Michelle Hicks, female civil engineer, smiles at the camera in a theme park

Michelle Hicks

Thrill Designer. Civil engineer at Firefly Creations.

Female civil engineer stands next to a roller-coaster
Twisting roller-coaster
Log flume theme park ride
Female civil engineer designs theme park rides on a computer

I grew up near Portsmouth and since I was 12 have loved rollercoasters. Now I work as a Creative Project Director at my own theme park consultancy, creating rides, attractions and rollercoasters for theme parks.

 

My favourite rollercoaster is Nemesis at Alton Towers Resort. I love how the scenery creates near misses to make an adrenaline filled experience for those on the ride. When I was at school, I went to a lecture about rollercoaster design and realised that engineering would let me design the rides I loved.

 

I decided to study Civil Engineering at the University of Surrey. I worked on bridge design and railways before finding a job at a theme park and zoo. In my job at Chessington World of Adventures I managed projects from start to finish, from design, to construction and testing before opening to guests. I would describe my job like being a conductor of an orchestra – making sure all the parts come together for a great experience.

 

I have worked on water rides, animatronics and walk-through attractions with custom smells and special effects. I get to learn something new every day. Every ride and attraction should be new and exciting, so I help develop new ways to keep the fun going. I am excited about how Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape theme park rides in the future.

 

I admire John Wardley, the rollercoaster designer for Nemesis and Oblivion at Alton Towers. He has also worked on the video game Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and was involved in designing the original attractions for Chessington. I have now worked on projects redeveloping some of his creations – making my mark for future adrenaline junkies.

 

My biggest engineering challenge so far was building a 50-foot tiger head over a log flume ride, Tiger Rock. The ride drops over a waterfall that is surrounded by tiger enclosures, so I had to include calculations in the design for how far tigers could jump! I find it rewarding that I also get to design new homes for animals as part of my work.

 

My favourite thing about my job is seeing the reactions of guests who’ve experienced my creations – if they are smiling, I know that what I have designed is fun and the project has been a success!

Where to next?

Find out more about how you can turn what you love into engineering, and what a future in engineering could look like, by exploring the links below. And if you have a question or comment, get in touch, we’d be happy to help!