Roshellia Goines walked the red carpet recently for the premiere of Dream Big, the IMAX giant-screen feature that began playing across North America this month.
For 35 years she was worked as an engineer, most recently for Bechtel National at the Hanford vitrification plant project.
Now she’s also a film star, getting a chance to talk a bit about engineering in a film that shows how engineering has shaped and changed the world.
The film, with Bechtel as a sponsor, looks at projects from the Great Wall of China to more modest but important projects, like a bridge changing the lives of villagers in Haiti.
Goines hopes the film inspires students to pursue the same career that she has found rewarding.
“I can’t think of any other occupation that allows you to use your creativity to impact the lives of everyone on the planet,” she said. “Almost everything you touch is impacted by engineering.”
Children who watch the film may see what’s possible in their own lives as they watch students in Mississippi build a solar-powered car, hoping to be able to race it for 1,000 miles across Australia.
But many students – and adults too – don’t really know what engineering is, Goines said. It’s not a job they’re likely to see featured in TV shows and movies.
“This film is a game changer . that shows what we do to solve problems,” Goines said. “It’s not just math and science. That’s important. But it is also about being creative and having compassion.”
Her part in Dream Big – Engineering Our World was filmed in Tacoma, where she talked about the redesign of Galloping Gertie, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that “galloped” in windy weather until it collapsed during a 1940 wind storm.
But her heart is in nuclear engineering.
Her favorite teacher was her engaging and energetic science teacher from seventh to ninth grade, Miss Means, she said. Her family never questioned that she could do whatever she wanted.
“When I imagined my future, I thought I would go to work every day carrying my briefcase to NASA,” she said.
But her career took a different direction when she became interested in nuclear energy during college. No other way to generate energy appeared to be more complex and cleaner, she said.
She graduated in 1981 from the University of Alabama as its first black female mechanical engineer.
The most fun she’s had as an engineer was working on the Watts Bar Unit 2 completion in Tennessee, she said. The construction project sat idle for 20 years, and engineers like Goines had to address aging and obsolescence issues and bring it up to current Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards.
It became the first nuclear power plant to come online in the United States in the 21st century.
Now she’s working on another nuclear construction project.
She’s one of the managers associated with the design of the Hanford vitrification plant’s High Level Waste Facility, which will turn high-level radioactive waste into stable glass logs for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
The work has the important mission of protecting groundwater and the Columbia River, she said.
One of the best parts of engineering is watching a design come to life during construction and solving problems that come up in real time to keep construction going, she said.
She’s hoping some of that experience comes across to parents, teachers and students who see Dream Big.
When Goines saw the film, it was premiering at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
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