Most of us have been to one of those museum IMAX movies: Think of To Fly, The Living Sea, and Everest. All those, and many more movies you saw on that field trip you’ll never forget, were made by director Greg MacGillivray of MacGillivray Freeman films. Now he’s got a new film, Dream Big: Engineering Our World, and it’s currently opening in museums across the country, with accompanying educational outreach programs and activities. Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, the movie encompasses many more locations than any of the other films created by MacGillivray. Dream Big is a fascinating, educational, and engaging movie that focuses not just on places, but on people, and the passion they have for a career that is helping to make our world be a better place.
I am not an engineer, but my sister is. She works in Hawaii making their roads and airport runways safer. We all know engineers, but as MacGillivray said in a phone interview, “no one really knows what engineers do, and sometimes people just assume it’s all about math.” I don’t like math, and I don’t really understand what my sister, or any other engineers do.
Dream Big sets its sites on changing that. Using IMAX and 3D, the film shows how engineers have affected both our daily lives and our entire societies. From sweeping panoramas of The Great Wall of China and the Space Station, to great buildings and life-saving structures spanning from Nepal to Dubai to Haiti, and gadgets that make life easier, Dream Big focuses on the many ways engineers can use their inventive, inquisitive, or creative minds to contribute to a better world. Over 2.4 million STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs needed filling by 2016, and that number is only going up. Global warming, clean air and water, and cities that are sustainable as populations increase, are all challenges that can be solved in part by the world’s engineers.
This brings me to mentioning why the film is so inspiring to girls. Unlike many of the IMAX movies you’ve seen, the structure of Dream Big goes beyond showing panoramic, awe-inspiring landscapes, and focuses on four specific engineers and how they are changing the world. Three out of four of them are women. Not only are three of them women, but they are representative of diversity as well. Since career opportunities abound, and inventive thinking is key element for success in the future of engineering, MacGillivray thought it essential to include some women who are advancing the field. He hopes they will inspire many young girls to follow suit.
Turkish engineer Menzer Pehlivan, was living in the capital of Ankara at age thirteen, when she experienced the 1999 earthquake that killed over 17,000 people. Even in the midst of all this tragedy, she asked herself how this could be prevented in the future. It led her to a lifetime pursuit as a civil engineer focusing on seismic safety. In Turkey, as in much of the world, however, engineering was seen as a career exclusively, for men. She was actually told in school that girls don’t become engineers. With the support of her family she persevered, and is now an international expert in earthquake engineering, living and working in Seattle. The daughter of a designer, and a woman who loves dresses and heels, she is often told by young female students that she doesn’t look the part. Her response is that anyone, with any kind of style, can be a leader in any field. She says, “When we understand all of what causes building and infrastructure to fail, we can prevent unnecessary death and heartache from earthquakes.”
Since there are an abundance of engineering jobs and not enough people to fill them, the filmmakers and subjects of Dream Big hope the experiences shown in the film will inspire more kids to consider a career as an engineer early in their schooling. Says Menzer, “As an engineer, you can actually get to use your mind to change the world, and actually see the change. You can build stuff, help people, and even save lives. If you engineer a building that is still standing after an earthquake, you have just saved hundreds of lives.”
Avery Bang is president and CEO of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), which is a nonprofit organization that builds footbridges over impassible rivers in isolated communities around the world. B2P has been recognized as one of the top ten social enterprises in the world by Classy.org. Dream Big follows her to Haiti, where she and B2P help change countless lives by building a footbridge over a fast-moving river that had taken many lives, and prevented local men, women, and children from getting to school, work, and other villages. These kinds of projects have a huge impact on quality of life, reducing mortality rates and expanding educational opportunities for some of the one billion people in the world without access to any transportation network. Bang represents an aspect of the engineering community that is idealistic, adventurous, and community-focused. Much of her work is done with recycled or donated materials. She was inspired to start her company when she was volunteering in Fiji, working with cancer patients. She saw a huge connection between health and the ability to access care. She adds, “I saw that access is a problem that engineering can solve.” Bang started volunteering with Bridges to Prosperity while still an undergraduate in college, wrote her master’s thesis on building sustainable bridges, and quickly rose to the title of president and CEO!
Featured engineer struggled as a child, being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who came to the U.S. with her single mother as a nine year old. She discovered engineering though the robotics club at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Her team, from an underfunded school in an impoverished neighborhood, competed against college students from MIT, Harvard and others, in the Remote Operated Vehicle Competition. 80% of the kids in her school lived under the poverty line, but two inspired teachers started a robotics club to ignite the imaginations of the kids in unlimited ways. Hernandez was part of that first team, and years later, the robotics club is world-famous and half the members are women.
Born into an immigrant family, Hernandez graduated as valedictorian, and studied mechanical engineering at Stanford University . A passion that started in the robotics club has led her to a career focused on clean energy. It was through the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that she was able to pursue an education. She didn’t let her history stop her. As far as advice to other immigrants who have come here, she says, “t’s really about the American dream. I think it’s something that a lot of immigrants that are coming here are looking for, so it is really important to remain optimistic, and stay focused on what you want to achieve. The US has always been very welcoming of immigrants and times are difficult right now, but it’s very important to remain united and persevere in what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to contribute to the country.” She also mentioned that women in particular have qualities of great value to the engineering community, “What I’ve realized is as women we have a different perspective on things. It plays into the types of solutions we could recommend or the ideas we might be able to bring to a team. There aren’t that many women in engineering careers, and we’re trying to change that for all the younger generations. There are so many qualities women possess: being able to communicate and being able to work with a team is one of the most important parts about being an engineer. There are so many moving parts and so many disciplines that come into play when working on a project. Different genders are going to think of different factors and how it affects society.”
There are many programs and activities to get involved with, put together by MacGillivray’s film company in partnership with DiscoverE.org (an educational engineering foundation) and the American Society of Civil Engineers, and these programs have been created with a three year plan to raise awareness and interest in engineering with diverse kids of all genders. They have lots of educational tools and events, including a “Girls Night Out”, which you can find on the DiscoverE website. You can find out about all additional programming on the Dream Big website at http://www.dreambigfilm.com/education/
Angelica Hernandez has a desire to spark an interest in the next generation, because she is raising part of it herself. She says, “I have a daughter, and i’m expecting my second baby. My husband is also an engineer. We both think it’s essential to engage her in activities at home with Legos or other STEM toys kids can play with to engage her imagination, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.” She suggests other parents should see if they have engineering programs in the schools. She says having access to those programs makes a huge huge difference in kids understanding how many expansive, creative options there are in engineering. “Girls and really all kids need to be exposed. If you’re not exposed to it you’re not going to imagine yourself doing it. Dream Big is doing that. It shows what engineers actually look like and how creative they are. It sends a message that anyone with curiosity, no matter what their background, history, or challenges, can change the world.”
For all the theaters presenting Dream Big, go to http://www.dreambigfilm.com/theatres/
For educational programs and activities, go to http://www.dreambigfilm.com/education/
Grade: B, good for expanding awareness of careers, and focusing on gender parity