Carnegie Mellon University


October 05, 2022

Mixing Engineering, Architecture, and Wooden Coasters

Hunter Lawrence (BS ’18) has a fascination for the aesthetics of roller coasters. She grew up riding the coasters at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. And she worked at the park as a ride operator for two summers–cementing her interest in the engineering and architecture behind wooden roller coasters.

As a CEE student, Lawrence took the reins of the Roller Coaster StuCo from the graduating individual who’d started it. “I taught it for six semesters. It gave me a reason to keep up with what was happening in the industry—plus, I knew the Public Relations people at Kennywood. They would give the classes tours and let us stay in the park,” she says. Lawrence also brought in guest speakers, including alumnus Brian Ondrey (ECE '95) who co-runs a company that builds control systems for roller coasters. 

Lawrence adds that her minor in Architecture provided the connection to wooden coasters. “I’m drawn to them because the structures can be designed in a beautiful way.” She is also more interested in smaller, locally-focused amusement parks like Kennywood. 

She began working with Great Coasters International right after graduation. Realizing that the industry was very competitive—especially for such specialized jobs—she networked heavily while still in school and was in the “right place at the right time” when the company was looking for an engineer. “These companies are very small and there are rarely openings. I had considered staying on for the Integrated Masters program but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work for Great Coasters.” 

She eventually transitioned to a position at The Gravity Group, Great Coasters International’s main competitor. There, she works as an engineer in manufacturing, managing an inventory of parts, inspecting trains, drafting and programming the company's new Engineered Precut Track, and helping to make projects flow smoothly.

Lawrence explains that bringing joy to others is a perk of the job. “Seeing people on the rides—or seeing rides open back up—really makes me feel like I’m doing something that is affecting someone’s day. I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to have these opportunities.”

She adds that CEE helped to pave her path to success, teaching her how to multitask, problem-solve, handle stress, and find balance in her life. CEE also showed Lawrence how to become a strong communicator. “Sometimes engineers get lost in the calculation aspect of things. Throughout my years at CEE, the importance of strong communication skills was really emphasized.”

Lawrence mentions that the path to a career in the amusement industry can be bumpy—but is worth it in the end. “I always tell students that you just can’t get down on yourself or feel too disappointed when there aren’t a lot of openings in the industry. A lot of it is luck. You have to have the qualifications and hold out for something to become available.”