At the Cradle of Aviation, STEM inspires (in a ‘Big’ way)

Building the wall: The Great Wall of China, one of the monumental engineering feats of human history, looms large in "Dream Big."
By GREGORY ZELLER //

One of Long Island’s most innovative institutions is sharing some big-screen inspiration with tomorrow’s brightest minds.

As part of its National Engineers Week (Feb. 17-23) observations, which also include Feb. 21’s National Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is featuring the exhilarating documentary “Dream Big” in its giant-screened Dome Theater, where senses-shattering IMAX technology awaits.

Narrated by Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges and produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films and the American Society of Civil Engineers – along with the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. and a host of private supporters, including Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering – “Dream Big” takes viewers on a journey through the ages, rocketing from the Great Wall of China to deep space to show how human ingenuity has triumphed over life’s greatest challenges.

That includes examples of all sizes of creative brainpans in action, including the vignette, “Of Robots and Underdogs,” retelling the David vs. Goliath story of Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz., and its small, underfunded robotics team, which set its sights in the nation’s most prestigious engineering competition.

Essentially a recruitment film for STEM fields, the idea is to excite young minds about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And with millions of good STEM jobs out there waiting to be filled (and more on the way), the timing of the epic documentary couldn’t be better, according to Frances Cuomo Perpero, director of marketing and communications at the Cradle of Aviation museum, which is screening “Dream Big” daily through May in the Dome Theater.

“The whole movie was really developed to expose kids to things they might not otherwise get to see,” Perpero told Innovate LI. “The hope is to inspire them and show them that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

“Big” screen: The epic documantary “Dream Big” is now playing in the Cradle of Aviation Museum’s IMAX-sized Dome Theater.

Ideal for school trips, a vacation-week activity or even a corporate movie outing, the movie is meant to spark the curiosity of tomorrow’s innovators and educators (Variety magazine called it “a majestic educational film that every adult will want their child to see”).

And never one to waste a cross-branding opportunity, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is tying the long-term engagement into other museum programs, including this week’s Engineering Week observations and the museum’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings.

The museum itself is “proof that dreams come true” Perpero noted, referencing exhibits trumpeting such mind-boggling engineering achievements as Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 nonstop flight from Roosevelt Field to Paris and those historic moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s.

In that way, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is intimately familiar with the notion of human STEM ingenuity overcoming seemingly overwhelming technological problems – and that makes “Dream Big” an ideal addition to its mind-over-matter mantra, according to the museum’s communications chief.

“Long Islanders have made significant contributions to some of the most important events in history by dreaming big,” Perpero said. “And that’s why ‘Dream Big’ is the perfect fit for the museum.

“The movie is about engineering, but it’s really an incredible collection of stories about people changing the world,” she added. “So even if you’re not interested in engineering, it’s a powerful and empowering experience.”