Recent graduate engineers his dream job

Published: Nov. 30, 2012

Like many youngsters, Jake Timmons (MechEngr ’12) enjoyed playing with trains when he was a kid. But he never imagined he’d get to work for a railroad when he grew up. Today, he works for one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America.

Timmons graduated from CU-Boulder in May 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He draws on the design and technical knowledge and the leadership skills he learned in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and applies them to real world projects in his management position with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF).

At a job fair during his junior year, Timmons talked with a representative of BNSF. From that initial contact, Timmons was offered a summer internship in Lincoln Nebraska, which then led to the job offer after he graduated.

“They hired me because they know that with an engineering degree I can handle the technical aspect of this position,” said Timmons, who also competed in high jump at CU. “Being in Division I athletics at CU showed (BNSF) my competitiveness and they liked that.”

His first project at BNSF is to streamline the process for work crews to break down and rebuild air brake valves on locomotives. It’s an assignment that’s not so different from the projects he worked on in class.

While a student, Timmons got to design and build engineering projects that he described as “ridiculously cool.”

During his freshman year he was part of a team that designed and built a hovercraft vehicle from materials they bought at a local hardware store. In a class on mechatronics and robotics, Timmons’ team built a fully autonomous robot they programmed to perform simple tasks without any human or remote control.

For his senior class design project, Timmons and his teammates were tasked with developing a seal for a Tesla turbine for which there were no previous technology or materials to refer to or build upon. The goal was to design a working seal that could be manufactured into a finished product.

Timmons credits a number of CU-Boulder professors who had a profound impact on the trajectory of his mechanical engineering career. One in particular is Professor Emeritus Frank Kreith, widely recognized for his contributions in solar power, heat transfer, and energy conservation, who wrote one of the most commonly used heat transfer textbooks in the country.

“Engineering school prepared me for this position because we were doing cutting-edge work in class—things that had never been done before,” said Timmons. “I learned how to make processes as efficient as possible and how to mitigate risk.

Being a manager at a railroad was not what I thought I’d be doing, but I love this job.”