Dreaming Big

Kelly Cox’s documentary, “Big Dream,” presents the stories of seven young women overcoming personal challenges to follow their passion in STEM fields.

It is now widely acknowledged that there are very few women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields across the world. There are several environmental and social barriers, including gender stereotypes and biases, which prevent women from accessing STEM education and working in the related fields. However, there are also a number of women endeavoring to break these barriers and pursue their dreams.

Seven of these amazing young women feature in Kelly Cox’s documentary, “Big Dream.” It follows their intimate stories of overcoming personal challenges to follow their passion in science, math, computing and engineering. From small town Iowa to the bustling streets of the Middle East, “Big Dream” immerses viewers in a world designed by and for the next generation of girls.

Cox is the creator and host of award-winning show, “The Original Fare,” which uncovers where our food ingredients truly originate from. She has made her feature directorial debut with the “Big Dream.”

Produced in partnership with Microsoft, UN Women, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, UNICEF and National Science Foundation, “Big Dream” was selected in the American Film Showcase, in partnership with the U.S. State Department. As part of the program, Cox visited New Delhi and Kolkata in February for screening the film and conducting discussions on using film for social awareness and women’s empowerment through STEM.

Excerpts from an interview.


When did you first realize the importance of empowering women through STEM?

I have a video production company. I was producing videos on science and engineering for organizations like the National Academy of Engineering, Disney and Pixar, and through the conversations I was having, I realized there was this call to action to have more girls in the field. I really look forward to any opportunity to try to empower women and get the stories of young women out into the public. So, I thought, why not combine my skill of video storytelling with this issue of diversity in STEM.


How was the idea of “Big Dream” born?

I started thinking about the phrase “Big Dream,” and I wanted to go and find a very diverse group of girls and bring them together to show the similarities that we have—Martha in Kenya is facing some of the same challenges that Cassidy in the United States is facing. Through these conversations, I hoped for girls to realize that they are not alone and there are so many of us out there trying to work hard and build our confidence to pursue our dreams.


What were you looking for in the girls you wanted to feature in the “Big Dream”?

When I was looking at what I wanted from each of the characters in the film, I really needed to show that they had challenges—challenges that they were still dealing with, challenges that they had faced and tried to overcome. And, that they were girls, they were funny, they had friends or boyfriends, and that they hung out. They were just like every other girl, but they were fiercely determined and passionate about building a career in that industry.


What kind of impact do you think “Big Dream” has made on the Indian audiences?

At Bluebells School International [New Delhi], one of the girls came to me and asked if I think my message got through to people. I asked her in return, “What do you think?” She said, “I think I got it, but I am not sure if boys did.” So then, we made the boys talk about it. And to see them discuss and understand the need for equality for women and the support and encouragement that boys and girls should provide each other, to me, is the reason I did the film.


Did you find the reactions of Indian girls any different from those in other countries?

What’s been so special about this experience of being a part of the American Film Showcase—I’ve been fortunate to tour the film in Peru, Thailand, Haiti, Algeria, Zambia and India—is that these young people are so very similar in that same kind of curiosity, the desire to be able to pursue their dreams and also their challenges. We’re all thinking about: do we have access to resources, will we be able to actually pursue something along those lines?


What do the young women in different parts of the world tell you, for example, about the kind of hurdles they face in male-dominated industries?

The things that these young women have taught me and talked to me about are astounding. I made it a point in my discussion at the Bluebells School to let them know I grew up in a town of 200, very small rural town, where you didn’t really get careers like this to pursue. It’s hard work to pursue any kind of dream and we all have so many setbacks against us. I hope that the very least there is a little bit more confidence that they’re walking away with after watching this film.


What are the challenges in making a film for social awareness? Are we going to see more such initiatives from you?

On some level, I am not sure that there are as many challenges trying to do a film on social awareness as say a big Hollywood blockbuster. You kind of go into this knowing that you’re going to speak to a small audience that’s very specific, and if you can get it in front of them, it’s a huge accomplishment. It’s not about making money or getting richer or any of that. It’s really about connecting those pieces. I still try to pursue my work in building social awareness. I have a food and travel show in America called ‘’The Original Fare” where they get to the origins of ingredients in food systems around the world. So I always try to do work that comes from the heart and tries to contribute into a positive conversation. I’m still a little bit intimidated to do another documentary though. This is a lot of work.

I want audiences to walk away from watching this film and recognizing that we still have a lot of work ahead of us to truly build equality between men and women. I also want them to bring more stories from these diverse groups of the world into media. There’s just such a beautiful world out there with so many fascinating people, and I would like to see them get more screen time.