May Meredith
SF Chronicle. Tuesday, November 4, 2014

By day, they are typical high school students. But when 1:30 p.m. rolls around, they are working alongside real architects and designers, helping draw sketches, price out materials and make models of San Francisco’s ever-changing skyline….

Build San Francisco Institute is a unique collaboration between working professionals and the public schools to create a fully accredited “small learning community,” for juniors and seniors who love to build things…

Twice a week, they work alongside their mentors in a firm, getting a firsthand look at their chosen career. The other three afternoons a week, they gather in a design studio in The San Francisco Chronicle building South of Market for lessons on sustainability and the latest industry software, such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Revit Architecture.

Students dive into projects such as creating a livable community on Mars, complete with robots that break up surface ice to melt and filter into drinking water; domes for houses; and shipping containers with agricultural crops inside. Students used Autodesk 3-D animation software to present their futuristic city and collaborated with students in England and Australia….

“It’s beneficial to get experience outside of school,” said Nicole Chin, 16, of Philip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco, who plans to study architecture in college….

One mentor, who worked in the real estate division at the Port of San Francisco, tapped Build SF students in 2006 to help with the remodel of Pier 14 along the Embarcadero, by creating 16 tile installations….

The student leader of the tile project was Justin Marks, who is now 26 and works as a junior designer at Hornberger + Worstell in San Francisco…And for the past few years, he’s helped mentor Build SF students.

“People always ask me how I got this great job, and it all started with people at Build SF being patient and teaching me, and I feel I should pass that on to other students growing up in the same neighborhoods,” Marks said….

Nixon Lee took all the engineering classes offered at Burton High and joined Build San Francisco Institute looking for more.

“One day I want to be an engineer,” he said, during a break in a lecture on environmental sustainability. At his mentorship with engineering firm Murphy, Burr and Curry Inc., he is helping calculate materials costs for the structural components of a building. . . . “They are helping make it possible for us to become future engineers.”