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Designed for Action: Civil Engineering Students Take Summer Field Trip to Hersheypark

October 06, 2023
Students during the HersheyPark Field Trip in front of roller coaster.

At York College, students aren’t just reading textbooks and listening to lectures. They’re working on community projects, solving real-world problems, and using their education to effect change. In Designed for Action, we meet the students who are making an impact outside of the classroom.

Amusement parks are good for more than just having fun.

Over the summer, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Josh Wyrick, along with Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Alison Kennicutt, took a group of 44 Civil Engineering students, along with two Mechanical Engineering majors, to Hersheypark in Hershey, PA. There, they learned about the multitude of jobs available with a degree in Civil Engineering, and they were able to see how engineering helps support the park’s infrastructure and how they might become a part of that.

“I wanted the students to appreciate the engineering required to design and maintain such a park, and thus broaden the scope of their future career paths,” Dr. Wyrick says.

Behind the scenes

As an educator in Civil Engineering, Dr. Wyrick prioritizes familiarizing his students with the breadth of paths available to them that might be outside their career focus. Last year, he took students to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. This year, he decided to stay closer to campus with Hersheypark, with transportation secured through Bailey Coach in Red Lion, PA.

“I chose Hersheypark because it's well known and within an hour's drive from campus, as well as for the ample opportunities for the students to have fun in the park after the engineering tour was completed,” he explains. “The goals were for the students to appreciate the engineering required to design and maintain such a park.”

All junior (CVE362: Introduction to Hydraulics and Hydrology) and senior (CVE462: Advanced Water Resources Engineering) Civil Engineering students were invited on the trip, as they were already on campus taking summer classes. Dr. Wyrick made it a grade requirement for his CVE362 course and gave extra credit to students in CVE462.

The group received a tour before the park opened to the public. Afterward, they were given the first ride on the Wildcat’s Revenge and had leisure time to explore the park before heading back to campus later in the day.

“An amusement park such as Hershey, may not be the first place students think of when they are considering their career paths, but there is quite a lot of engineering involved with the design and maintenance of this park. In fact, the engineer that led our tour was a civil engineer by trade,” Dr. Wyrick says. “He agreed to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the rides, including the wave pool, lazy river, and the new Wildcat's Revenge roller coaster.”

Hersheypark was especially applicable for Dr. Wyrick’s teaching, as the tour of the park’s infrastructure covered concepts in his classes, particularly the water rides.

“Some of the direct concepts that tie into my courses included the hydraulic conveyance of the water through the rides along The Boardwalk; maintaining a safe and consistent water quality for those rides; and the stormwater management throughout the park, i.e., diverting the storm runoff into detention basins,” he adds. “Beyond the water-related courses, there are also other engineering aspects of interest in and around the park, such as the structural design of those giant roller coasters to withstand those momentum forces, the geotechnical foundations to keep the rides from sinking or leaning, and the transportation design of the visitor traffic and parking controls.”

Jackie Keogh ’24, a senior Civil Engineering major from Toms River, NJ, attended the trip. The group was able to see many different types of engineering, she explains.

“We were able to see close-up views of the mechanics of the park’s wave pool, including the storage and flow mechanisms of the wave pool’s water and waves. Additionally, we were able to go into the mechanical room to see the many different pipes of influent and effluent that prioritize the treatment of the water to then be recycled back out to the wave pool,” she says. “We then moved to different areas of the waterpark and were shown different water attractions, their functions, and how they each run. The last segment of our trip concluded with a tour of the new hybrid roller coaster, Wildcat’s Revenge. We were able to go into the shop next to the coaster to see the maintenance and testing of its train cars.”

While the group primarily explored the engineering aspects of the park, Jackie, who also has a minor in Sustainability and Environmental Studies, appreciated the opportunity to also explore the park’s more sustainability-focused aspects.

“Finding out how the park uses air to imitate natural wave patterns on the water surface to produce waves was intriguing. We also learned about the chlorine and UV light disinfection procedure in the mechanical room of the wave pool to keep it safe for guests. Finally, in touring Wildcat’s Revenge, I learned the steel track allows for higher speeds and more functionality in weather,” she adds. “Some of the wooden trusses supporting the track are a part of the original roller coaster. It was fascinating to see the combination of sustainability and innovation in the making of the hybrid roller coaster.”

Focusing on fun

For Jackie, who wants to work in either geotechnical, transportation, environmental, or construction engineering, having the chance to explore a structure where these types of engineering are present and apply the concepts she’s learned in her courses is invaluable.

“Looking at the workings of the pipes and valves for the wave pool and other water attractions are tied directly with my Hydraulics and Hydrology and Fluid Mechanics classes. The many components of the wooden trusses and the steel track correlates to Structural Analysis, Strength of Materials, and Statics classes where those two components were often looked at in different loading scenarios and sizes,” she says. “It was enjoyable to see many things culminate as one.”

While the trip was focused on learning, having fun also quickly became a goal. Jackie’s favorite part of the trip was having an entire day to explore the park after the tour had concluded.

“I was able to ride all the roller coasters, walk through the Hersheypark Zoo America, and even ride Wildcat’s Revenge before the park opened for guests. It was certainly memorable,” she adds.

Dr. Wyrick hopes to organize more class trips like the National Aquarium and Hersheypark in the future. Like Jackie, he enjoyed the trip immensely, and hopes this will encourage future Engineering students unsure of participating.

“I first organized a big class trip like this last year, when I took students to the National Aquarium. I certainly would like to keep this tradition going with a rotating schedule of Aquarium/Hersheypark, maybe adding other destinations as ideas come forth,” he says. “One of the students on this trip noted how much fun I was having on the tour. That was certainly true! Which is another reason I want to keep these trips going—maybe my enjoyment can be infectious toward the students.”