Full Circle: The ACE Mentorship Effect

Megan's view of the kitchen in 2016. A group of students in conversation gathered around a square table

Navigating a job interview requires the ability to adapt quickly to a new environment. For Interior Designer Megan Faina (MF), however, the first visit to the Strada Pittsburgh studio felt strangely familiar. She had seen some of the people before, and déjà vu tingled her senses as she was led through the kitchen and historic auditorium.

Megan shared those feelings with her mom, who responded, “Of course you felt that way, you’ve been there before!” Megan had been a participant in the ACE Mentorship after-school program and had been mentored by her now-coworker Eric Phillips (EP)!

A group of students, 3 male 3 female, pose together. Megan is 2nd from the right.
2nd from the right and straight on til Strada! Megan with her fellow ACE mentees in 2016

Unveiling the Blueprint of Influence

EP: ACE Mentorship is a community-based educational program that gives high school students real-world experience in Architecture, Construction and Engineering. Over a few months, we get the opportunity to share what we love to do with the generations headed towards college and the workforce.

MF: To be honest, I didn’t know much about architecture and design before I participated in ACE. I thought Falling Water was cool, and I had a friend taking architecture classes who showed me construction documents. My high school in Peters Township encouraged me to try out this educational program and going downtown seemed like a fun thing to do after school.

Eric and other Stradistas led conversations about urban design, landscape architecture, and interior design. The ACE program returned to Strada’s Pittsburgh studio this month for a workshop.

Students seated in an auditorium viewing a projected design lesson.
ACE mentorship students in Strada’s studio in 2024

Building Blocks of Inspiration

EP: I borrowed a tabletop saw and cut a bunch of blocks (link to prev ACE post) to show city blocks so the students could create their own urban environment and learn how to work with leftover spaces. The goal was to show the range of opportunities that exist in design and construction. There are dozens of options to create a space, and we shared the importance of finding your role in that process. The ACE program is about exposing the possibilities available in this industry.

MF: I remember those blocks! That activity helped me move past the idea that residential design was the only path. Just being in the city was eye-opening, and engaging in city planning at a high level shifted my perspective. I could see how the various disciplines fit together like a puzzle. The environment of collaboration and support stuck with me.

Between then and now, Megan attended Eric’s alma mater, Kent State, and made the switch from architecture to interior design while working through the admissions process. Their program felt like the Strada culture, with all design disciplines working in the same building and sharing their victories and challenges.

Designing a Future, Building a Community

MF: When I got the opportunity to join the Strada team, I was nervous about working full-time. It felt like a big step to go from student to design professional, but being a part of Strada has exceeded my expectations. The balance between work from home and in-studio days keep me excited for the days I’m around my peers. I feel like I get to go into the studio, not like I have to.

EP: Yes! That was our goal! Strada is where I feel at home, with the right people doing the right things. I feel the momentum of my career moving forward in a positive way, with a balance that is a big part of good mental health and a fulfilling life. Who we are outside of work shapes who we are, and makes for a robust community of design thought when we are in studio together.

Once mentee and mentor, these coworkers are Designing with People in Mind® together, and Megan continues to be inspired in her new favorite workspace, the Strada Pittsburgh Kitchen.

Blueprints to Reality: Megan’s Journey

MF: I’m so excited to work on things that make it to the real world. I’m looking forward to being on site to see the construction process through a more educated lens, and am working towards NCIDQ certification (link). Just like my first day at ACE in high school, once my mind is on something, I have to do it! So, I’m excitedly pursuing the NCIDQ certification. I’m determined to learn more every day from my coworkers and come in with excitement to collaborate.

Today, Megan breathes life into designs, turning them into meaningful experiences, with every creative stroke echoing a humble journey from ACE Mentorship to the core of Strada’s design ethos.


Learn more about the ACE Mentorship program: