What would you think if you saw a flyer that said “Theme Park Engineering and Design Club?”
“Yea, roller coaster rides! . . . Where do I sign up? . . . We’re going to spend every weekend in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world! . . . What do people in this club do? . . . I’d better go check it out!”
That was more or less the thinking of 15-20 students at the University of Florida, many of them Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering students, who joined club founder Griffin Schobel for the first club meeting in the spring of 2017.
Today, the Gator Theme Park Engineering & Design (TPED) Club has 30 active members and their Facebook group page has 380+ members. The club has social, technical and professional aspects; and, yes, they do go to theme parks – but not every weekend, and not just to ride the rides.
In the spring of 2018, the Gator TPED club received an invitation to participate in the Ryerson Invitational Thrill Design Competition (RITDC), hosted by Universal Creative at Universal Orlando. Club members applied for the eight positions on the design team, and all club members voted to select the team members based on what they could contribute to the competition. Kaylyn Ling, who is majoring in English and Physics, was chosen for her artistic skills. The team also included four members from Mechanical Engineering, two from Electrical & Computer Engineering, and one from Aerospace Engineering.
The RITDC involved nine different aspects of theme park design. The team was able to choose five of the nine challenges and respond to those challenges at the competition. Some very basic information was sent to the team two weeks ahead of time, but the prompts (details) were presented to all the competition teams at Universal Orlando only 24-48 hours before they had to complete each challenge and present to the judges.
The Gator TPED team won first place in the roller coaster design phase of the competition thanks to their skills with NoLimits2 software. Within this challenge, the team had to take into account the composition of the audience, how many people could ride the ride at one time, and how the maneuvers of the roller coaster would relate to the theme.
The team also won the mechanical challenge. In this instance, they had to design two mechanical systems that would incorporate a thematic element for a proposed ride. This challenge was virtually all technicality and feasibility. No artwork or other creative design was allowed in this challenge.
Additionally, the TPED team won a second place for the challenge of re-theming an existing attraction. Kaylyn Ling’s artistic talents played an important role in this challenge.
Competing against 11 other teams from the U.S. and Canada, including Cornell, Ryerson, Rochester Institute of Technology, Drexel University, UCF, University of Michigan, Southern Methodist University, Arizona, Auburn, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Virginia Tech. Gator TPED came away with the most wins and the highest points, resulting in an overall win for the entire competition.
In addition to their excitement over winning, the team enjoyed the chance to network with other students and speak to professionals in the themed entertainment industry. The entire team spoke highly of the judges and their constructive comments.
Club president and team member Matthew Musial said, “Michael Breen and I shared the team captain role, but more on the logistics side of the process, which consisted of registering our club, scheduling meetings to prepare, etc. I would say we didn’t have a single captain, because each member stepped up and led the team in different situations based on each of our skills, which is likely what made our team successful.”
Considering the future, Gator TPED is looking forward to hosting a design competition at UF next year. Right now, their biggest concern is where to display their winning trophies!
Gator TPED Competing Team: Andrea Wright (Mechanical Engineering); Justin Lawrence (Computer Engineering); Mark Lawrence (Computer Engineering); Kristofer Robinson (Mechanical Engineering); Michael Breen (Mechanical Engineering); Matthew Musial Mechanical Engineering; Kaylyn Ling (Physics, English); Sierra Simpson (Aerospace Engineering)
Economic Impact of Theme Parks
The Department of Economic Opportunity estimated that of the 9.1 million people employed in Florida, 1.1 million have jobs related to the tourism industry, which contributed $51 billion to the state GDP.
In 2017, an estimated 72 million people visited the Orlando area where the majority of amusement and theme parks are concentrated. Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the nation, spending more than $1.2 billion on payroll and $474 million on benefits each year for 66,000 employees. Other parks and recreational facilities contribute to the employment of additional thousands of Florida residents.
Gator TPED: Professional Development
“Our members have attended professional events such as SkyNext (presented by Skyline), IAAPA and ASTM events, and Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) NextGen events such as Gib Gab. Many of our members have gone on to secure internships by actively participating in the club events and attending professional events with the club. Some companies where students have interned or gone on to full time positions include Universal Creative, Seaworld Parks and Resorts, The Walt Disney Company, The Disney College Program, Skyline Attractions, ThemeWorks and more. Many members cite this club as the catalyst for them to enter the professional theme park space well prepared with valuable industry knowledge, design experience, and networking skills.” - Matthew Musial, Gator TPED President