Dream Big: Engineering Our World
Directed by: Greg MacGillivray
Starring: Menzer Pehlivan, Steve Burrows, Avery Bang, Angelica Hernandez
42 min.

If you don’t think math and science are creative, then spend a little time with the good folks who filmed the documentary Dream Big: Engineering Our World.

Funded by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Bechtel Corporation, and narrated by Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, Dream Big takes you on a wild journey from the heights of the international space station to the 8-foot depths of a swimming pool.

The film premiered to a packed house at The Collection’s Century RiverPark Theater in Oxnard on Sunday, Feb. 26. All this thanks to Marta Alvarez, founder and proprietor of her civil engineering firm YCE Inc. in midtown Ventura.

Alvarez won a contest sponsored by ASCE in which she submitted an essay on what engineering meant in her life. “Whatever I wrote, they must have liked,” she quipped.

Her prize was a premiere of the movie here in Ventura County.

Dream Big was filmed and produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films headquartered in Laguna Beach. It specializes in documentaries designed for the IMAX screen.

It took three years to film. Beyond just the sheer scope of traveling from location to location, the challenge was this: Make science and engineering interesting, creative and fun for a wide audience, especially children. Better yet, inspire prospective students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the words of the filmmakers, “Use surprising human stories to expose the hidden world behind the most exciting inventions and structures in our daily lives.”

As producer Shaun MacGillivray explained, “We embraced the idea of incredible breadth in Dream Big because it showcases how engineering can be so cool in so many different ways.”

The stars of this movie have all engaged in innovative engineering. Menzer Pehlivan, a Turkish-American engineer living in Seattle, wanted to be a movie star when she grew up. Instead, after a huge earthquake in Turkey, she became an engineer specializing in safe building construction. Steve Burrows explored the secret to the survival of the Great Wall of China. The answer? Sticky rice. He is using this knowledge to reinforce new skyscrapers in San Francisco. Avery Bang turned down a lucrative career in engineering to build bridges in Haiti. Why? These simple bridges with their innovative designs save families and children from the threat of drowning in rivers.

And then there’s Angelica Hernandez, an engineer from Phoenix, Arizona, who was inspired by her participation in 2004 in a robotics club at Carl Hayden Community High School. Encouraged by their teachers, a group of mostly low-income students built an underwater exploration machine from whatever parts they could purchase or salvage. Nicknamed “Stinky,” it cost $800 and was entered into the prestigious Marine Advanced Technology Remotely Operated Vehicle competition held at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

For Alvarez, this film was intended not only to support careers in engineering, but to encourage young women to see themselves as future engineers. To emphasize this point, she sponsored two $750 scholarships for young women from the Tri-Counties area.

“I chose women because I think we still need a little boost,” she said. “It’s a very male-dominated field, even to this day.”

The winners were Anahi Morelos, a senior at Lompoc High School, and Alexandra Alamillo, a Rio Mesa graduate and freshman at California Polytech Institute in San Luis Obispo. Morelos hopes to go to UC Berkeley and major in chemical engineering. Alamillo is currently studying agricultural and environmental sciences.

Dream Big explores the natural connection between inspiration and construction and revels in the joy that comes when an engineer discovers new ways to make the world a safer, healthier, stronger place to live. From the viewpoint of a 70-millimeter camera lens, Dream Big gives us a world-view perspective of the scale and beauty of engineering ideas.

Alvarez would like for people to appreciate the creative work of engineers and to inspire students to follow her career path. As she jokes: “I’m hoping that when I show somebody how engineering works, that on some scale it will get people more excited, and when I interview somebody, they won’t just say to me, ‘Yeah, I want to be an architect.’ ”