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Middleburg students win Best Technical Approach in ACE regional competition

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 6/9/21

MIDDLEBURG – Three local high school students won the award for Best Technical Approach in the Architecture Construction Engineering Mentor Program of Northeast Florida regional competition after …

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Middleburg students win Best Technical Approach in ACE regional competition


MIDDLEBURG – Three local high school students won the award for Best Technical Approach in the Architecture Construction Engineering Mentor Program of Northeast Florida regional competition after building a tiny homemade house on the shores of Black Creek.

The tiny home, which as the name suggests is small and compact to save space, was the work of a year-long project for Middleburg High 11th grader Kamryn Wright, who was the project manager and architect, ninth-grader Daniel Lee, who was the team’s electrical engineer and 10th grader Connor Tison, who was the architectural designer on the project. The team was led by their ACE teacher, Michael Carson, and their ACE mentor and Stellar Architectural Associate, Chise Nicholson, and together, the five of them created an award-winning design.

“I have to say this ACE competition was a lot of fun,” Wright said. “It was a year-long competition where we made our own project – our tiny house. We all worked really hard for months and months and in the end, seeing it all come together and competing against the others in the competition who worked just as hard was amazing. Winning on top of that was even better.”

The ACE Mentor Program can be found in multiple counties across the state and its goal since its founding during the 2006-07 school year has been to help students explore the future and potential career opportunities in architecture, construction and engineering. Local industry professionals serve as mentors to the students while they work on “practical solutions for real-world projects,” according to ACE, and these projects are part of a regional competition.

Nicholson was the Middleburg High team’s mentor and he said working with the three students was amazing.

“I’m completely blown away by these students,” Nicholson said. “These were the students that were left after so many had left the program this year due to outside things like COVID-19 and such. I was so happy they stuck around and surpassed everyone else. They grinded so hard and I was simply just happy to see them finish. Then, they went on to win an award. It was incredible.”

Wright said the team built a tiny home off Black Creek. They chose the site, performed a site survey, and ultimately selected 1460 River Lane in Green Cove Springs. Then they had to determine its orientation at the site and figure out reasons why that lot was the best spot for the home.

They used industrial steel for the home’s metal frame and metal panels, which is unusual as most homes are built with a more conventional two-feet by four-feet wood framing, Nicholson said. He said this design beat out the likes of Orange Park, Creekside and Bishop Kenny highs, among others.

“They had to do all of this virtually too because of COVID-19,” Nicholson said, praising how well the students adapted to the challenge that presented.

He said when the school year started, there were 14 students in this year’s ACE program, but Wright, Lee and Tison were the only ones who completed the project.

“The mentor aspect is a big part of this program so it was cool that it was just me and three students,” Nicholson said. “It was better for developing a working relationship with these students and I loved working with them. You don’t see too much architecture and engineering interested in Middleburg, but they were all in. They could be the future, you know.”

Wright has wanted a career in architecture for a very long time. She said she’s always been a creative and artistic-driven person, painting and drawing earlier in her life. When she learned about the career potential in architecture, and how it would draw on her more creative side, she decided that was the field for her. Her drafting teacher, Carson, was also the ACE teacher so it was easy for her to get involved.

She loved her first experience with ACE last year and it only made sense to continue the program for the 2020-21 school year.

“There are a lot of benefits for my future in terms of being involved with ACE,” Wright said. “When I’m a senior, ACE provides a scholarship and we can apply for it as an incoming college student. Plus, I’ve met a lot of people in the industry and it’s nice to get my name out there.

“In the beginning, I think we were all just really excited to get into something like this. I knew there were awards and we were pretty determined to get them, but we were just excited to work on a project like this. We did what we needed to do to get the award, though, and here we are.”

Wright said most teams they competed against were made up of eight to 12 people, which is more than triple their three members. The team was called “tiny but mighty” by the judges, however.

Wright and her fellow teammates learned they had won the Best Technical Approach award about 45 minutes after presenting their project virtually to the judges at this year’s regional competition.

“We threw our hands into the air and jumped up and down,” Wright said. “It was an awesome accomplishment. It was a relieving moment when we won because we had worked so hard for this award and for this project.”

Wright will be a senior next year so it will be her last time being in the ACE program. She hopes her classmates will continue the program through their own senior year and she hopes to inspire others to look into the program.