CHICAGO — A group of high school students from Chicago were crowned champions this spring in an event that tested their creativity and ingenuity.

One of the teams in the city’s ACE Mentor Program – which aids students interested in architecture, construction, and engineering – won first place in the Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT) national design and construction contest in April in Washington D.C.

The 20 students on Chicago Team 11 were given the $5,000 prize for their design for a school of the future, which was the category for their competition. Participants come from a mix of public and private schools, including Chicago Public School students Whitney Young, Jones College Prep, and Lindblom Math and Science.

“It was just so rewarding to see how amazing this experience was,” said Kayla Magdaleno, a senior at Bennett Day School of the competition. “To be able to work with everyone and see our progress over the weeks. It was super rewarding and honestly the biggest confidence booster for me in my academic career.”

Students with Chicago Team 11 created the “Starlight School” for their project in the competition that featured 22 other ACE teams from around the United States.

“It was shocking at first – and definitely a really good feeling,” said Jones College Prep senior Shammai Winitzer, who said the group along with mentors were working on the project down to the wire. “We submitted right before the deadline and then suddenly a few weeks later we heard we were finalists, and that was already a big, exciting moment.

“But when we got the chance to go to D.C. and present it and find out that we won, it was honestly, it’s pretty incredible. It was something that I would have seen happen a month ago.”

The Chicago ACE Mentor Program was founded in 2000, five years after the national one, with an emphasis on recruiting students of color and female students. There have been 6,000 participants in the program since it started 23 years ago, with Burns & McDonnell, LBBA, Perkins Eastman, W.E. O’Neil, and Ryan Companies providing support and mentors for the program.

“A great experience for them as they’re navigating what they’re going to pursue in life,” said Sindy Panagiotopoulos, an ACE program volunteer and project manager for Burns & McDonnell. “I hope that one day that I either get to work with them or along with them somewhere or even if I have to bid against them, that would be great.

“I look forward to that because they’re all going to do so great.”

Two other Chicago ACE Programs also came home with victories in the national competition.

  • Chicago Team 1 – School of the Future Competition – “K-Town Innovation Center – Chciago High School of the Future.
  • Chicago Team 7 – Humanitarian Center/Border Relief – “Desert Sanctuary”

WGN News Now’s Larry Hawley spotlighted Chicago Team 11’s win at the CIRT National Design and Construction Competition this week. You can hear from members of the team and some of the mentors in the video above.