Curiosity Creates: Summer Sliders


Emily Colombo: Making waves around the world

[Emily Columbo]

When you think of a civil engineer, you probably think about bridges, buildings, and other similar structures. So did Queen’s alumna Emily Colombo, Sc’12 — until an afternoon at a water park changed her career path and landed her in what could arguably be one of the most fun jobs in the world.

Emily Colombo was working in a more traditional role with Lafarge Canada when she joined a group of friends for a water park adventure on a day off. The slides were fun, but they also brought out the curiosity in her. “I started to wonder about the technical challenges and how various factors had to be taken into account to make them fun, but also safe,” she says. Fueled by a new passion, she approached companies with her resume and landed a position with White Water West, the largest water park design firm in the world.

Emily began her new career in an engineering rotation, learning in each department about slide paths, client budgets, trends, and safety. The company employs about 600 people around the world, with teams of engineers, architects, aquatic specialists, and others collaborating on water slide designs that are both exciting and safe. To do so, they must factor in a number of variables, including g-forces, flowrates, and velocity.

Along with being fun, waterslides need to be designed with location and culture in mind. “What’s popular in Asia may not be in Brazil,” says Emily. “We also look carefully at demographic, the surrounding environment, even friction for different types of materials.” She notes, for example, that in some countries waterslides need to be designed for burkinis rather than bikinis.

Cruise ships are also a big market, with unique technical challenges for design and load capacities, especially given the limited amount of space available. Flow Riders, a type of surfing pool with artificial waves, are very popular on ships, with 18 out on the seas today.

Emily says that her favourite part of her work is going through the entire project cycle and seeing the final result. “It’s amazing to visit a park a year later and see people having a great time,” she says. “That’s an exceptionally satisfying part of my job.” And for an added perk, she, of course, gets to “test” her work.

Emily notes that her Queen’s education prepared her for working with a crossfunctional team, and says that today’s students shouldn’t feel confined to what may be considered more traditional engineering careers. “Everything has to be engineered,” she says. “Think about what you love and follow that.”