The idea was simple: show kids how the work of a civil engineer impacts their daily lives and, just maybe, spark their interest enough to get them excited about their own future careers.

Charles “Chadd” Kahlsdorf (’14 MS Eng. Tech. Mgmt.) recently penned a children’s book about his chosen profession. He’s a principal engineer for a regional infrastructure engineering firm in Des Moines, Iowa, with experience in street and pavement design, grading and erosion control, water distribution systems, and more.

Chadd Kahlsdorf
Charles “Chadd” Kahlsdorf

“There are a lot of picture books of structures and buildings, but I had never seen a book explain civil engineering at a kid’s level,” says Kahlsdorf, who earned his master’s degree online through Washington State University Global Campus. “We wanted to change that.”

Kahlsdorf wrote Will the Civil Engineer (Esri Press, 2020) as part of a project at his company, Bolton & Menk, which recently launched a career-themed STEAM at Work! children’s book series with the support of Esri Press. The series aims to get readers in first through fifth grades interested in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. “We found it’s a really great way to reach out and get into classrooms to teach kids about STEAM,” says Kahlsdorf, who’s done readings at local schools and libraries.

“People have reached out from around the world asking if they could get the books translated,” he says. “It’s been fun to see the impact.”

A father of six, Kahlsdorf approached the 24-page book “as a letter to my kids explaining why I do what I do, and why I am passionate about it. That’s what made it easy. It kind of wrote itself.”

His children range in age from 6 to 16, and he envisioned his main character, Will, as a third-grader. The story follows the boy as he learns about his dad’s job as a civil engineer, which he describes as using “math and science to make the world a better place.” Kahlsdorf wrote the first draft in “about 45 minutes. It just flowed out.”

He’s already at it again. By last summer, he was working on another children’s book, this one focused on the operations and maintenance side of infrastructure⁠—such as city parks⁠—with his local chapter of the American Public Works Association.