Olympic High senior Sam Bates remembers riding her favorite amusement park ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” in the eighth grade.
Like others her age, she found the ride at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida magical.
But she also took something more substantial from the experience: “Setting foot in Harry Potter World was really the moment for me that I decided that was what I wanted to do.”
She had seen this world of Harry Potter in movies and read about it in J.K. Rowling’s famous books, but she had never experienced it up close, in 3-D.
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“I always wanted to be a wizard. And I felt like I was that when I rode this ride – I felt like I was alongside Harry and Hermione,” she said.
Ever since, Bates hasn’t stopped in her pursuit of becoming a roller coaster engineer. She plans to study structural engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall with a scholarship to play softball.
Bates said she hopes to land an internship at Six Flags, near the Georgia Tech campus, while in college.
She’s likely to have a lot of competition in the field. There are about 400 amusement parks in the United States, according to research compiled by Ohio University’s online Master in Engineering Management program. To design and create a roller coaster, a design firm will hire a team of 10 to 15 engineers in different specialties.
Bates is set to graduate from the Math, Engineering, Technology & Science community of Olympic High School on Wednesday. She will be graduating at the top of her class with a 5.12 GPA.
Besides her passion for roller coasters, she’s also a successful athlete. She was an All-Conference softball player for all four years of high school.
Her teachers and coaches praise her drive.
“She doesn’t like to do something unless it’s done right,” said Jeremy Gooden, the athlete’s softball coach at Olympic High.
Bates’ ideal project would be to create an entire park of amusement rides with a superhero theme. She wants to provide riders an alternate reality experience – bringing a fictional world to life for people just like “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” did for her. And the teenager loves superheroes.
Bates said there is complicated physics involved in engineering roller coasters, and she would enjoy working with a team to bring a ride to life for others.
“It’d be really cool to be able to create something that makes people happy and brings them joy,” she said.
Caroline Metzler: 704-231-5316, @crmetzler
About this series
The Observer asked readers for suggestions of standout graduates. Today, we continue a series of stories about students who illustrate a range of accomplishments, including some who overcame significant obstacles.