February 18-24 is National Engineers Week, and this year’s theme is “Welcome to the future!” which centers celebrating today’s achievements and paving the way for a brighter and more diverse future in engineering. As part of our celebration of National Engineer’s week, we’re shining a light on our ACE Program mentors who are paving the way for the next generation of engineers. The ACE Mentor Program connects high school kids with active professionals in architecture, construction, and engineering and provides hands-on design experiences.

We talked to Isaiah Coleman, Lund Opsahl engineer and first year ACE mentor about his journey into structural engineering, why he became an ACE mentor, and his thoughts on a more diverse future in engineering.

Why did you go into structural engineering?
The loaded question! When I got to NC State University in North Carolina, I wasn’t really sure of my path. Going through the general foundation classes in engineering, like calculus and physics, I leaned towards physics. I enjoyed the design side of things and seeing active construction around campus piqued my interest and made me think “how do these buildings stand up?” —I wanted to see the behind-the-scenes calculations. I think that’s what pushed me towards structural engineering.

Did you have any mentors that guided you toward this career?
Sophomore year of college is when you decide which discipline to study, and I was leaning towards structural. My advisor, Steven Welton, had his own structural firm for a few years and came back to academia to teach. He was a great resource because he was able to speak from an industry perspective.

Talking to him about my options and opportunities helped me realize that my degree is a lot more valuable than I understood at the time. I thought, “I have these contract options, I have these co-op opportunities and I have these inspection options.” But I didn’t understand the level that my degree set me up for the design side of things, and that was mainly where my heart was. Speaking to him gave me a better perspective on what I was able to do and was one of the key factors to what led me here.

Why are you an ACE mentor?
For me, it’s always about nurturing young minds. When I got to college, I was a summer mentor for students interested in the Civil Engineering program. Having an opportunity to still give back after graduating while active in the profession is something that is really important to me.

ACE is a free program tailored towards underrepresented communities who wouldn’t typically have opportunities to learn about architecture, construction, or engineering, and that’s what stood out most to me. I’m able to share the perspective of students who typically don’t have or aren’t aware of the opportunities available to them, since that’s where I came from. I didn’t really have or understand the opportunities that were available to me. For me, it’s important to give that opportunity to them.

Having an opportunity to still give back after graduating while active in the profession is something that is really important to me.

What do you think the value of mentorship is in creating a more diverse engineering?
I think mentorship is imperative to the future of engineering because it allows students to see engineers. Lund Opsahl is a very diverse group, and our ACE mentor group is very diverse. I think that speaks to the industry as a whole.

But a lot of students—when they close their eyes and imagine a construction worker or engineer, they typically fit a specific mold. Being a mentor and a resource for students when you don’t necessarily fit that typical mold is important and inspiring for the student’s perspective.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Honestly, I’m most proud of being able to be an asset to the office. I think a lot of times as a younger engineer, you are fearful that you are more of a hindrance than an asset, and I think a lot of younger engineers shy away from asking questions and seeking work, because they think it comes off as a detriment to the company. So, I think, more than anything, being able to see my value is the thing I’m most proud of.

Rapid fire questions. Favorite Lund Opsahl project? Holly Hill House.

I love ___. I love nature.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Teleportation. My family lives in North Carolina. I’m used to seeing my family and being able to be there. I think it would just make life so much easier, right?

What is my superpower? My superpower is speed.