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Menzer Pehlivan Interview for Dream Big: Engineering Our World

Feb 14, 2017

By: Lynn Barker

Engineers save Lives! We learn this and much more in the film Dream Big: Engineering Our World.  We also see that many of them are hot-looking women! Gorgeous Turkish-born civil engineer Menzer Pehlivan, who describes herself as “girlie”, grew up wanting to be an actress or businesswoman but when she was 13, a huge Turkish earthquake hit her homeland and killed 17,000 people!  Despite the fact that girls weren’t encouraged to be engineers, she decided to focus her life on designing and building structures that would keep people safe.

Menzer talks about her work on videoMenzer talks about her work on video

As a civil engineer now working out of Seattle, Menzer also teaches kids and teens that engineering is creative and really fun as well as life-saving. She went to Nepal after the horrific 2015 earthquake to study why so many structures were destroyed partially due to the type of earth they were built on. This will help people build stronger buildings there in future.

Menzer fills us in on her work and convinces us that engineers are just cool people and maybe you should be one.  Check it out!

Kidzworld: You are a civil engineer specializing in earthquake building safety. For tweens and teens who might not understand, can you explain what you do?  

  • Menzer: What we do as civil engineers is we build structures. It can be a water treatment plant or a 50-floor residential building or a small house or bridge. What I do daily is try to make sure that these structures would not collapse after an earthquake or when the earthquake hits. It’s not just earthquakes we are designing for. We are designing for wind. If it’s a really tall structure, we want to make sure it’s not going to be knocked down by wind.

Menzer with a studentMenzer with a studentCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: Some boys think engineers are just nerds and girls think lady engineers must be kind of plain or not fashionable. Not true so talk about that.

  • Menzer: Absolutely not true. Anyone with different looks or backgrounds can become engineers. I have very cool friends who are engineers. We are people with different passions. For example. I dance tango and my many engineer friends go out to dance tango. We are not all sitting in front of a computer all day doing nerd stuff. Fashionable? You can be anything you want to be. We want to erase the stereotypes. In TV and movies there aren’t many engineers so we can’t use that as an example that we are really cool people and fun. I’m in New York City right now and it was engineers who changed that skyline. You can dream something and see that getting built and it can stay there for centuries. That’s pretty cool.

Menzer working on a classroom displayMenzer working on a classroom displayCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: Sure is. Do you have to be a math whiz to be an engineer? There is a lot of creativity in the work, right?

  • Menzer: Yes and there is a misconception that someone has to be really good at math and physics. You need to know basics but it’s not 100 percent necessary. You can be an engineer if you aren’t really good at math. The main idea of this movie is dreaming big. You can decide what you want to do then do it.

Menzer at the site of a huge landslideMenzer at the site of a huge landslideCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: Can you talk about how, at age 13, after going through a 7.6 earthquake in Ankara, Turkey you forgot other desires and focused entirely on wanting to engineer buildings that keep people safe?

  • Menzer: Well it was a big disaster. We lost many people and just seeing the aftermath was striking. It made earthquakes in our daily lives a reality. I was always good in math and science and I wanted to be a businesswoman and when you see the construction industry in developing countries like Turkey, it’s the wheel of the economy. It would give me a chance to be a very successful businesswoman but, also, as an engineer I can contribute changes so that in 45 seconds you don’t lose more than 17,000 people.

Collapsed building in Ankara, Turkey earthquakeCollapsed building in Ankara, Turkey earthquakeCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: It is shocking today that your teacher in Turkey told you that girls can’t be engineers. What gave you the strength to say “yes I can!”

  • Menzer: I have a very supportive family and I don’t believe in luck. I think people do create their own luck but my family always believed in me even when I doubted myself so when someone comes to me and says “You can’t do it”, it motivates me to do it. (I'll say) “Oh, just wait and see!” The teacher didn’t say (I couldn't do it) because he didn’t love me. I was one of his best students. It’s just an idea that people have in their brains about civil engineering when they don’t understand what engineering is. We need to communicate how many different ways we can contribute to the world as engineers.

A twisty design fights the windA twisty design fights the windCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: In the film, you are teaching kids about building earthquake and wind proof buildings and they seem to be having a lot of fun. Do you teach regularly?

  • Menzer: Yes, most engineers teach through the professional organizations they are part of. We’d go to the elementary school family days and science fair days. It’s like an outreach to help explain what engineering is. They are having fun and learning in the process.

Shanghai Tower is engineered to resist the windShanghai Tower is engineered to resist the windCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: What do you think is the biggest engineering marvel in the world?

  • Menzer: That’s a hard question. There are so many. Back to Turkey, one of the mosques we have (Selimiye Mosque is located in Edirne, a city in the northwest of Turkey) has this amazing, huge dome that is not supported in the middle. They did not have the technology we use now and that structure is standing beautifully for hundreds of years. How did they design and build it? It amazed me.

Menzer riding a coaster with a studentMenzer riding a coaster with a studentCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

Kidzworld: What is your dream project? What do you hope to do with your work the most?

  • Menzer: I don’t think I have a specific thing but anything I can do to improve and make sure that the structures we are building are going to be resilient during any type of extreme event. We are having a lot more of them around the world and we know about them because of improved technology. I hope we can build safer and more resilient communities. If I can contribute to that, that’s the dream that I have.

Menzer on cover of Civil Engineering magazineMenzer on cover of Civil Engineering magazine

Kidzworld: Why will tweens and teens especially enjoy seeing Dream Big: Engineering Our World?

  • Menzer: The one thing I really love about the movie is that it encourages and inspires kids. It inspires me as an engineer to hear the other stories in the film. I hope they will think “I can be that too”. They can relate to the personal stories. They are real stories. If we can do it, they can too.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World Movie PosterDream Big: Engineering Our World Movie PosterCourtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers

You can see Dream Big: Engineering Our World in IMAX theaters Friday, February 17th!


Have Your Say

How cool would it be to create a building or bridge that is safe against disasters? Engineers design space stations and so much more. Talk about it with a comment.