After eight years, three continents, and one accident that nearly took his life, Jace Bentle of Sweetwater, Texas walked the graduation stage twice this May, coming away with graduate degrees in both architecture and land and property development, earned in tandem from the Texas A&M College of Architecture.
Immediately post-graduation Bentle, 25 will begin working at Jacobs, an international architecture and engineering group where he will utilize both his degrees to come up with inventive solutions to improve military bases and other multi-billion dollar projects worldwide.
“Texas A&M built me into who I am today,” said Bentle, who earned a University Studies degree with a concentration in architecture before customizing a dual degree program. “Being here eight years, I’ve really had an opportunity to grasp and have hands-on experience with each of the Aggie Core Values. My path would be incredibly different if I hadn’t come here.”
He didn’t start college very focused, he admits. Originally a mathematics major, he quickly learned he wouldn’t be happy in that career field and floundered academically his first few semesters.
Remembering a childhood love of building things and creating solutions with what was on hand at his family ranch, he changed to University Studies with a concentration in architecture.
“It’s a small-town thing,” he said. “If my family every needed something done, we did it ourselves. My Dad was a handyman, my grandfather a woodworker – I learned how things go together and how they function.”
Enjoying his new major, Bentle started working to raise his GPA, but said he was still unsure about his future. A near-death experience in his sophomore year served as a catalyst that would help him hone in on his true passion and develop the work ethic and mindset needed to conquer the intensive graduate programs.
In November of 2012, Bentle drove his motorcycle into a Toyota Camry that had pulled out in front of him on Texas Avenue. Bentle, who was not wearing a helmet, went headfirst through the driver’s side window, fracturing the right side of his face and snapping his femur in half.
He had three surgeries and an orthopedic implant and was told if either vehicle had been going faster or slower, he would have likely hit a metal segment of the car and not survived.
“It’s eye opening when you come that close to death,” Bentle said. “I was immobile for six months and had nothing to do but study. Overcoming that challenge helped me get my priorities right.”
He used his time to delve deep into the design world, get his grades up and apply for a study abroad semester in Bonn, Germany, eager to not only get out of bed, but experience the world.
“Bonn was my first experience outside of Texas and the architecture there was awe-inspiring,” he said. “Architecture in my hometown is a big metal shed. You don’t draw plans, you think of a square and hire some welders.”
The infrastructure of Bonn and how the city is put together functionally and from a planning perspective inspired Bentle.
“I wanted to learn more about buildings, design and how cities operate,” he said.
Once back at Texas A&M, Bentle couldn’t choose between architecture and land development, so he pursued both. He earned his undergraduate degree in university studies and took on the daunting three-semester Career Change program to become eligible to pursue a master’s of architecture degree, which he would do in tandem with a master of land and property development graduate program course load.
An internship with CMAI Architects in Knysna, South Africa cemented his decision to straddle disciplines.
Connected with the firm though outstanding alumnus and CMAI Director Chris Mulder ’80, Bentle spent a summer in a central South African town as an architecture/ land and property development intern.
During his stay in 2017, there were rampant, severe fires in the surrounding area, destroying much of the residential housing available to locals. While there was temporary housing available, the firm found itself in the position of needing to quickly design multi-family, weather-resistant housing that would be affordable for both its future residents to live in and for its owners to build.
“Often the architectural design is done first and then the financial feasibility study follows,” Bentle said. “There’s a disconnect there. Every decision you make in the design affects the feasibility and cost. When you do them together, it cuts down on time and makes a big difference.”
In a unique position to understand both sides of the work, Bentle helped incorporate more design into plans without skyrocketing the building cost, utilizing his multidisciplinary study to run cost studies alongside the design work.
“It really makes me grit my teeth when I see multi-family units go up that are, in my opinion, eyesores,” he said. “The community needs the best possible housing they can have and the investors need their money, but you can put a little more thought into it and develop concepts for beautiful designs that make sense financially.”
It was in South Africa that a dream of eventually owning his own real estate firm fortified. A firm where he can improve on the “catalog” developments available today, designing places beautiful to the community and affordable to construct.
“I love mixed-use developments,” he said. “Places where you can live, work and play is the future.”
Bentle considers himself well-prepared for any potential challenges he’ll face in his new continent-hopping career, thanks in large part to his professors, who he says have become both mentors and friends.
“The professors here are outstanding,” he said. “They have given me opportunities that helped shape my path, challenged me and encouraged me every step of the way.”
He said the relationships built with faculty have made him comfortable speaking with anyone, regardless of their title, and he believes that skill will serve him well in the working world.
At this spring's graduation, Texas A&M will award its 500,000th degree and the Aggie Network will surpass 500,000 former students.