportation, roads, water, bridges, dams, buildings – it’s everything that America needs.”

The idea for the program came to him a decade ago, when his former college dean asked him to help increase the number of college students enrolling in engineering, particularly minority and female students.  Charlie then started the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program, a program for high school students which introduces them to a variety of careers in our industry.  In the following video, he states:

“What I started to realize is that you can’t sell engineering to high school students, you’ve got to go in and sell an industry.  You’ve got to talk about architecture, construction, engineering, subcontracting, steel erection, the trades, and get these kids excited.”

Mentors work with the students on projects and take them to actual construction sites.  Thornton proudly explains:

“After they sit through 15 sessions with architects, engineers and contractors, they say to themselves: ‘I can be that person; I can do that’.”

ACE has grown into a national program in 200 cities with 100,000 graduates, and has thus far awarded over $12 million in college scholarships. Watch the entire interview in the video below.

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