MDC graduate dreams of building a roller coaster at North Campus

Education By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, June 5, 2024

     Miami Dade College’s North Campus President Fermin Vazquez tells freshmen to dream big when they come to campus. 

     Hearing that challenge, student Sean Matias brought Vazquez one of the largest ideas the educator has heard to date: to build a fully functional roller coaster, nicknamed Project Thresher. 

     “I always do a calling out to the students to consider leaving a legacy on the campus,” said Vazquez, who leads the branch of the college that is just south of the Gratigny Parkway. 

     Matias, 20, graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA from MDC’s Honors College on April 20. Armed with an associate degree, he is an aspiring engineer. 

     “I’ve always loved roller coasters since I was little…they’ve always fascinated me,” said Matias, who grew up in Hialeah and attended Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. He founded and was president of MDC’s  Theme Park Engineering and Design Club, the college said. 

     While in school, Matias had to create a project that would impact the community in some way. 

     “I thought it would be perfect to build a ‘coaster and from there, the professors could use it for a lot of their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes, pretty much any class could use this,” Matias said. 

     His long range plan is for a single seat steel roller coaster that would rise 27 feet and thrill riders at 27-miles-per-hour, which would classify it as a family roller coaster.

     A similar ride in height, length and speed is the Barnstormer, starring the Great Goofini at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, according to the Roller Coaster Database

     Matias thinks MDC’s ride should rise in the northeast corner of campus, near the bookstore. 

     Vazquez said that Matias’ work included creating a rendering; building a 3D model; consulting with theme park professionals and meeting vendors.   

     Next is the hard part: He has to figure out how to pay for it.

     Matias said he has met with a local steel manufacturer that could build a model. 

    “I think the next step is to find a design team,” he said.

     The project would require certified engineering plans.

     Vazquez said he is looking into grants and sponsors to fund construction and maintenance.

     Once built, the roller coaster would need to pass inspections by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees rides outside the major theme parks. 

     Matias has left MDC engineering classmates in charge of his dream while he continues his college education.

     “He was awarded the Board of Trustees Award,” Vazquez said. “It’s the highest award the college provides the students.” 

     The prize: $5,000, to be used for his college tuition.