Electrical engineering student takes wild ride into co-op

David Eubanks connects interest in electrical engineering with passion for roller coasters

David Eubanks at Universal Studios

David Eubanks spent a summer as a co-op at Universal Creative in research and development for the parks.

David Eubanks has his sights set on a career in the themed entertainment industry and his co-op experience with Universal Creative at Universal Orlando Resort could be the key to helping him attain that dream. 

Eubanks, an avid roller coaster fan, will graduate from the University of Cincinnati in the spring of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with minors in computer science and math. Through a combination of persistence, networking prowess and a small touch of luck, Eubanks has successfully racked up valuable real-world experiences to enhance his time in the classroom and push him closer towards his goal of working in the world of theme parks. 

“A lot of my success can be attributed to being persistent, putting myself in the right situation and getting lucky once I was there. The persistence of putting yourself out there and getting to know people seems to be a formula for success,” Eubanks said.

As a child growing up in Cincinnati, Eubanks was tinkering and building before he could even say the word “engineer.” He was fascinated by mechanical systems integrated with electronics and programming. Eubanks and his family are long-time season-pass holders at Kings Island, just north of Cincinnati, and roller coasters became his favorite attraction while spending summers visiting the park. It wasn’t just the thrill of the ride that drew him in. He was fascinated with the mechanical and technical details that allow a roller coaster to provide a safe, fun experience with every batch of new riders. In high school, he voraciously read about theme park history, the construction of rides and attractions around the world, and the companies and people who built them. 

While a student at UC, Eubanks ramped up his amusement park visits, joined the Great Ohio Coaster Club, and attended Kings Island’s Coasterstock enthusiast event. He has visited more than 20 parks, rode more than 100 different coasters and met dozens of theme park fans like himself. 

Following a co-op with Honeywell Intelligrated where he worked on control systems and conveyor systems at two new Amazon fulfillment warehouses in Houston and Toronto, Eubanks was pondering his next potential co-op. On the advice of an acquaintance who worked in the amusement park industry, he decided to make the trip to the 2017 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) tradeshow held annually in Orlando.

A lot of my success can be attributed to being persistent, putting myself in the right situation and getting lucky once I was there.

David Eubanks, Electrical Engineering 2020

With just 26 hours to spend in Orlando, Eubanks made the most of his one day on the tradeshow floor by making several critical connections. He sought out a company that supplies control systems for amusement park rides. That small company, Cogito Automation, hired Eubanks as their first paid co-op intern.

David Eubanks at a Universal water park

David Eubanks led behind-the-scenes tours at a Universal water park while an IAAPA show ambassador. Photo/provided.

While at the tradeshow, he also met the general manager of a New Zealand amusement park, who happened to sit at a table with Eubanks to eat lunch in a crowded cafeteria. That chance meeting led Eubanks to attend an education session that afforded him insight into how to break into the entertainment industry – and he also learned about the IAAPA Show Ambassador program. 

Eubanks earned a spot as a show ambassador for the 2018 and 2019 IAAPA events. His responsibilities during the tradeshow week included coordinating logistics, facilitating educational sessions and leading backstage tours at the Orlando theme parks. The ambassador program provided the perfect opportunity to talk to everyone who is anyone at the event. 

At the 2018 show in Orlando, UC hosted a session about co-ops and internship programs and asked Eubanks to speak about his past experiences. It was there he met the person in charge of intern hiring at Universal Creative. After applying and interviewing, Eubanks landed the co-op position for the spring 2019 semester. Universal Creative is the master planning, project management, and research and development division of Universal Parks and Resorts.

During his co-op, Eubanks worked in research and development for Universal Creative’s Advanced Technologies and Interactives department. He built prototypes and mock ups for future aspects of the theme park, which he said required him to use a wide range of engineering skills, from hands-on building to programming. He was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at many of the attractions across the Universal parks in Orlando.

Intense competition to create the latest and greatest ride experiences to attract guests to the park, particularly in an entertainment hub like Orlando, means companies are famously tight lipped about forthcoming attractions. Eubanks said he signed several non-disclosure agreements while working there and even his own family members know little of how he spent his time.

“You’ll have to take my word for it. It was very, very cool,” he said. 

“Previously, I was always focused on the technical side of parks. There is a certain element to storytelling that I didn’t appreciate before (working at Universal). I learned about everything that goes into making a full themed experience from beginning to end. It takes a lot of really smart people with a wide array of skillsets to come together and create some amazing things that nobody has ever done before,” Eubanks said. 

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The co-op at Universal proved to be an invaluable experience that further solidified Eubanks’ interest in working in themed entertainment as a career. It also helped drive his motivation to start an official Themed Entertainment Association NextGen club at UC. Eubanks and Danielle Hall, an architectural engineering student who was also an IAAPA show ambassador, wanted to unite students across the university who have an interest in working in the themed entertainment industry. 

“I would love to stay in the industry, since it rolls my passion for theme parks and technical challenges into one job,” Eubanks said. 

Image at top: David Eubanks spent a semester as a co-op at Universal Orlando Resort. Photo/provided.

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