Darrell Jodoin

Darrell Jodoin

Alumni | Fullerton

"The CSU Changed My Life. Now I’m Making Memories for Families."

From Space Mountain to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, CSU Fullerton engineering alumnus Darrell Jodoin is leading Disney’s creation of new worlds.

If you’ve ever ridden Space Mountain, Disney’s futuristic roller coaster, you likely experienced a fluttering in your belly when your rocket reached the top of the 76-foot mountain, the lights dimmed, and there was a little lurch before the high-speed turns, twists and dips began.

Engineer Darrell F. Jodoin, an alumnus of California State University, Fullerton, calls this “the whoopee! moment.” It weighed heavily on him back in 2003 when he was a technical director at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, tasked with rebuilding the iconic attraction for its 50th anniversary.

“We knew that everybody would remember the feeling they’d gotten in their stomach when they’d ridden Space Mountain in the past and if they didn’t feel it again, they’d be mad and disappointed,” says Jodoin, who now supports the vast teams involved in building the immersive and hugely anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

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Over nearly two years, more than 3,000 feet of track, along with Space Mountain's ride vehicles, were refurbished or replaced. 

Finally, in the predawn hours before the ride’s re-opening on July 15, 2005, Jodoin and the lead mechanical engineer on his team climbed into a rocket. “We were the first two people to ride it,” he says. “It wasn’t under show conditions. Instead, we were riding in the dark, but that was okay.

“About 120 seconds in, we felt the magical dip, and we were all smiles. It felt just like the old Space Mountain, but much smoother, which is a quality you want in a roller coaster.”

For Jodoin, this was a pinch-me moment.

“Growing up in the 60s, I was the kid who was up at 4 in the morning waiting to watch a rocket launch,” he says. “The space program was everything for me, and to play a part in the ride that was a celebration of space exploration was an incredible experience.

“If it weren’t for the education I received at Cal State Fullerton, I would never have had the possibility for such a great career at Disney.”

Picking Up Speed at the CSU

Before he enrolled at CSUF at the age of 22, Jodoin had been on a path that had little velocity. He was working in a warehouse for a supermarket chain when he was sidelined by a back injury. “Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to work a physical labor job,” he remembers.

Like his father before him, he’d always been good at fixing things, so Jodoin decided to become an engineer. “I didn’t have an appreciation for how much math and hard science was involved,” he says. “I hadn’t gone beyond algebra in high school, so I wasn’t really prepared to begin an engineering degree. But Fullerton accepted me and then they helped me catch up with remedial classes in geometry, trigonometry and calculus.”

Jodoin struggled his first semester, but only briefly. When he scored a dispiriting 48 on one test, he quickly discovered the resources that CSUF offers its students, including faculty who were generous with office hours and mentoring.

“I was at my math professor’s door three days a week,” recalls Jodoin. “I found a home at Fullerton. Professors were really willing to take the time to help me succeed.”

By the Numbers

14AcresSize of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction
25YearsTime Darrell has worked for Disney
250MillionPeople who’ve ridden Disney’s Space Mountain
5.7BillionApproximate state revenue generated by Disneyland

Soon, he was thriving under what he calls the CSU's “learn-by-doing” approach to education. He became vice president of the campus chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and was a key member of the team that competed in the annual Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge. “What’s great about this competition is that you have to apply what you’re learning in class,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than an engineer who designs something that you can’t build or you can’t repair.”

After more than two decades with Disney, and hands-on work as an "Imagineer" on attractions that included EPCOT’s Mission: Space, Animal Kingdom’s Kali River Rapids and, for Disneyland Paris, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Jodoin is now director of development for Walt Disney Parks Worldwide.  

These days, he's immersed in a "galaxy far, far away." Star Wars; Galaxy's Edge is set to open at Disneyland Resort in summer 2019 and at Orlando’s Walt Disney World in fall 2019. There have been and will continue to be challenges with the new attraction, but Jodoin is confident all will be ready for its debut at the two parks.

“The breadth of the engineering program at Fullerton has allowed me the opportunity [to work] at a world-class company like Disney as a project/system engineer and to be competent across a very broad range of areas,” he says. 

“At Disney I’ve never seen a problem we couldn’t solve and I don’t expect that to change.”

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