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hat better way to learn what a child enjoys at a waterpark than through an actual child? That’s exactly what Jeff Nodorft does. Besides heading a staff of 15, he observes four little helpers — ages 6, 5, 4 and 1 — to see what works and what doesn’t in his designs.

As the director of aquatic engineering at Ramaker & Associates as well as a waterpark designer and full-time dad, Nodorft is the target customer for many of his projects. And his “clients” couldn’t be happier.

“How they see and play with different things has been where I’ve gotten some of my ideas,” 34-year-old Nodorft says of his four children (three boys, one girl). For example, he notes that wading pools only need 6 inches for children to be happy, as opposed to the standard 12 inches.

A former design engineer for materials handling products, Nodorft joined Ramaker in 2000 as a design engineer for aquatic projects. He came with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Plattsville and an MBA as well.

His favorite project to date: the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, an indoor and outdoor park. He spent a lot of time and energy working on the project through five of its 10 growth phases, and is proud of the results.

Through his five years in aquatics, Nodorft has gained a considerable amount of knowledge in the area of indoor waterparks. He’s spoken on the subject at a number of conferences, and has had articles published in the aquatics industry as well. But he’s quick to credit his team.

“It takes a bigger vision than a focus on aquatics to get the job done,” he says. “Look at other factors: architectural, theming, building systems. The more you can integrate and clear the road to be efficient for the whole team, the better the project becomes.”

His future goals: to continue integrating technology into the new development of projects, such as creating new experiences in a river ride using the same base functions, but adding new elements. In the long term, he looks forward to helping drive the industry into new markets — such as hotel chains and renovations — and helping it reposition itself. And being highly educated himself, he plans to bring more education to the table so people will better understand operations, business and risks associated with waterparks.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Nodorft says. “The industry is exciting, from the beginning of the project sequence to the end. It’s very fulfilling to watch the development. When you get done, you have a great family atmosphere and fun design project.” — Rin-rin Yu