“The film was inspiring,” said 10-year-old Dmitri Scearce, son of David Scearce, a mechanical engineer who brought his son to “Dream Big,” a movie shown to help get youngsters thinking early about a career in engineering.
“Dmitri is a bit younger that most of the students here,” his father said.
Nevertheless, Dmitri has some interest in engineering, perhaps partially because of his father, but also because at his age he is interested in electricity and video games.
Other students, however, found the film inspiring because it showed people helping others by building bridges or fortifying buildings after devastating disasters that killed or injured thousands of people.
The film also delivered an uplifting message of never giving up on yourself even when resources and experiences are limited.
For instance, one movie segment showed a high school robotics team creating an underwater robot out of plastic pipes, held together by a foul-smelling glue, that looked crude compared to other more intricately designed stainless steel robots constructed by university students.
The high school students dubbed their simple robot Stinky because of the glue, and Stinky managed to complete all eight or nine underwater challenges even though in earlier rehearsals it had leaked.
The students somehow decided at the last minute to use absorbent tampons as a covering to prevent robot leakage and that apparently did the trick, keeping the robot going in the right directions and following appropriate commands.
As it turned out, the high school kids won the competition with Stinky.
They even managed to beat engineering students from a former championship team representing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The film is really inspiring, especially when it shows engineers helping people less fortunate than themselves,” said Evan Miller 14, an Exeter Township eighth-grader.
Both Miller and Luke Weller, 13, another Exeter eighth-grader, enjoyed the segment highlighting a female engineer who designed much-needed suspension foot bridges in Haiti, used to cross rivers where residents were known to drown in fast-moving water.
The bridges were needed to connect schools and health clinics to various villages.
Aimee Oswald, 14, another Exeter student, admired the engineers and their creativity in tackling complicated tasks.
Austin Gould, 12, a Hamburg sixth-grader, who wants to become a civil engineer and has built structures out of cardboard and paper, admired how some engineering students in the film didn’t need a lot of money to create structures or robots and still managed to do well.
“I think it’s amazing how engineers can help people worldwide,” said Grace Gilberg, 14, another Hamburg eighth-grader. “My main interest now is music and writing. I’m drawn to engineering a bit. I think I like the problem-solving and design aspects.”
At age 26, Kale Odhner, a senior mechanical engineering student at Penn State Berks, has been where many middle school students are today.
He enjoys mentoring youngsters and was at the Penn State table with a display of rocketry projects.
“The advances in technology and globalization are driving industry, the economy and engineering,” he said. “Artificial intelligence and space exploration are the next biggest things and they are not going away.”
Odhner, raised on a farm near Lenhartsville, has had one foot in education and one foot in business since he graduated from high school.
He said that he has had two companies, one a mechanical contracting company specializing in farm equipment (trucks and tractors) and also a car dealership.
But his experimentation in the work world made him even more determined to stay with his education and improve his lot.
“A lot of people want to graduate and get a job at Lockheed Martin, but they don’t have the experience and the projects to point to,” he said. “There is a great pool of talent out there, but you have to do the projects because that’s what will set you apart.”
On a practical level, Odhner says that there are two things youngsters should realize are needed to be successful in engineering.
“It’s always good to be inspired, but you have to have the courage to look at fear and still push forward and you can never be lazy,” he said. “Entertainment has become so cheap these days, that people just sit back and don’t create.
“Engineering requires people not to be afraid, to work and be creative.”
Odhner said he has had to conquer fears, even a fear of mathematics.
But he has done it to achieve his goals.
There was a clever insight into the analytical mindset of engineers on a handout at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ table.
It said: “The optimist says, ‘The glass is half full.’ The pessimist says, ‘The glass is half empty.’ The engineer says, ‘The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.’ “
For the more perceptive, students who attended “Dream Big,” the lesson in the opportunity not only helped them to understand what engineers do, but also who engineers are. n