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Courtney Behm’s Impact on ACE Cleveland

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

How This Founding Member Helped Grow ACE Cleveland, from 15 Students to 200 Annually - Courtney Behm’s Impact on the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland. “ACE is truly one of the things I am most proud of in my career and seeing the impact it has had on the Cleveland community. The first local ACE session in Spring 2008, led by Margaret Hewitt and Dan Polak on what it meant to be an owner and designing from the owner perspective, was held in the John Hay Hay High School cafeteria with just 15 students and five mentor firms. To see how the organization has grown close to 200 students and more than 150 volunteers in Northeast Ohio in such a short time is amazing.”

When Courtney began searching for a career 19 years ago, she wanted to be sure that the company she’d be investing her time and talents with had similar values to her own, so when she interviewed and secured a job with Gilbane Building Company she was happy to find they supported values similar to her own. Gilbane is a family-owned, construction management firm and that highly values being active in supporting local communities. Through Gilbane’s work at University Hospitals (UH), Gilbane teamed up with the many design, engineering and construction firms supporting UH’s Vision 2010 building program at the time, and used it as a platform and catalyst to bring the ACE affiliate program to Cleveland. To the volunteers who supported the program it represented an opportunity to impact Cleveland students through mentorship for careers in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries, but also support the local communities that will thrive through access to education. Within the development of the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland, part of Courtney’s role at Gilbane was to help set up the ACE organization, recruit firms, and establish the board structure and processes. “It's hard to convey how fast the program grew. The first two years of the affiliate, we leveraged support from the national office of ACE Mentor Program of America and also spent a lot of time introducing the program to the community, businesses in the industry and educational institutions in search of mentors, students and funding support. We were in the construction industry, but also needed to understand the academic/classroom environment in order to create lessons and make the biggest impact to students. In 2010, UH donated $200,000 toward scholarships propelling the program to an entirely new level. The early foundation we set truly helped to facilitate the growth of the affiliate and provided opportunities for me to support both in the classroom and at the board level in a variety of roles. Looking back, it is crazy to think about the power of how so many volunteers jumped in and started this from the ground up. We were just trying to keep our head above water and take it one day at a time and then it all came together.” To date, UH has committed $600,000 to ACE Cleveland over 12 years. Through their generosity, ACE was able to ensure each dollar went even further by partnering with local colleges such as Kent State University, Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College and the University of Akron to match scholarships for students planning to study architecture, engineering and construction-related fields. “Cleveland Metropolitan School District's involvement also jump-started the program. Eric Gordon, CEO of CMSD has been a board member since day one and his guidance and passion for the program has helped us to navigate working with the district, align ACE with partner schools and ensure the right resources were in place for ACE to support the students. He is a key champion and having the district partnership really helped us keep things moving and growing.” Because of her work for ACE Cleveland, Courtney has been able to have a lifelong impression on hundreds of students and expand the ACE network to give students access to more career pathway opportunities, mentorship and education. Courtney’s favorite aspect of the program is learning about the students each year, and their unique personalities and goals. "Thanks to the mentors' influence students can look to them to consider a career they may not have otherwise considered. Once they select a college or path within the trades, ACE can help with scholarships and internships and then hopefully provide careers within our companies.” Courtney served as the ACE Cleveland board administrator until Glen Shumate, EVP at Construction Employer's Association, took over as Executive Director six years ago. Courtney then turned her focus to specifically help lead the scholarship committee efforts. "ACE is so fortunate to have Glen and CEA's support. He helped us take ACE Cleveland to the next level with dedicated time, focus, and steps that were needed to expand the program (there is now a team in the Warrensville Heights School District), continue to add mentor teams and build community partnerships.” After 12 years, Courtney’s time with ACE Cleveland is coming to an end. She will forever be known as one of the founders and each year the "Courtney Behm Exemplary Volunteer of the Year" award is given out to recognize an ACE Cleveland mentor in her honor. Inspired by her hard-working grandmother, “Gram Behm” a mother of five that took over the family business after her husband passed away. Gram was a woman full of gratitude, focus on other people, and kindness. Her legacy lives on in Courtney’s and ACE Cleveland. What is your most memorable moment during the ACE Program? It was about 12 years ago and it was the day before our first ACE presentation night. One of our John Hay students, Emily, was in charge of estimating the final project – of course, it was down to the wire and the design group was still finalizing the project details. She was in the classroom using an RS Means book pricing it out as they finished and I’ll never forget her pure joy when she realized their team’s project would be under budget. How have you seen students thrive and grow through the program? Our end-of-the-year event is a showcase of the student’s hard work and the leadership the mentors have provided over the years. Every year the teams project presentations are more impressive and more sophisticated with the concepts they are learning, the technology they are using, and the presentation skills they have adapted. Seeing the students in that environment, in front of 400 people, and how they have embraced the elements of ACE and seeing how proud the mentors are on that night is a great testament to the power of the program. What would you tell a student about the ACE program to get them involved? ACE is a wonderful program to learn about teamwork and collaboration, building a network of professionals and also understanding the many career opportunities that are available within the design and construction industry. Outside of a career path in a specific engineering, construction management, trade contractor, or designer type role – the industry is also full of careers in areas such as sales, marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, IT, etc. for students to consider. What advice would you give to someone considering getting involved in ACE for the first time? Getting involved in ACE or any local organization is a fantastic way to grow personally and professionally. The immersive nature of the program, working with students over 15 weeks during the school year, allows you to really get to know the students on a one-to-one basis when mentoring in the classroom. It allows you to truly make a direct, personal impact on youth. If serving in the classroom is not an option, there are many volunteer options within ACE that need support and expertise from communications to scholarship planning, fundraising, event planning, and hosting interns, as just a few examples. It’s a fantastic networking opportunity to build professional relationships as well – the mentors you work within the classroom may be the same people you work with on your next project.


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