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 Mauricio Ayala-Cruz, 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?
I think the common answer is math, but that’s everybody’s answer. What I really got into was the problem-solving aspect of it. I really like the unique challenges and finding the best solution to those problems, and I thought engineering had a lot of that.

I’ve also had personal experience of seeing structures collapse in other countries, like in Mexico, so I thought finding a way to prevent that was super interesting and also what drew me to structural engineering.

Did you have any mentors that guided you toward this career?
My high school counselor. I knew I wanted to get a college education, but I didn’t have the drive to go to a particular school. He shined light on my potential which motivated me to get into a good school, and that’s how I went to Seattle University.

Why are you an ACE mentor?
I saw it as an opportunity for me to reach kids that are minorities or lower income, which really resonated with me because that’s where I come from. The work the ACE program does is really cool—having professionals come to high schools, teach what engineering, architecture, and construction looks like in the real world and motivate students to be part of that career path. I wanted to be a part of that and kind of be the face of it. I think if I had seen myself now when I was in high school, I would have been more motivated to get into structural engineering.

What is one thing you make sure your mentees know?
Don’t forget how important it is to have communication skills besides just math and science, since strong communication skills are not really taught in school. I’m still working on it, but I think it just comes from experience. Practicing every day.

What is the value of mentorship in creating a more diverse future in engineering?
To add to what I said before about why I’m an ACE mentorI also think having a diverse team brings different perspectives to that problem-solving aspect. When it comes to problem solving, more ideas do better. A diverse group will have different points of view of a problem, which is a huge strength, and can only get better with a more diverse future in engineering.

A diverse group will have different points of view of a problem, which is a huge strength, and can only get better with a more diverse future in engineering.

I’ve been in groups where I’m the person that brings that different perspective. The rest of the group is very focused on this specific aspect, and I’m like, “But what about this?” What I bring up is from my personal experience, and something the group hadn’t thought about.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Being part of the ACE Mentor Program. I was a little hesitant to say that because I’m new to engineering, like, “what am I going to bring to the table?” But I’m glad I’m doing it, and I think because I’m a younger mentor, I can relate to the students differently and offer a different perspective than someone that’s further along in their career.

Rapid Fire. Favorite Lund Opsahl Project? UW Membrane Replacement Project. It was the first time I actually did some design work on a project, so that was pretty cool.

Favorite Seattle activity? Going to Lake Washington. I recently got a paddleboard, and my goal for the summer is to get better.

I love ____.  I love baking. Breads. Carrot cake.

If you had a one superpower, what would it be? To be fluent in any language.

What is your superpower? Seeing the positives in things.