Bringing STEM To Life: A Community Effort

Some people may think of engineering as being formulaic, but to Timken Application Engineer Joanna Hallisy, creativity is central. “We certainly build on established processes and discoveries, but if you’re trying to do something new, you need your own creative process,” she says.

That approach plays well when she volunteers at Great Lakes Science Center, home to one of only 11 NASA visitor centers in the United States, where the creativity of museum staff and volunteers helps make science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) come alive for 300,000+ visitors each year.

Great Lakes Science Center includes a public high school and a giant-screen format DOME Theater, and features hundreds of hands-on exhibits and programs for kids and families. It’s all made possible with the support of regional business leaders, corporate sponsors, government partners, and teams of dedicated volunteers.

An evolving, dynamic partnership

Timken Vice President of Technology Doug Smith is on the board of directors for the Science Center and spearheads Timken’s partnership. Timken sponsors Camp Curiosity winter break and summer camps for kids in grades K-6, and leadership encourages employees to volunteer in many different ways.

“Our Timken volunteers are particularly good at thinking through programs with us,” says Great Lakes Science Center President & CEO Kirsten Ellenbogen. “The partnership started with a 2013 exhibit highlighting Timken bearings in a Mars rover and has evolved into a dynamic relationship where we are integrating Timken content into Camp Curiosity and our Manufacturing Day and other STEM programs.”

A group of children engage in scientific exploration at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Photo by Gayle Norris

Volunteers like Hallisy contribute time, energy and skills. “We love volunteers who can enthusiastically talk about what they do and interact with students or the public,” says Ellenbogen. “We also appreciate our behind-the-scenes volunteers who help develop or redesign the complex interactive exhibits so essential for engaging the public.”

Creating STEM opportunities for everyone

For Hallisy, volunteering is a way of life. When she joined Timken five years ago, she jumped right in, participating in the Timken Young Professionals Network and opportunities with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity and Engineer for a Day, as well as Great Lakes Science Center. “I feel more myself, honestly, when I’m giving to others,” she says.

Part of the appeal of the Science Center is its focus on opening up STEM opportunities to kids who might not otherwise get them. “Any child who slips through the cracks because they’re not engaged in something they feel valued for … well, that means we’re failing at our role in Northeast Ohio,” says Ellenbogen.

As someone with close connections to the Native American community, Hallisy is fully on board with that sentiment. “I don’t think anybody should be limited by their circumstances or counted out because of their school or family situation,” she says. “When people from different backgrounds come together to solve a problem, they inevitably come up with a better solution than a more homogenous group.”

Inspiring the engineers of the next generation

Diversity is an important consideration for companies who support the Science Center — who rely on it to help inspire the young engineers and scientists whose creative inclinations will spark the technological breakthroughs of the future.

Programs like NextGen STEM Nights provide opportunities for teens to pick the brains of people like Hallisy. “It’s important to expose kids to all the different paths they can take to get where they want to go,” she says. “It’s also important to have those conversations early: ‘I did it, and you can, too. There are people and resources to help you along the way.’”

Timken volunteers also work with budding innovators at the I PROMISE School, a collaboration between the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron, Ohio, Public Schools. Read more