I’ve always loved to design and build things. Growing up, I was constantly sifting through piles of Lego bricks in search of the right sizes and colors to match the images and ideas that danced in my head. Who needs instructions? I was all about exploring the limits of my imagination to come up with interesting designs that weren’t necessarily practical, but always unique and fun. How else would I have built something so absurd and impractical, yet so amusing and whimsical, as a rotating toilet? I know that’s difficult to picture, but creations like that nurtured my design instincts and helped set me on my career path.
These days, I’m putting those skills to use as a product design engineer for The Timken Company. While I haven’t come across any rotating toilets in my work, I deal with plenty of products that are built for motion. The tapered roller bearings I design are critical parts you can find in practically any machine that pivots, swivels, spins or rolls. I’ve designed parts used in everything from helicopters and big trucks to electric vehicles and even spacecraft. How cool is that?
This week is a special one for me as I get to share my passion for engineering with 72 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from 17 Northeast Ohio schools as Timken opens its doors for our annual “Engineer for a Day” program. Along with my partner, Ean Dickerhoof, I have the honor of coordinating the event and 45 of my colleagues who’ve volunteered to give these aspiring engineers a glimpse into the world of problem-solving, discovery and innovation.
What’s especially exciting for me is that I’m not so far removed from attending events similar to this one in my native Pittsburgh. I know the impact they can have for students who are trying to find their way. Getting to take a look behind the scenes and engage with real-life innovators helped solidify my choice to become an engineer. I took that desire with me to Grove City College, where I earned my mechanical engineering degree in 2016.
The students visiting this week can ask engineers probing questions and get a good idea what a day in the life is like for us. We’ll tell stories and talk about our career journeys. They’ll get to tour our labs and prototype shop and even peer into our standing electron microscope to see the amazing details of a spider’s anatomy; that’s always a hit.
Most importantly, they’ll get to plunge their hands into a pile of Lego bricks to build a vehicle … with a catch. We’ll give them a list of the customer’s requirements for the design. Some of those requirements may even be in conflict with each other. The students will need to decide what elements are the most important. They’ll have to put themselves in a customer’s shoes. It’s a great exercise that promotes collaboration, problem-solving, analytics and creativity. And it’s a whole lot of fun.
By the time these students end their day with us, my hope is that they feel like there are many directions they can go with a career in engineering. From my perspective, engineering is about unlocking the same magic that pile of Lego bricks brought to me as a child. It’s fun. It’s exciting. And the possibilities are endless.