Persistence, Faculty Support Help Student Secure Dream Job Designing Roller Coasters

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Crystal Hurtle smiling in front of roller coaster.

Thrilling Conclusion: Recent mechanical engineering graduate Crystal Hurtle's relentless drive paid off when she got her dream job as a roller coaster designer.

Crystal Hurtle has always savored the thrill of riding roller coasters. Growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Hebron, Kentucky, Hurtle enjoyed yearly trips to the nearby Kings Island amusement park. But a sixth-grade math and science field trip to Kings Island made the recent Rose-Hulman graduate realize she could parlay her love of roller coasters into a career in engineering.

"I went back and asked my science teacher, 'What do I have to do to build roller coasters?'"

At her teacher's suggestion, she geared her pre-college studies toward a future in engineering, taking all of the higher-level math and science classes available. It was only the beginning of a journey as full of twists and turns as any roller coaster, that tested the tenacity of the future mechanical engineer as she sought to gain a foothold in the competitive niche market.

During her junior year of high school, Hurtle was surprised to discover her neighbor's brother worked as a roller coaster design engineer. Not only that, but the company he worked for was located in her hometown. She would later learn there were actually two roller coaster manufacturers in the Cincinnati area.

Hurtle used this newfound knowledge to begin making connections in the industry; first, with a phone call to her neighbor's brother, and later with a school paper about the physics of roller coasters that allowed her to do an in-depth interview with him. She wisely used the opportunity to glean insider insights and advice.

Her contact told her not to be afraid of delaying graduation to gain experience in the industry, and also suggested attending an industry trade show for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions to make connections. He emphasized that in the small world of roller coaster makers, persistence was the key to securing one of the rare job opportunities.

Crystal admits that some of the advice seemed absurd at the time. Eager to realize her dream, Hurtle embraced the counsel anyway.

"There was one other thing he said to me," she adds, "'There will be people who say you can't do it and people who say you're going to make it--you have to choose who to listen to.'"

The amusement park trade show occurs during Rose-Hulman's finals week each year. Hurtle chose to go for the first time in 2012. Rose-Hulman faculty accommodated her travel to the show and provided alternate dates for her finals that year, and again in 2013.

At the 2013 show, she talked to Gravity Group, the other Cincinnati-area roller coaster maker, about a possible internship. "The next week I got a call asking if I wanted to do a co-op with them for the rest of the academic year, starting the next week!"

Hurtle jumped at the chance, even though the news came during the first week of Rose-Hulman's winter quarter. She says that despite the suddenness, it was a smooth transition to take time off mid-year, thanks to the support of the Rose-Hulman faculty and staff.

"Having the personal environment of Rose-Hulman made it really easy," she adds.

Now, Hurtle embarks on another thrilling ride. She graduated at the end of the winter quarter and was preparing to begin a full-time position with Gravity Group at the time of this interview.

"They're a really talented group of engineers, and I'm really looking forward to working with them again."

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