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Georgia Graduate Spotlight: Derek Lewis, Disney engineer

Meet Derek Lewis, senior mechanical engineer at Walt Disney World and 2001 graduate of Troup County High School. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about life, science, and how his education prepared him for success. It’s the first in a series featuring exceptional graduates of Georgia’s public schools. Know someone we should feature? Contact Meghan Frick at


Describe your typical workday. Which job responsibilities do you enjoy most?

My typical work day involves the design and analysis of new and existing rides and attractions at Walt Disney World. These can include the
roller coaster cars, track, motors, brakes, animatronics, etc. Most of my job occurs backstage or back-of-house, in show business terms. We'll usually do our design and prep work in the office located just behind Magic Kingdom and then when the park is closed at night, go out and install or implement the new equipment. I really enjoy getting to go into the parks at night and exploring the rides and attractions up close and learning how everything works.

When you first started working for Disney, what surprised you about the job?

I think the biggest surprise I got was when the first time I went into the park after hours and I got to see the rides with the lights on.  Some would say that it ruins "The Magic," but to me, seeing how everything worked and how much detail and thought went into some of these rides is pretty amazing.  Disney continues to do things at a level of quality that seems rare these days.

How did your education in Georgia’s public schools prepare you for your future?

I had great teachers at Troup High School.  I could probably provide you with a long list of those who influenced me if you so desired to learn about them. Besides that, having Calculus at a high school level was a big part of it. I think Calculus was eye-opening for me as it got me away from the comfortable notions of algebra and geometry and prepared me for challenging topics posed in college. One extracurricular program that stands out the most was Science Olympiad. It allowed me to get my hands dirty and build contraptions and compete on a state wide level. The exposure to other schools and what they were accomplishing helped me to realize our strengths as well as what we could do better.  I was excited to hear Troup started a First Robotics Challenge (FRC) team as I've seen high schools these days get the same experience I did through this type of program.  

What advice would you give to current high school students in Georgia?

My advice is to find your love for learning. Success, no matter how you define it, will depend on your desire to want to know more. We all learn in different ways. So explore. Get outside and wander around. Star gaze. Pick up an instrument. Dig in the dirt. Or just read a book. Whatever it is, find that thing that makes you want to know more and then pursue it.

Lewis is a 2006 graduate of Georgia Tech and will graduate with his master’s in mechanical engineering in 2015. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Georgia.​