Cowboy? Ballerina? Engineer?

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.


When Alane Rivera speaks at elementary schools, she starts each presentation by asking the students what they think engineers do. Most supply the obvious answer: “It’s the person who drives the train.”

“Engineering is kind of an elusive profession,” Rivera says. Nothing against those who drive trains, but her mission is to help kids discover that there are lots of different kinds of engineers and they do lots of different things. And, of course, to do some early recruiting for the profession.

The civil engineer, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1996, says she and her electrical engineer husband, Raymundo, “have always been passionate about our professions.” When all the engineering magazines they receive mentioned the increasing shortage of engineers, the San Antonio pair decided to take action. The result is their book Rocks, Jeans, and Busy Machines: An Engineering Kids Storybook.

The first in what they plan as a series of engineering books for children ages 5 to 9, the colorful book, illustrated by Philip Sada, focuses on structural engineering and follows Violet and Pedro as they stop by a construction site on their way to the park.

When she visits schools, Rivera reads the book, shows pictures of machinery, talks about her own job and passes out miniature hard hats. “Basically,” she says, “I’m just trying to get them excited.” Excited enough, she hopes, to eventually consider becoming engineers, even if they never drive a train.

The book is available through or the website

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine.