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Founder of themepark group enjoying ride of his life

David Gerad / Lantern reporter

It started with Roller Coaster Tycoon, a popular children’s computer game, followed by an Ohio State classroom and finally to Orlando, where a dream job at Universal Studios awaits.

Brad Okeson, a fifth-year in mechanical engineering and the founder of the Theme Park Engineering Group at OSU, has had the ride of his life leading to what he calls his “dream job.”

“I remember at the lunch table in seventh grade, I had a season pass to Six Flags. I always talked about it and roller coasters … I was that kid,” Okeson said. “Now, I have a job waiting for me. Its been like, surreal, so I have to keep pinching myself.”

Okeson attended West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio, where he had his first taste of the amusement industry, long before OSU’s Theme Park Engineering Group.

During high school he worked for Geauga Lake, a Cedar Fair amusement park, then owned by Six Flags, now known as Geauga Lake’s Wild Water Kingdom, according to myrollercoaster.com/Geauga. Okeson said he worked as a catering supervisor for five years.

After playing in his high school band for four years, he unsuccessfully tried out for the OSU marching band.

“Luckily, I didn’t make it and wanted to try something else. It happened to be the Theme Park Engineering Group,” Okeson said. “It was like a blessing in disguise.”

Along with founding the group, Okeson joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity during his first year at OSU.

He said his learning experiences helped him incorporate his own leadership skills into the Theme Park Engineering Group.

“I think keeping a professional outlook has been one of the most successful aspects of the group,” Okeson said. “I think some of the biggest successes we’ve had are the things our members have gotten to do.”

Okeson said being able to empower the members to do something incredible determines the success of the group.

After only two years of existence, the group won an outstanding student organization program award in May 2009.

“That was (the) first year we became established. That award was the biggest thing we could possibly get and it was amazing,” Okeson said.

It wasn’t long before word of OSU’s Theme Park Engineering Group spread throughout the industry and to other college campuses nationwide.

“Cincinnati and Toledo were the first two colleges to contact me. They wanted my help with setting up their own groups,” Okeson said. “I got to tell them that they could do whatever they want. For example, Cincinnati’s group focuses more on the trips and travel aspect.”

Okeson said he usually receives an email every couple months from a different university looking for help starting a theme park group of their own, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Drexel University and recently the University of Alabama.

“We’ve had the opportunity to travel to different parks to work with many people within the industry,” Okeson said.

Okeson and the Theme Park Engineering Group have had the opportunity to work with many professionals within the industry. They’ve worked with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions and ASTM International, formerly the American Association of Testing and Materials.

“Brad alone has sent ripples through the industry by bringing student interest up to a different level,” said Eamon Kelly, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering.

Okeson said he has been involved with the development of a young professionals program. He has worked with people in the U.S. and internationally for IAAPA and ASTM.

“I would say I’m one of the more active college students working for the industry on a professional basis,” Okeson said. “A lot of students or anyone new in the industry will probably run into me at some point, which can benefit me long term.”

Throughout his time with the group, Okeson was connected with Bill Watkins, a 1953 OSU graduate who designed and worked on many of Disney’s main attractions including monorails and the Peter Pan vehicles, according to mouseplanet.com.

“We’ve invited him to come in, and he did a lecture series here for us now were trying to get him to come back again,” Okeson said.

Bill Watkins did not respond to requests for comment.

Okeson is the name of the turkey club sandwich at Sloopy’s Diner in the Ohio Union. The turkey club sandwich is a cold three toast layered sandwich with sliced turkey breast, bacon, lettuce tomato and mayonnaise.

He was in the inaugural sandwich class that honored 12 students or alumni, Marie Thornhill, special projects coordinator in the Ohio Union said.

“I specifically remember Brad from last year because he is not the typical student but someone who is clearly making a difference on campus,” Thornhill said. “It wasn’t just a group of students who wanted to go to Cedar Point and ride roller coasters. I just know he’s been actively involved on campus.”

Okeson will graduate in June with a degree in mechanical engineering and will earn his master’s at the conclusion of summer quarter.

In September, Okeson’s job as a technical coordinator awaits him at Universal Studios in Orlando where he will begin his professional career in the amusement industry.

“This summer I’ll have my third internship within the industry. They’re taking us seriously now,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Brad.”

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