Members Expand Scope of Services to Authoring Children’s Books

July/August 2018

NSPE Today
Members Expand Scope of Services to Authoring Children’s Books

TIM OLSON, P.E.

TIM OLSON, P.E.

In recent years, PEs and their employers have been trying to find new avenues to give the public a better understanding of the work they do and spark children’s interest in engineering careers. For two NSPE members, this goal turned into a project that was far from their typical engineering work.

Now members Tim Olson, P.E., and Chadd Kahlsdorf, P.E., of the civil engineering firm Bolton & Menk, have a new achievement to add to their resumes: children’s book author.

Nearly two years ago, the firm’s marketing staff asked Olson, a water resources design engineer in Minnesota, to brainstorm some nontechnical ways to help explain the work the firm does in water resources. The assignment was part of Bolton & Menk’s goal of making their work accessible and interesting to kids.

“I started to think about it and I thought, ‘What we’re really writing here is a children’s book.’ So, I was interested in doing it from that perspective,” Olson says. “My wife and I started kicking around ideas on a family trip and we basically wrote the whole book on the spot. When I presented it to the marketing team a few weeks later, everyone fell in love with it.”

In 2016, Bolton & Menk published Olson’s book, Walter the Raindrop, which explains the water cycle from the perspective of an anthropomorphic drop of water.

CHADD KAHLSDORF, P.E.

CHADD KAHLSDORF, P.E.

“I think the public uses the streets, they flush their toilets, they use lakes and ponds for recreation, and they don’t really understand what happens in the background to protect and maintain all of these things,” Olson says. “From a water quality or environmental protection perspective, there’s no doubt in my mind that reaching out to the youth of the nation and letting them bring these concepts back into their homes is the most effective way to encourage people to consider using their resources in a different way.”

Based on the success and reaction to Olson’s book, Bolton & Menk has published more children’s books, including ones on wastewater operations, landscape architecture, and civil engineering.

Kahlsdorf, a civil engineer and project manager in Iowa, authored Will Learns About Civil Engineering in the World Around Him. “How [engineers] express what we’re doing in a way that’s clear really makes a difference for people,” he says. “Most people aren’t unintelligent, they just haven’t necessarily been exposed to our thought-process, which is always so technical. It’s good for engineers to try and get into this creative space where we can have more interaction with the public.”

Bolton & Menk released the fourth book in the series, Doug the Waterdrop, in late May, and has plans for more children’s books in the future.