Southeastern Magazine

Building Epic

Alumnus Kyle Snyder is Helping Bring to Life One of the World’s Most Immersive Theme Parks

Sheri Gibson

May 16, 2024

Sketch of Universal's Epic Universe theme park

In 2025, one of the most revolutionary theme parks ever constructed will open its doors. It will also be the first new major theme park to open in Orlando, quite arguably the mecca for such attractions, since 1999. While many may dream of what it would be like to help bring such an amazing project to life, one Southeastern alumnus is actually living it.

Kyle Snyder, an EHS (environment, health, and safety) construction specialist for Universal Orlando Resort, fell in love with construction from a young age. It ran in his family, with his dad building oil and gas drill ships. He even had the opportunity to work with his father in Singapore soon after enrolling at Southeastern. There, a colleague who was a health and safety inspector took him under his wing, and the trajectory of Kyle’s life began to take a new path.

Kyle Snyder

Kyle fell in love with the health and safety side of construction, and when he returned to Southeastern, he enrolled in courses that would help him pursue this new passion. He joined the university’s chapter of the American Society of Safety Professionals, an organization which he is an active member of to this day. And to further enhance his experience, he completed a safety engineering internship at Citgo Petroleum Refinery in Lake Charles—gaining not only valuable hands-on experience, but also solidifying in him a knowledge that his true course lay in commercial construction rather than oil and gas.

“It was amazing. It set me up for my future,” Kyle said of the occupational, health, and safety program at Southeastern that he majored in. “It set me up to handle real world experiences and not be a deer in the headlights, and to know what employers expect and how to communicate in the real world. So many things that I learned in my program I’m applying every single day in my work.”

The student experience, and being able to simply enjoy and be part of Southeastern’s campus, was also powerful for Kyle, and it left him with memories he cherishes to this day. “When the days were numbered, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to graduate and won’t be coming here every day.’ I just remember taking a little extra time to walk through campus and take it all in, the oak trees, the Spanish moss, all of it. It’s a beautiful campus. And sometimes I do miss those days, even though they were long with studying. Because that’s home. And it’s where I grew into myself and found out a lot about myself.”

In 2021, Kyle graduated with his bachelor’s degree and began embarking on the next chapter. He landed a position with a concrete construction company in Tampa, Florida, and relocated to the Sunshine State. But a few months later, he came across an interesting opening for Universal Orlando Resort, which then operated two theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure; Universal Citywalk, a dining, shopping, and entertainment destination that links the two theme parks; Volcano Bay waterpark; and eight resort hotels. He applied, and when the recruiter told him it would be for the construction of Epic Universe, an entirely new theme park being built down the road from the current resort, he instantly knew it was an opportunity he had to grab.

“I still pinch myself every day because it really is one of the coolest jobs in the world,” he said.

Epic Universe layout graphic

Not only are massive theme parks on the scale of Disney or Universal built few and far between, but Epic Universe itself is unique in its concept. The park will feature a celestial theme with a hub that spokes off into different self-contained lands: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Ministry of Magic, Super Nintendo World, How to Train Your Dragon – Isle of Berk, and Dark Universe (which will feature Universal’s classic movie monsters). Visitors will be transported to these different lands through “portals,” or themed, rounded entranceways, for the most enveloping and awe-inspiring experience possible.

In addition to an exquisite level of detail on the man-made elements throughout the park, the hub will also be lush with greenery, water features, and pathways, “putting the park back into theme parks,” as Universal Destinations and Experiences Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Woodbury said.

Sketch of Epic Universe

“It’s immersive, visceral, and just pure adrenaline,” Kyle described. “It’s going to leave people speechless.”

“This is going to be a game changer for the theme park world and the entertainment world,” he added. “I think people are going to be in awe, and it’s only going to help the company continue to produce amazing attractions for years to come. It’s going to set the precedent. It’s going to set the bar even higher than what it already is.”

In addition to being good for consumers and Universal, he noted the positive effect it will also have on the entire industry. “I think competition is really good for the industry. I don’t know anything about what they’re doing down the road [at Disney], is what we say. But it’s going to push them to give their best on the next thing that they come out with.

“I think competition’s a good thing for that reason. It’s just going to set the bar even higher, and there’s going to be even more intensity moving forward with how we can create something that is literally going to make our guests’ jaws drop. And something that people will never get tired of, with them constantly getting that fulfillment of excitement, joy, and immersive experiences that we provide.”

Sketch of Epic Universe

As an EHS construction specialist, Kyle works on the construction and newbuild side of operations for Universal, positioning him to help bring Epic Universe to life throughout the entire construction process. His responsibilities include making sure the designs of attractions meet company, federal, and even international standards; that OSHA construction standards are met; and managing contractors that are hired for the build, working with them as a team to create a safe park and doing it in a way that’s also free of injury, illness, and even property damage. He works in multiple areas in the park, including Super Nintendo World.

“It’s so humbling. Never in a million years did I think I would get this opportunity so soon out of college. I was always optimistic, I’ve got a good degree, I’ve got a good education, and I’ve got the right mindset, so I believed I’d have an opportunity to work on an amazing project. But to be on this so soon, at such a young age and right out of college, has been truly humbling.”

Kyle looks forward to the day when the doors open and people get to experience Epic Universe for themselves, along with when he gets to also try out some of the rides—including in the area he’s perhaps the most excited for, Super Nintendo World. And, for years down the road, he is able to anticipate enjoying it with those closest to him.

Sketch of Epic Universe

“The legacy of looking back on this 30 years from now, when I have my own family, bringing my children and grandchildren here, that will be a very fun time. Being able to experience the ride not just by myself but with my family and saying that I was a part of this.”

“Most people work their whole lives to get an opportunity to work on a project like this,” he added. “And I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to have it presented to me at such a young age. That’s not lost on me. I don’t take it for granted. It’s being part of history.”

Kyle Snyder at a construction site
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