Inspiring future engineers, Hollywood-style

Narrator Jeff Bridges

Lights! Camera! Calculate!

Okay, that may not be the classic Hollywood formula behind any of this year’s Oscar-contending films, but National Engineers Week comes first. And this year, for the first time ever, engineers are starring on the biggest of screens as the inspiring problem-solving heroes of a spectacular new cinematic treatment, Dream Big: Engineering Our World, which opened last Friday.

Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, the $15-million film is now playing in 50 IMAX theaters across the U.S. That’s a big deal, especially for an industry long-perceived to be behind the curve in attracting potential next-generation recruits. Presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers and AEC giant Bechtel Corp., the 42-minute, large-format Dream Big was created by MacGillivray Freeman, the same award-winning team behind the beloved 1976 epic To Fly!, which still shows daily at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. For more than four decades, that IMAX feature — just half the length of Dream Big — has inspired countless future pilots the way ASCE now hopes Dream Big will enchant 21st-century STEM students who envision themselves making the world a better place.

“Teachers and parents are looking for ways to turn kids on to science and engineering,” said director Greg MacGillivray. “With Dream Big we hope to bring something new to that effort with an entertaining, visually spectacular film full of stirring human stories.”


Dream Big stars enjoy themselves at the DC premiere.

Last week, BuiltWorlds was honored to be a guest at ASCE Illinois’s invite-only Chicago premiere of Dream Big in the Museum of Science & Industry’s IMAX theater. The extrasensory experience was both awe-inspiring technically and moving emotionally. Indeed, it is not by accident that Dream Big opens its story with two young female civil engineers who have dedicated their careers to helping others. One is Turkish-born Menzer Pehlivan, a CH2M geotechnical engineer in Seattle who studies earthquakes, and Avery Bang, the celebrated CEO of Bridges to Prosperity, a Denver-based nonprofit that builds vital foot-bridges in remote villages around the world.

“We found four really strong role models, one man and three women,” explained MacGillivray. “And we feature how accessible engineering is to all minorities, genders, people of the world all over. Our whole purpose was answering the question, ‘How do we get more kids interested in engineering as a career?’”

      In Chicago next week? Come to BuiltWorlds' first Engineering Career Showcase. For event details, click here.

      In Chicago next week? Come to BuiltWorlds’ first Engineering Career Showcase

At last week’s national premiere in Washington DC, Brendan Bechtel, fifth-generation CEO of the San Francisco-based multinational, introduced the film with enthusiasm and more than a little family pride. According to ASCE, Dream Big initially had been championed by his grandfather, Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.

Like Bechtel, itself, the film is as global as it is ambitious. From the Great Wall of China and windswept skyscrapers in Dubai and Shanghai, to underwater robots, solar cars, drones, and increasingly smart cities, the storytelling focuses on the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels. “Two big thumbs up!” said ASCE National President Dr. Norma Jean Mattei, P.E., last week in DC. “How many times does a civil engineer get to go to a debut of an IMAX film that talks about the joy and wonder of engineering?”

Ultimately, it is children whom Dream Big is targeting, of course. Toward that end, ASCE has rolled out an extensive K-12 educational program and multimedia guide to augment class trips to see the film across the U.S. So, move over Lego Batman. These young movie-goers see real problems that they aim to solve.

  • BONUS: Below, this Engineers Without Borders USA project in Peru did not make the film’s final cut.