Three Years Later, Still Dreaming Big

February 6, 2020
Three years after Dream Big debuted, Menzer Pehlivan continues to serve as a role model, talking with students about civil engineering careers.

It was three years ago this month that ASCE got into the movie business.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World” debuted on IMAX and other giant screens in museums and theaters around the world in February 2017.

The film, presented by Bechtel and produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films in partnership with ASCE, showcases engineering in a colorful, dynamic and diverse way, forever changing how a generation of children views the profession.

Its legacy is still being written, too.

Three years since the premiere, Menzer Pehlivan still receives messages, emails, cards, phone calls, you name it.

Pehlivan, a geotechnical engineer for Jacobs in Seattle, was one of the breakout star civil engineers featured in the film. Just two weeks ago, she got a message from a woman in Massachusetts whose daughter had seen Pehlivan in “Dream Big” and hoped to talk to her for a project she was doing on role models.

“I think she watched ‘Dream Big’ and thought to herself, ‘Well, I kind of look like her, and if she made it, I can make it too,’” Pehlivan said. “We video-chatted. It was great. And it’s just one example of many.

“It just gives joy to my heart that we’ve been able to reach so many kids.”

‘Big’ success

More than a decade ago, when ASCE and the ASCE Foundation began working out plans for what would become “Dream Big,” even the most optimistic would be hard-pressed to imagine the levels of success the project has achieved.

Consider the stats:

More than 3 million people have seen “Dream Big” in giant-screen theatres in 15 countries.

More than 3,000 private screenings in 22 countries have been hosted by ASCE, Bechtel Corporation and other engineering organizations and universities.

“Dream Big” educational videos, produced to complement the film, have been viewed more than 1.1 million times on YouTube

With the help of ASCE members around the country, more than 110,000 U.S. public schools received a “Dream Big” DVD and educational toolkit for use in their classrooms.

“Dream Big” engineering activities and lesson plans have been downloaded over 70,000 times.

86 percent of viewers reported having a more positive view of engineering after seeing the film.

The film won four Giant Screen Cinema Association Achievement Awards including Best Film of the Year, Best Visual Effects, Best Educational Program by a Theater and Best Marketing Campaign by a Distributor.

“Dream Big” has also been selected to be part of the American Film Showcase, a program funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. The showcase organizes screenings and workshops in more than 40 countries.

Monica Morales, a leading LA YMF Dream Big organizer, and former ASCE President Kristina Swallow attend an outreach event.

A gamechanger for outreach

As impressive as the numbers are, the film’s influence as an educational outreach tool transcends mere statistics. ASCE groups have organized “Dream Big” screenings and events every month – if not nearly every week – somewhere in the world for three years and counting.

From the states of Louisiana to North Dakota all the way to Colombia, where ASCE members held 19 “Dream Big” events for more than 1,555 students.

“The most satisfactory thing is that many of the children started dreaming about becoming engineers,” said Jairo Uribe-Escamilla, a Section leader who helped organize the events.

On the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the “Dream Big” DVD and toolkits were a huge hit at Nuuanu Elementary.

“I can honestly say that I just about cried while watching it,” Crystal Doi, a STEM teacher for K-5, “I preach to the teachers and students every day that STEM and engineering is important for our future, and this film depicts just that.”

In Los Angeles, the students of Angeles Mesa Elementary School – recently honored as a Distinguished Magnet School – first saw the film as part of a free field trip for Tier 1/Title 1 schools at the California Science Center sponsored by McGillivray Freeman and the L.A. Younger Member Forum. They have since received the DVD and educational toolkits and continue to screen the film every time the YMF visits for civil engineering presentations.

The list goes on and on …

Melvin Ewing helps welcome students into a Dream Big screening in Prineville, Oregon. PHOTO: Melvin Ewing

Melvin Ewing, K-12 chair for the Oregon Section, helped organize a “Dream Big” event last November for fourth- and fifth-grade students at High Desert Christian Academy in Prineville, Oregon.

Ewing recruited civil engineers from central Oregon for the two-hour program and together they talked to the students about civil engineers, answered questions about the film and worked through several hands-on activities.

“We really had a great time,” Ewing said. “The kids sent thank-you notes. I think they were very appreciative of what engineers do.”

Ewing felt it was especially important to bring the film to a place like Prineville, a little off the beaten path, far from IMAX screens.

“The person in rural America, they say, ‘Well, they’ll never come visit my town, they’ll never come see me,’” Ewing said. “But I want someone there to say I might have a chance to make it too.

“Many people don’t have an idea about the opportunities civil engineering can provide. ‘Dream Big’ tells a person that the sky really is the limit.”

Life-changing

Looking back now, it’s funny to think that Pehlivan, such a crucial part of the film and its outreach campaign, wasn’t sure what to expect from the film – or that she’d even have much of a role – during the early filming process.

By the time she attended a preview screening in Seattle a month before the official release, it started to sink in that this could be a momentous movie.

“I remember feeling super-proud about it. Not my portion – but what the movie actually made me feel,” Pehlivan said. “I got to watch it with a few of my friends, and they walked out of the theater and they were like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I didn’t become a civil engineer?’ That made me feel we could achieve what we wanted to.”

Pehlivan spent much of the spring of 2017 talking to student groups, visiting schools, and appearing at museum screenings, inspiring people to dream big. She said she’d kept track of how many times she’d seen the movie but lost count at 22.

Dream Big director Greg MacGillivray, center, and the film’s featured engineers celebrate premiere night at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2017. PHOTO: Jason Dixson Photography

“There was a period of time when I was basically traveling every weekend going to different areas in the United States, doing my daily job during the week and then traveling and meeting with all these families and kids and educators and lawmakers around the world and talking about women in engineering and how we can inspire the next generation,” Pehlivan said.

“It really made me feel like I was able to contribute, give back something that I got from engineering and share it with others. I really like having the venue to go out there and say to the next girl or the next boy: ‘Really, it doesn’t matter what you look like, how you dress. If you want to be an engineer, you can be an engineer.’”

“Dream Big” continues to inspire. It’s still being shown on select giant screens around the world. It’s still streaming on Netflix. It’s available on home video in 4K. ASCE groups continue to organize events. Teachers are still using the educational toolkits in their classrooms. And Pehlivan continues to share her “Dream Big” story of earthquake engineering, resilience and inclusion. She has a major speaking engagement in her home country of Turkey next month.

You might even say she’s famous.

“Whenever I’m in a civil engineering group, sometimes people say, ‘I think we met, I know you from somewhere!’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t think we did. Maybe we did?’

“And someone else will say, ‘You watched ‘Dream Big,’ right?’ And the other person says, ‘Oh yes, I remember her now.’” Pehlivan laughed.

“I was expecting the next Hollywood contract. It never came! We’re gonna have to go for ‘Dream Big 2: Dream Bigger.’”

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