Engineer for a Day: Inspiring Tomorrow’s Innovators

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some children’s answers evolve over time. Others have always known.

Either way, it can be tough committing to a career for a lifetime. Through its Engineer for a Day program Timken inspires, motivates and champions the next generation of innovators by showing students what it really means to be an engineer.

Timken annually invites about 80 high school students to Engineer for a Day, a coveted learning opportunity at the company’s world headquarters in North Canton, Ohio. There, kids talk with engineers. They tour R&D labs, learn about manufacturing processes and inspect materials under a microscope.

They work in groups to design, build and test model vehicles with important missions, like efficiently transporting a shark and crocodile together while keeping the driver safe. Within this fun context, participants use science to solve real-world problems — the very definition of engineering.

“It was great to see so many women working at Timken and see that there’s such a demand for us in engineering. It was encouraging to know there’s that kind of place in the world.”

Jayna Hager  
high school junior and 2022 Engineer for a Day participant

Engaged in the impact of science
Jayna Hager, a high school junior and 2022 participant, is no stranger to engineering. Her father Carl is a Timken tribologist. She’d like to be a biomedical engineer specializing in bionic devices, and is interested in technology that helps device users feel like they’re using their own arms and legs.

“I think it’s powerful to give someone back the sensation of touch, like feeling what it’s like to hold a loved one’s hand again,” Jayna says. “I’d like to help improve people’s quality of life in that way.”

Jayna Hager and other Engineer for a Day participants toured Timken R&D labs and learned about manufacturing processes.

Jayna learned about the program from her father and in her high school physics and mechanical drawing classes. While initially drawn to electrical engineering, she thought Engineer for a Day would be a good way to explore other specialties.

Her favorite experience was observing a scanning electron microscope (SEM), which uses electrons instead of light to form a high-resolution image. Engineers use SEMs to analyze imperfections in materials and determine the cause. “It’s cool to see problem solving at that level,” Jayna says.

Jayna also served as design engineer on her building team, which constantly modified their crocodile-carrying vehicle based on changing criteria. “We thought it just had to go down a ramp,” she says. “Then the activity leader put a table we hadn’t anticipated at the end of the ramp. We crashed. The lesson was you can’t be prepared for everything, and sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board.”

Carl, who has led similar STEM programs during his Timken tenure, believes exposing kids to a mix of science and engineering experiences is the key to motivating future innovators, whatever path they choose.

“I’ve always said engineering is the application of science,” says Hager. “You should get excited about science first. Then, you can decide if you want to be a scientist or an engineer.”

Promoting the diversity of engineering
With a focus originally on mechanical engineering, Engineer for a Day has evolved to explore more disciplines — like manufacturing R&D,  material science and tribology — and accommodates four times the number of students. This year’s participants represented 18 different high schools in neighborhoods with varying socioeconomic circumstances.

Lizzie Nine started co-chairing Engineer for Day as a career development experience.

Lizzie Nine, senior product engineer, is one of the Engineer for a Day program leaders responsible for those advancements. She started co-chairing the event a couple years ago as a career development experience.

The program has two main goals: demystify the abstract concept of “engineering” for teenagers, and expose a diverse mix of students to career possibilities in the field.

Drawing on her own high school experiences, Lizzie knows students often have many questions about engineering but don’t know where to start. She uses this knowledge and survey input from program participants to tailor each year’s experience to today’s youth.

“We really strive for an interactive, relatable experience,” Lizzie says. “Participants tell us they appreciate meeting college students doing co-ops at Timken who are close to them in age. Some co-ops previously attended Engineer for a Day, and sometimes they become full-time employees here. They answer questions about deciding on a major, picking classes, where to attend school and everything else high schoolers are thinking about.”

As someone who attended engineering programs when she was younger, Lizzie is encouraged by increasing female engagement in Engineer for a Day. She hopes that as more women enter the field, that representation will inspire more girls to pursue STEM careers.

It has for Jayna. On her Timken tour, she encountered many women. “It was great to see so many women working at Timken and see that there’s such a demand for us in engineering. It was encouraging to know there’s that kind of place in the world.”

Timken invests in the future of engineering with programs that impact students from third grade to university. Learn about our STEM collaboration with the LeBron James Family Foundation I PROMISE school and our college co-op program for students majoring in engineering.