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Jon rides into his dream career

Jon Hawkins, 26, graduated from the University this week with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Back in May Jon completed his final exam, and the next day jumped on a plane to France to start his job as theme park engineer. For a kid who had spent every holiday with his family travelling to theme parks around the world, it was a dream come true.

“The day after my final exam I moved overseas to a company called Interlink based in Avignon, Southern France, and then flew out to help install a water flume attraction inside of a shopping centre.”
Now Jon is working as an engineer for Interlink, theme park ride specialists who design and build rides around the world, but only a few years ago it seemed like an impossible dream to the young engineer from Sunderland.
“Before I came to university I worked as a manager in a bar, but I always knew I wanted to do more. Studying something you have a genuine interest in makes university a lot easier – but I quickly realised that I needed to go out and network with people in the industry I wanted to work in.”

Jon approached the University’s Development Office to support him to achieve his dream. The University’s award-winning DOSH (Development Office Scholarships) offer tens of thousands of pounds worth of funding every year to Sunderland students to help them achieve their ambitions and further their professional experience.

The funding allowed Jon to travel to Hong Kong and attend the IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), a themed entertainment trade show and networking event.

“That was my first opportunity to speak with people in the theme park industry and build relationships. It was a huge first step for me."

"I was then funded to take part in a short placement at two companies based in the Midlands who I met in Hong Kong. They build everything from simulator rides to trams."

The final year student travelled to the Midlands where the two companies are based to be able to see first-hand how they build and develop the attractions.

Jon spent the first four days with Simworx, a simulator and media based ride design company, where he helped with a product that simulates a parachuting experience.

The 26-year-old said: “The Paradrop unit uses user input (via tethered handles) and VR glasses to simulate a parachuting experience. Before shipping, a safety checklist must be carried out and test runs completed. I was lucky enough to be a guinea pig for a number of these tests.”

He added: “I met with many of the department leaders and had long discussions with them about their role and where I would fit in within the company should I join them. I also had discussions with many of the more junior staff and get a more direct vision of their role and how they work.”                               

The second company Jon visited was Severn Lamb – they specialise in transport engineering targeted at the entertainment and tourism sector.

“While at Severn Lamb I was able to see a very busy workshop at various stages of multiple projects, including two electrically powered train shells and four trams destined for a new city project in Egypt,” he said.

“This placement helped me develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the amount of work that goes in at each stage and to see first-hand some of the problems that can arise.”

Jon concluded: “I had an amazing time at both companies and now have multiple job offers for these companies and others."

Jon returned to Sunderland briefly to pick up his degree at the Stadium of Light, and then is flying out again to help create more heart-stopping theme park rides across the world.

“When I was a kid my family always went on holiday to theme parks, so this really is a dream for me. I would like to thanks the Development Office and panel for their generosity in awarding me the Opportunity Scholarship which has got me into the best possible position to start the career that I have always dreamed of”.

John Hawkins in simulator

Jon Hawkins placement experience

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