Up Close: Profile of the Director of Ride Operations
Hersheypark hired our current Director of Ride Operations, Laura Woodburn as a “sweeper” in 1988 when she was only a freshman in high school. Since then, she has been a dedicated employee of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) with more than 25 years of experience. Throughout her tenure here she has worn many hats and worked in various roles and departments. Her passion lies in amusement parks, and she radiates enthusiasm for her job, her employees and the guests. In between training employees and operating rides, we were able to chat with Laura about her career, why she loves her job and so much more.
Do you have a passion for amusement parks? Think you’d enjoy operating rides? Laura is looking for eager-to-learn 15 and older individuals to join her team! There is a Job Fair at Hersheypark on Tuesday, September 12 from 3 to 7 p.m. inside the Coaster Café, near Gate 7 (the employee entrance). Applicants have the opportunity to apply, interview and be hired on the spot. If you’re interested we encourage you to apply online in advance to save time and secure an interview slot at HersheyJobs.com.
Q) Tell us about your career. Where did you go to school? What was your career path prior to joining Hershey?
A) I graduated from Kutztown University with a degree in Communications and minors in Psychology and Public Relations. My dream was to become a news anchor, as I have always been a huge fan of the news. One of my guilty pleasures is reading the newspaper (yes - an actual newspaper!).
Q) Walk us through your career so far at Hershey.
A) I was hired as a sweeper my freshman year of high school, in June of 1988. The end of that year, I was moved to the Rides team. The next seven years, I worked part time in Rides through all levels of the part time supervisory ranks.
I fell in love with the amusement industry, and could not imagine working anywhere else full time. I was lucky to be hired full time in May 1996 as a supervisor of Guest Services. I have had many transitions and have felt lucky to learn so much about our Park and our company. Here are some of the highlights:
- February 2000 – I was promoted and moved back to the Rides Department as the Rides Manager.
- November 2001 – HE&R purchased Dutch Wonderland. The then Rides Director was promoted to the Assistant General Manager of Dutch Wonderland, resulting in my promotion to Rides Director.
- October 2004 – the then Sports and Entertainment division at HE&R merged with the Park division, and I was moved to Director of Guest Services and Ticketing.
- December 2006 – I was moved to Director of Entertainment.
- December 2008 – I was moved back to Rides as Director.
- July 2017 – In addition to Rides Director, I have been asked to oversee Guest Services functions, such as our greeter staff, season pass office, cabanas, and guest relations. In this role, I will serve as Director of Attractions and the Guest Experience.
Q) Why did you choose to work for Hershey?
A) Choosing to work at Hersheypark as a local high school student was easy, as I wanted to work outside and meet lots of people. Choosing to work for HE&R in a full time capacity is even easier. There is no more noble reason to go to work every day and give it your all, than knowing you are working hard to help support the many students at Milton Hershey School. What we have here is special and I feel honored to be able to be a part of it.
Q) What's your biggest accomplishment since joining the Hershey team?
A) I have two answers really as there are two main passions that drive me.
1.The first accomplishment is helping others to develop and grow, coaching where needed and helping teams be the very best they can be. I am so proud of those that I have watched rise through the part time ranks to that of full time employees and managers of our park. To know that I have helped, even if only a bit, makes me proud. Helping to develop my team into future leaders is a huge accomplishment.
2.The second is a more personal goal of helping to develop programs and educate our teams on providing services for guests with disabilities. In October 2016, Hershey was honored to host the first annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), Operators Forum. The forum was held at Hershey Lodge and featured an immersive, educational experience at Hersheypark, focused on helping others in the amusement industry to develop programs to better assist their guests with disabilities. The day and a half forum brought in more than 60 participants and was completely sold out. It was such a pleasure to welcome those from other amusement parks, science centers, museums, zoos, entertainment centers and aquariums from across the United States. To share our Hershey Hospitality and the story of our founder on the opening day was an ultimate joy.
Q) What's your favorite ride at Hersheypark?
A) I'm not sure than I can have a favorite ride, but I do enjoy riding Skyrush, operating the Coal Cracker and lifeguarding at The Boardwalk at Hersheypark.
Q) What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A) Hands down the best part of my job is watching people having fun and creating family memories. How special and amazing is it that we are responsible for helping people to have great vacations, sharing time together, and enjoying their summers splashing in the wave pool, trick-or-treating at Hersheypark In The Dark, riding coasters in the cool air of Christmas Candylane, and having a sneak peek during Springtime In The Park.
Q) What advice would you give someone interested in a career in amusement parks?
A) You must do what you love and remain humble. Always be willing to give a little more of yourself and help those around you to grow.
Q) What's the best perk of your job?
A) I am heavily involved with IAAPA and the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO), which has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people in our industry. Because of this, I have friends from amusement parks all over the world that I can tap into if there is ever a question relating to attractions, safety programs and guest service programs.
Q) What does a typical day consist of?
A) Typical days vary from season to season. During the Fall, we are preparing budgets for the next year as well as redeveloping our service programs and training programs. Winter and early Spring we are heavily involved in hiring and training our many employees. During Spring and Summer, we are very involved in the Park to ensure our guests are satisfied and making any needed adjustments. Throughout the year, we participate with other teams to focus on future planning. To be successful as a park, we must continue to look for new and exciting attractions and services that will keep our guests happy for years to come!
Q: Tell us something folks might not know about you.
A: I truly am a ride nerd and enjoy sharing how our attractions work with our guests and employees alike. Sharing physics lessons through the lens of ride operations is a true joy!