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Campus & Community

Riding the Rails During a Disney Co-op

By: Ben Seal

November 28, 2016

Drexel student Nick Philips during his Disney co-op

Drexel engineering student Nick Philips worked at Disneyland during his co-op.

This is one of a regular series profiling Drexel students and their co-ops.  

Nick Philips has wanted this since he was 4. His first trip to Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World was the spark, and Philips, a senior mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering, has been keeping the fire alive over the years, laying the track for a future in theme park design. After finishing an internship at Disneyland as part of the Drexel Co-op Program, he’s close enough to taste the cotton candy and turkey legs.

Philips spent the first eight months of the year in Anaheim, California, helping the design and engineering team oversee the maintenance of the park’s attractions and plan new projects, including a “Star Wars”-themed portion of the park and another based on Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The extended run — his second co-op with Disney — has him on the precipice of his dream career as he looks toward graduation next June.

As a “coaster buff” from a young age, Philips has been building to this point for a long time, starting with an internship after his freshman year at a “standard engineering office” that convinced him to seek out a more dynamic experience.

“I wanted something hands-on, and that’s what really inspired me to go after my dream and take the risk and steps necessary to get me where I wanted to be,” Philips said.

He started in 2014 working frontline operations at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, where he got to see up close how theme parks operate. On his days off he took an engineering and professional development course to bolster his standing.

Through his time as president of the University’s Theme Park Engineering and Design Group — one of the first established in the country — Philips connected with Oceaneering Entertainment Systems for his second co-op, based in Maryland. With Oceaneering, which designs tracked and trackless dark rides for parks around the world, he took advantage of the truly hands-on experience the co-op program allows, working on design, testing, programming and everything in between. He tested rides as they were manufactured, programmed show routes, and integrated vehicles to handle the media and animatronics needed to complete the guests’ experience.

It all set Philips up for his final co-op, with Disney, where he learned how integral the “culture of safety” is to success at a theme park. In a dynamic environment, where everything is moving quickly and engineers have so many factors to consider along the path to production, safety is always the chief concern, he said. When a miscalculation in how many g-forces will act on a passenger going around a loop could knock the rider unconscious, everything else is secondary.

The co-op experience has Philips in the driver’s seat as he prepares to start a full-time career engineering rides. He said he’s a step ahead of his fellow interns thanks to the diverse work experience he’s received and the resources he’s been given to prepare for interviews. The next step is figuring out where the ride will take him — and which rides he’ll help open up for others.

About the Drexel Co-op program: More than 98 percent of eligible undergraduate students at Drexel participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different internships during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from more than 1,700 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged placements.