Opening doors to STEM careers

Jack Kalavritinos ('85) of ACE Mentor Program not waiting on government solutions.

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As a student at Wake Forest Jack Kalavritinos (’85) learned about Pro Humanitate and the importance of giving back. Some 30 years later, in his new role as president and CEO of the ACE Mentor Program, his organization’s work encapsulates the principle of the University motto.

With a mission to engage, excite and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in architecture, construction and engineering, ACE is a private-sector initiative serving a public need through leadership, mentoring and support.

There is a job shortage in these industries as well as a need for more women and minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, said Kalavritinos, a political science major who went on to earn a law degree from Catholic University of America. “The early founders of ACE Mentor basically said, ‘We’re not going to wait for the government to come up with these solutions.’ Instead of these executives complaining that not enough students are exposed to these professions, they said, ‘Let’s invite them into our offices, show them what it’s like to be part of a team, design projects and even help them with college scholarships.’ ”

ACE_logoTaking the helm to direct ACE Mentor Program, founded in 1994 by principals of distinguished design and construction firms and now with 2,200 mentors delivering a 15-session after-school program to almost 8,000 students, represented a big career change. Kalavritinos had been director of global government affairs at Covidien, a healthcare products company and, before that, a senior official in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spearheading outreach efforts in the states and communities. He had also been director of government affairs and general counsel for the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), where he worked with volunteer leaders to increase the industry’s voice in states and on Capitol Hill. In his new position his goal is to increase awareness of the ACE Mentor Program among members of Congress.

“Wake allowed me to pursue my passions — political discourse and economics — both in class and through my activities on the Student Council, College Republicans and even through the ’84 Reagan re-election campaign,” said Kalavritinos, a native Washingtonian. “I helped organize then-VP George H.W. Bush’s campus visit after interning at the Reagan-Bush re-election HQ back home in D.C. It’s a small world but many years later my colleague at Covidien, Tim McBride, and I realized we likely met that day on campus in 1984 because he was the longtime personal aide to Vice President Bush; he helped us all get photos with his ‘boss.’ ”

Kalavritinos said that in the political science department, differences with professors were encouraged and enabled students to gain a richer perspective than a one-size-fits-all approach. “This has helped me as I have moved through my career in law, politics and policy,” he said. His mentor was Professor of Politics Jon Reinhardt, who helped him frame his views of the United States as a sea of competing interests; interests, as historian Alexis De Tocqueville noted, that help to keep the country well-balanced and stable.

“I only wish Dr. Reinhardt had lived long enough for me to tell him stories of my time working in the White House in 2001-02 and working there on 9/11 and in the tense days and weeks afterwards,” he said. “He would have surely helped me put it in perspective, and his sunny disposition would have been a calming influence.”

Kalavritinos lives in Potomac, Maryland, with his wife and two sons, the older of whom gave his dad, the alumnus, a tour of campus while attending Jerry Haas golf camp. “I try my best to use the principles of Pro Humanitate by volunteering at my son’s school, and my wife and I encourage both sons to give back; they have helped with several nonprofits such as Special Olympics of Maryland, First Tee of Washington, D.C., and St. George Greek Orthodox Church,” he said.

He is also active in the Wake Will capital campaign with fellow Deac alumni and D.C. colleagues Bobby Burchfield (’76) and Elliot Berke (’93). “Pro Humanitate has been a core part of what makes Wake special,” he said. “It’s fantastic hearing stories of so many people giving back.”

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