Carnegie Mellon University
August 16, 2016

Taking a Wild Ride: CEE Sophomore Instructs StuCo Roller Coaster Course

Taking a Wild Ride: CEE Sophomore Instructs StuCo Roller Coaster Course

Hunter LawrenceHunter Lawrence

The end of the semester usually means that students are rushing to finish projects, study for exams, or prepare final presentations.

But for one StuCo (Student College) course, the semester ended with a very different sort of rush: The Roller Coasters class toured Kennywood amusement park and spent the day going on all the adrenaline-pumping rides as the culmination of everything they had studied throughout the semester with the course’s teacher, Hunter Lawrence (BS ’18).

Lawrence has long had a fascination with roller coasters. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she visited Kennywood every summer and became enthralled by the complexity and power of roller coasters.

In high school she joined the American Coaster Enthusiasts, the world's largest group of ride enthusiasts, and she spent two summers working at Kennywood as the ride operator for the Phantom’s Revenge roller coaster. Lawrence says that answering guests’ questions about the roller coaster was one of the highlights of the job. “I tried my best to get everyone I could to be in awe of my ride as much as I was,” she says.

In her first year at CMU, she signed up for a StuCo called Roller Coasters: Background and Design, which Jordan Zink (SCS ’15) created and taught.

The course is designed to be an introduction to all facets of roller coasters, from their history and different designs to the physics behind them. Zink quickly realized how interested and knowledgeable Lawrence already was about roller coasters and he asked her to carry on the class’ legacy and teach it once he graduated.

“Of course I was honored and thrilled and accepted without hesitation,” she says.

To teach the class, Lawrence keeps a close eye on the current state of the roller-coaster industry in order to give her students the most up-to-date information about roller coasters.

“The achievements and innovations of roller coasters is booming right now, so you have to be on top of your game if you want to teach about it,” she says. She has also had guest speakers come in to talk to her class about the engineering side of programming amusement-park rides.

The most rewarding part of teaching the StuCo for Lawrence has been getting other people interested in a topic that she loves.

She says she can’t help but smile whenever her students get into a discussion about the course material or share experiences they’ve had with roller coasters, “because they’re participating in something I’ve created, and their enthusiasm on top of mine makes the class more complete.”

Her enthusiasm is infectious, according to one of her spring-semester students, Abigail Cahen (BS ’15, MS ’16).

Cahen was interested in learning more about coasters’ history and engineering. Cahen says Lawrence was a great teacher, and her experiences working at Kennywood and visiting a huge number of parks meant Lawrence had plenty of personal experiences to share with the class. “You can tell she's really passionate about coasters, and that passion is contagious,” Cahen says.

Lawrence, who is also pursuing a minor in architecture, hopes to one day apply her civil-engineering degree to the amusement industry in some way. “Working for a ride manufacturer would be a dream job, though I know those positions are hard to come by,” she says.

But for now, she’s proud of her StuCo, and enjoys both teaching her students and learning from them about their experiences at amusement parks.