Montana State University

Roller coaster fan wants to design them for a living

September 30, 2003 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU Research Office

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Insistent friends and a sudden drop were all it took for Keely Obert to lose her fear of heights and realize what she wanted to do in life.

Pressured by pals to ride Apollo's Chariot as an eighth grader, the East Helena native gained such a passion for roller coasters that she decided to major in civil engineering and design roller coasters. Obert is now a freshman and Presidential Scholar at Montana State University-Bozeman. Looking forward to taking the upper level courses she'll need to become a structural engineer, Obert keeps the dream alive by poring over roller coaster books, decorating her dorm room with roller coaster postcards and keeping roller coaster plans on her computer.

"It's as close to flying, I think you can get, without having to risk your life," Obert said of the craze she shares with former Helena High School classmates Danielle Daehn and Megan Cail. "If you don't have the ability or finances to fly, a roller coaster is such a good way to have fun and get that experience and get to take those risks without paying a million dollars for it."

Obert got over her fear of heights after the initial drop on her first roller coaster ride.

"I thought it was the big one. Then the second drop was fun," Obert recalled. "My adrenalin was already pumping."

Since then, Obert has ridden at least 20 different roller coasters. The Incredible Hulk is one of her favorites, but she likes Jurassic Park, Dueling Dragons, the Racer and Spider-Man, too. Steel roller coasters are fastest, but she can't ignore the appeal of a creaky wooden roller coaster.

"She's a really big fanatic about roller coasters," Daehn commented from her home in East Helena. Described almost the same way herself, Daehn inherited the fever from her mother and has been riding roller coasters since she was about eight years old. She plans to pursue a drafting-related field, but doesn't want to design roller coasters.

"I was going to leave the designing of roller coasters up to her (Obert), and I would be the one to ride them," Daehn said. "I trust her."

Cail, now a freshman at MSU-Northern, doesn't plan to design roller coasters either, even though she's pursuing a bachelor's degree in design drafting technology and an associate degree in civil engineering technology. She has been riding roller coasters since she was the required height of about four feet, but said, "I'm not sure I have quite the creativity Keely has for it."

Obert, the daughter of Keith and Carol Obert, seems to have many directions she could pursue in life. Besides receiving the MSU Presidential Scholarship, she was one of two MSU students chosen to participate in a new campus-wide program called "Undergraduate Research Internships for Enhancing Diversity in Science and Engineering." She also loves music and drafting and swam competitively in high school. She played alto saxophone in high school and currently plays in the MSU pep band.

Despite all that, Obert wants to design roller coasters more than anything else.

Engineers who design roller coasters have the opportunity to work with artists, architects and other engineers on "huge, huge construction opportunities," Obert explained. They apply the principles of engineering and physics and deal with motors and safety. They have the opportunity to be creative, and then test their creations.

"I just like anything that's not normal architecture, not normal engineering, that requires a different way of thinking, a different way of design because it's not intended for practical applications," Obert said. "Roller coasters are intended for people to have fun, for people to escape from the real world for a little bit."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu