Manhattan Alumnus’ Mentoring Program Receives Presidential Award

Charles H. Thornton ’61 is changing the lives of high school students around the country with the ACE Mentor Program, and the program is a recipient of the White House’s Presidential Award.

Charles H. Thornton ’61, Ph.D., P.E., a prominent structural engineer, is changing the lives of disadvantaged high school students around the country with the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of America. The program, which Thornton started in 1995 with collaboration with Manhattan College’s school of engineering, encourages industry experts and college and university professionals to advise prospective college students on their own personal career experiences. With more than 100,000 high school students in 40 states and 200 cities being guided and trained as a result of the ACE program, the program’s success will be honored on Dec. 12 with the White House’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

The collaboration with Manhattan College started when the school of engineering expressed the need to Thornton in the early 1990s to educate and mentor aspiring engineers before college. Manhattan College is still invested in working with Thornton on the ACE Mentor program and is currently sponsoring two mentor teams in the Bronx and Yonkers.

The ACE Mentor Program will receive the presidential award during a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., along with eight organizations and nine individuals. All recipients of the PAESMEM award are being recognized for the vital role their organization and they play in mentoring students studying science and engineering, especially in underrepresented areas. Each recipient will also receive $25,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance mentoring efforts, and the ACE program plans to use the award to further honor its mentors.

As chairman and founder of the ACE program, Thornton has helped to facilitate more than $12.8 million in scholarships to aspiring young talent. His commitment to helping others in need is rooted in the Lasallian Catholic education and values on social justice he received during his years at Manhattan College. In the past, Thornton has served as president of Harlem’s Salvadori Center, which works with inner-city middle schools and their educators to improve the teaching of math and science.

Thornton’s own career as an engineer and industry leader began after graduating from Manhattan College with a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s and doctorate degrees from New York University. Teaming up with former classmate, Richard Tomasetti ’63, they established Thornton-Tomasetti, an engineering firm, which has constructed and designed projects around the world. A few of the firms most noted projects include: New York Hospital; Chicago’s Comiskey Park; Terminal 1 at John F. Kennedy International Airport; and two of the world’s largest structures - Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan, and the 95-floor Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In addition to serving as co-chairman of the firm until 2004, Thornton has shared his expertise in the classroom at leading engineering institutions, such as, Manhattan College, Princeton University, Pratt Institute, the Cooper Union and the Catholic University of America. His knowledge of collapse and structural failure analysis was particularly useful in managing the engineering investigation of the Hartford Civic Center roof collapse in Connecticut; the cooling tower scaffold collapse at Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia; and participating in FEMA’s investigation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He also received the Engineering News-Record Award of Excellence in 2001 and in 2002, the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Hoover Medal, which recognizes engineers as humanitarians.

Thornton’s own story of making a difference in the lives of high school students was recently featured on AARP’s Your Life Calling With Jane Pauley, which airs frequently on NBC’s Today Show. View the segment here and also watch the behind the scenes video by clicking here.