YU High School for Girls Students Learn Design and Construction as part of ACE Mentor Program

Mock trial, debate, basketball and drama are all standard extracurricular activities found in many day schools, but less common is the ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Mentor Program of America, which exposes high school students to the different elements involved in design, engineering and construction careers.


Central students work on large scale overview map of their project rehabilitating Flushing Meadows Corona Park and LaGuardia Airport.

This past year, 15 students, in grades nine through 12, took part in the program at Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central)—the first yeshiva high school to institute an ACE chapter. The idea originated when a student approached Rabbi Seth Grauer, assistant principal of Central, and requested that an engineering elective be added to the senior class roster. After Grauer asked her to assess interest among her peers, she returned to him with a list of about 20 signatures.

“After I realized that this was something of great interest to a significant number of our students, I researched how best to implement it and got in touch with Kelly Smolar, a 2003 Central graduate, a Cooper Union graduate and a professional engineer,” said Grauer. “She was very interested in pursuing the idea, and after weighing things like student requirements and different schedules, we decided that instead of a class, we would apply to ACE to offer a club. Kelly really wanted students from all grades to participate and to expose younger students to engineering early on.”

The application process was complicated, but thanks to some assistance from Bruce Lilker, son of the late Dr. Martin Lilker, founding principal of YU High School for Girls, and a board member of ACE, Central was accepted and officially became the first yeshiva high school to feature an ACE chapter.

Every Tuesday night, about 15 students meet with Smolar as they work on a team project, modeled after a real-life project design team that includes different roles, such as architect, landscape architect, structural engineer, transportation engineer and a construction manager.

Over the course of the year, the group worked on a site plan redeveloping the land from Flushing Meadows Corona Park to La Guardia Airport. The students designed the complete site from soup to nuts while also hearing from industry experts who served as visiting guest speakers and invited the students to their offices to see practical applications of the concepts and hands-on tasks. The final product, replete with professional boards, models and a PowerPoint presentation, was shown to executives in the architecture, construction and engineering industries.

“Engineering is a very male-dominated field, and I’m usually pretty outnumbered, so I think it’s especially wonderful that Central is taking the lead in offering this engineering program to young women,” said Smolar. “I’ve greatly enjoyed mentoring the students, and have found that the inclusion of all ages has really enhanced the conversations on the design of the project.”

Participation in ACE is invaluable for students aspiring to one of these fields, since they gain access to a large network of scholarships and internships during their college years as a direct result of ACE participation. Since 1994, ACE has awarded over $12 million in scholarships to promising participants.

“We believe strongly that student interests should be taken seriously and that learning should be connected to the real world as frequently as possible,” said CB Neugroschl, head of school at Central. “The ACE program has allowed our students to become active learners in a discipline that is not typically available to yeshiva high school students. I am extraordinarily proud of our students, including our alumna, Kelly Smolar, for their dedication and hard work.”

To learn more about Yeshiva University High School for Girls visit