Student News

UK Engineering student 'on track' to achieve roller coaster design dreams

Photo of Brysen Honeycutt
Collage of Brysen Honeycutt as a Young Boy at an Amusement Park

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 3, 2024) — Every year, millions of amusement park patrons from coast to coast and around the world stand in line — often for hours under a scorching sun — to experience the brief adrenaline-fueled, stomach-flipping thrills of roller coasters.

For most, the exhilaration dissipates when they exit the wooden or steel-tracked car. For others, it marks the genesis of a lifelong career.

During the summer months, while growing up among the lush, rolling hills of Pine Top, Kentucky, Brysen Honeycutt and his family frequently explored theme parks like Kings Island near Cincinnati or Dollywood in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. There, they would twist, turn or loop in rides with names like “Vortex,” “Wild Eagle” and “Lightening Rod.”

In front of a monitor back in his Knott County home, young Honeycutt immersed himself in conceptualizing and designing amusement parks using the popular video simulator, RollerCoaster Tycoon.

“I don’t know exactly how many hours I’ve logged on that game, but there have been many roller coasters built at home on the computer,” Honeycutt laughed. “The game simulates different forces in motion with the rides but also involves laying out the park to be as efficient as possible. That was kind of my introduction to lean systems and other pertinent topics that I study here at UK. I guess that game started my engineering thought process at an early age.”

Flash forward a decade or so, and Honeycutt is now a fourth year mechanical engineering student in the Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky.

“I’ve always been fascinated with roller coasters,” Honeycutt said. “I love riding them, of course, but I always just liked watching the time-lapse videos of their construction and different ways that they’re designed. That’s always been my ultimate dream job.”

The son of educators — his father, Jeff, is the principal at Highland-Turner Elementary in Breathitt County; his mother, Kelly, is a college career navigator at Breathitt County High — Honeycutt excelled in secondary school. He achieved a 5.0 grade point average and a perfect 36 ACT score. A Kentucky Governor’s Scholar, Honeycutt chose to attend UK based on the strength of the engineering program and the prospect of it leading to a career in amusements.

“I’d always wanted to study engineering and I knew UK was a great school,” Honeycutt, also a recipient of the prestigious Patterson Scholarship, said. “The engineering college is amazing, and being raised in Eastern Kentucky, I feel like I’ve been a part of the Big Blue Nation since I was born. My dad’s a basketball coach, so we always cheered on the UK Wildcats. That’s part of what drew me to UK. But really, for me, it was just the people here and how they want to tailor the educational experience to fit my interests.”

Even before he applied to UK, Honeycutt received encouragement to reach for his dreams from one of university’s most illustrious and influential alums: Stanley Pigman, namesake of the college.

“Most in my family have worked in education, which has been good because my parents have always instilled the importance of learning and going to college,” Honeycutt said. “But engineering was something completely different. When I talked about my interest, my guidance counselor said there was a program at UK for students from our area that would support me not only financially but also in mentorship and stuff like that.”

Pigman reached out to Honeycutt to learn more about his interests and ambitions, and this encouragement ultimately brought the budding engineer to Lexington.

Understanding that job opportunities in the insular field of coasters are highly competitive and wanting to ensure he is available for any opportunities that may come his way, Honeycutt has been working in the related field of automotive manufacturing.

“As I’ve studied here at UK, I’ve discovered that automotive engineering shares similarities with roller coaster design. I had the opportunity to complete a co-op rotation with Toyota in Georgetown with their assembly team in the fall of 2022,” Honeycutt explained. “Roller coasters have many similarities to conveyor systems and stuff like that implemented in the factory. Roller coasters is a very narrow field, so I may start in automotive engineering simply because I enjoy that type of work.”

A member of both the Tau Beta Pi Engineering and the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering honor societies, Honeycutt enjoyed working at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky so much that, this spring, he is participating in a second co-op rotation at the facility where he hopes to learn even more about the manufacturing process.

During his first rotation at Toyota, Honeycutt received hands-on experience with the different processes involved in assembling vehicles like the Camry and the RAV4 and how the various teams work together to deliver the vehicles. He worked on design modifications for certain processes to optimize the assembly line function. This spring, he is more involved in the company’s planning and strategic outlook.

“The Toyota plant in Georgetown is massive, and there’s such a wide range of careers there. I think it’ll be a good way to kind of diversify the things I’ve seen regarding the automotive industry.”

After he completes his time at Toyota, Honeycutt will return to campus for another year of studies before graduating with his engineering degree. He then plans to take another year to earn his MBA through UK’s Engineering/MBA Dual Degree program.

“There’s a lot of project management that goes into anything that you do — not only in the automotive industry but across all of engineering — and it’s something that I think I would like to do later on,” Honeycutt said. “I may start in a more technical role, but it would open the door for more positions, whether in team leadership or management later on, so I think the one-year MBA would be a good way to add that as an opportunity.”

Honeycutt believes the support he has received — both from the Lewis Honors College and Stanley and Karen Pigman — smoothed the transition from the undulating hills of Pine Top to the fast-paced and often stressful world of academia. He credits his mentors’ guidance for pushing him forward.

“Whatever our career goals are, Mr. Pigman has a plethora of knowledge about basically every field that you can imagine, and he develops that to connect with the students,” Honeycutt continued. “That’s really a strong point of what he and Mrs. Pigman do — relate to the students and get to know more about them and what they want to accomplish because it helps them to guide us in the right direction.”

Beyond the relationship he has developed with his mentors, the Pigman Scholars program has also allowed Honeycutt to cultivate a support network on campus.

“My favorite thing about the Pigman program is just being a part of that cohort of students. It shrinks the campus. You kind of stick together with that cohort of students and build a strong connection with them. Being a part of my Pigman Scholars cohort has been very rewarding.”

As Honeycutt continues to unravel the twists and turns of his own potential, he envisions one day creating coasters that not only defy gravity — making riders feel weightless as they soar through the air, but, also, creating a unique experience for coaster enthusiasts like himself.

As he pulls down the bar and buckles up for the next leg of life’s exhilarating ride, Honeycutt knows his track is wildly possible due to his time at UK.

“I don’t think I’d be in the same position if I would’ve gone somewhere else because there have been so many different people in so many different roles that have helped me get to this point.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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