Mechanical Engineer Anya Lehrner Attains Dream Job as Roller Coaster Designer
By Benedict Bahner, ASME Public Information
Anya Lehrner, a design engineer at Great Coasters International, traces her love of roller coasters back to her childhood summers. Each year her family would travel from its home in Littleton, Colo., to visit relatives in Dayton, Ohio. During their visit the Lehrners would inevitably make a trip to the nearby amusement park, King's Island, located outside of Cincinnati.
It was there that Anya took a ride on the park’s famed wooden roller coaster, The Beast — a ride that would steer her toward the unconventional career choice of roller coaster design. “It was riding the Beast that really got me hooked,” she said of the ride, which was once the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest wooden roller coaster. “It wasn’t the first roller coaster that I got on, but it was the first really big one. I just have such fond memories of riding that coaster.”
During high school Anya, who had already demonstrated an aptitude for math and science, decided that engineering would be the best route to realizing her dream of becoming a roller coaster designer. She attended the Colorado School of Mines, where she majored in mechanical engineering.
Rolling Toward a Career
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2011, Anya was hired by Dream Park International, a Korean-based master planning company for theme parks and water parks. As a project engineer at the company’s U.S. office outside of Atlanta, Anya oversaw the design, manufacturing and installation of play structures for water parks — including an installation she helped supervise in Singapore just a few months after she was hired.
After two years with Dream Park, Anya’s dream job became a reality when she was hired by Great Coasters, which designs and fabricates wooden roller coasters for theme parks located throughout the world. Although steel roller coasters outnumber wooden coasters by more than 20 to 1 according to the Roller Coaster Database, classic "woodies" remain a favorite of roller coaster enthusiasts, particularly in North America, where more than two-thirds of the world's 179 wooden coasters are located.
“You can’t beat an old ‘woodie’ roller coaster,” Anya said. “Making rides that the whole family can enjoy is something we really pride ourselves on. Once you’re tall enough, anyone from a little kid all the way to grandma can get on, have fun — and even get back on, which means you enjoyed it. You’re not bumped all over the place and so shaken up that you would not want to ride it again.”
Originally hired to assist with the design and assembly of the Great Coasters’ Mini-llennium Flyer train cars for mini-roller coasters, Anya currently spends her time composing technical drawings of roller coaster trains and parts, and performing the mechanical tasks necessary to ensure that the various roller coaster components — such as the motor assembly of the cars, lap bar safety restraints and the queue gates where the train cars line up — operate correctly.
In addition to fabricating new coasters, Anya and the other five engineers at Great Coasters perform renovations, retracking and reprofiling of popular existing wooden roller coasters in order to make the old coasters ride smoothly again. Great Coasters’ recent restorations include the renovation of the Ghost Rider coaster this year at Knot’s Berry Farm in Buena Vista, Calif., and work last year on the historic Cyclone in Coney Island, N.Y.
The most rewarding experience so far in her career, Anya said, was having the chance last December to be among the first riders of one of the coasters her team designed and built: the Viper at Wanda City Theme Park, which is scheduled to open this year in Nanchang, China. “The Viper was the first project that I got to see all the way from the beginning, from the proposal to being built,” she said. “The park isn’t open yet, but I got to go over there at the end of the project and experience the ride once it was finished. First off, it’s really cool to see everything from concept to completion. But then getting to ride the coaster, I thought, 'Wow, this took a lot of work, but it’s finally done' and just got to experience the fun of it.”
"But at the end of the day," she continued. "I’m working to create something that gives people the chance to have fun, act like a little kid and do something that makes them happy,” Anya said. “I think life can be taken so seriously, so anything that can remind us how to have fun is just a really cool thing to be involved in.”
Anya has some advice for engineering students and early career engineers who were interested in pursuing interesting and non-traditional career paths: stay the course.
“I would just encourage anyone pursuing a path like roller coaster design or any sort of career that is interesting or ‘out there’ to really be persistent and stick with it, and don’t be deterred if it’s really what you want to do,” Anya said. “It took me three interviews to actually land a job here. It is possible to get these really interesting jobs, but it’s not something that comes easily to most people. You really just have to go after it and be persistent if it’s what you want to do.”