Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Kelley
Where is your hometown?
How did you get to Ohio State?
“I was pretty sure I wanted to be an engineer, but I wanted to make sure. Ohio State had so many options that if I changed my mind I knew I could stay there. I visited lots of school and, even though it is giant, on my tour and visit to Ohio State they made me feel valued and welcomed and that I’d be treated like an individual. It felt smaller than it was, so it was the best of both worlds where you got all these opportunities, but you still had support.”
How was your time at Ohio State? What made you stay in engineering?
“I had a great time at Ohio State. I feel like it really prepared me for having a real engineering job. I got to take some fun, non-engineering classes that I loved as well. There was just so much to do and I made life-long friends. I met my husband at Ohio State, so yea, I had a great time.”
How did Ohio State prepare you for the real world?
“Specifically, I have found because I have seen a lot of resumes and do a lot of interviewing, and I have dealt with a lot of young engineers and interns in my career, that Ohio State is one of the only schools that I have come across that provides the opportunity to work in a machine shop while you are in school and learn how things are actually made. I felt like the professors provided practical real-world applications that gave me a leg up once I got in the workforce. I knew how tolerance stack-ups worked and I haven’t come across a single intern or young engineer outside of Ohio State that knows that. On top of that, Ohio State is so big and it has so many diverse people that I got exposure to other disciplines and had so many opportunities to interact with so many different types of people. Specifically, for the world I am in now, I had the opportunity to take classes in industrial design and the design department and get some more creative influence. They didn’t have the design minor at that point, but they were sort of trying to pilot it so I was able to participate in that.”
How did you get in your current position?
“When I decided to be an engineer, I wanted to do what I am doing now. I wanted to be in the themed-entertainment industry. When I got out of school they weren’t hiring in that industry, and my husband (boyfriend at the time) had moved down to Florida so I looked for any engineering job in that area. I ended up in flight simulation and did that for about 10 years, which was definitely a very interesting and rewarding industry as well. That helped prepare me for my current role because there are a lot of similarities between the two industries. Then I remembered, ‘hey wait, I wanted to be in themed entertainment.’ So I just started looking around, and I was fortunate that Universal was hiring and I ended up there.”
How did you feel your skills learned from flight simulation transferred to what you are doing now?
“My first role at Universal was still definitely in the mechanical world and directly related to many of the skills I had learned designing and building flight simulators. Both industries have large, complicated mechanical devices that you put people in and shake them around. When I first joined Universal, I was a part of the Technical Services Engineering team where our job was to help keep the rides running safely and reliably. I did that for about 3 years, and that made the transition from my previous job a little bit easier because it was very engineering intensive and drew a lot from my work and educational background. From there, I transferred into my new role, which I’d like to say was entirely through my hard work and dedication, but I know a great deal of luck also played into it, because I feel lucky every day to have the position I have now, which is in what’s called Creative Studios. In my current role, I am one of the few engineers in the group, which is made up primarily of artists, designers, architects, writers and producers. I am part of the concept development team that comes up with the new ideas for five to 10 years into the future and what the future of theme parks is going to be. So, my primary role is to help bring everyone’s ideas into a technical reality and figure out how to make their crazy ideas actually work. It has been amazing and a lot of fun. Both my background in flight simulation and then my role in tech services seeing the rides actually operate have been extremely helpful in trying to design new rides and experiences. I couldn’t have gotten where I am now without having both a great education and real-world experience that I can bring to the table.”
Is your daily role mostly testing and seeing if their ideas would be brought to real life?
“I participate in a lot of brainstorming. A big part of my day is spent just thinking of ideas. I also interface with a lot of vendors throughout the industry, both current ride manufacturers and potential future vendors, trying to stay on top of new trends and seeing what could be brought into a theme park environment. I also act as the technical liaison between the creative studios, where I work, and the engineering and project teams to make sure that the creative intent is being translated properly to the project teams. So the Creative Director may bring me along to a meeting to talk on a technical level to make sure that they are getting what they think they are getting.”
Is your job really what you expected it to be when you graduated from school?
“My job in tech services was not what I expected from this industry at all – I didn’t even know that job existed when I graduated. My current job is kind of what I was hoping it would be but is also in many ways even better than I could have hoped. I don’t think you can ever know what to expect from a job. I think it is also important to understand that and also realize what having a job really is. If I would have somehow gotten into what I am doing now right out of school, I do not think I would have appreciated it as much. It is still work, it still has paperwork and bosses and meetings, so that part of it I am able to separate and recognize that what I do is really fun.”
What would you say your thoughts are in being in the entertainment field as opposed to the typically thought of engineering job?
“I think one of the things is to find something that you are passionate about or are interested in and research it, because they probably need engineers. So seek out those companies. Everything is engineered, they need engineers for almost everything. I think particularly at Ohio State, because of the location and the ties to the big manufacturing companies and the car manufacturers, everyone thinks that’s the only jobs there are, but everything is engineered, almost every company has engineers. I think that being able to think outside of the box allows you to end up in lots of interesting and cool jobs, such as the entertainment field.”
What advice would you give to graduates?
“Be willing to take risks with your career. Try to find something that you enjoy, something that makes you happy and then try to figure out how to get there. Maybe you didn’t like the work you did at an internship or a certain industry, but take the time to figure out the things that you did like about it, get experience from it, and then seek out more of the things that you enjoyed in your next opportunity. Also, make sure you always talk about your accomplishments and what you have been able to do when you are looking for the next thing. For the mechanical graduates, definitely talk about the Ohio State curriculum especially if you are going outside the immediate area where they maybe don’t see as many Ohio State graduates. If you are going to another part of the country, the classes that everyone takes now, I think, in the first semester mechanical engineer where you actually get in the machine shop and learn how to do things, talk about that because it is a unique thing that you get from Ohio State.”