Auburn students are looking to become the next generation of Disney and Universal engineers.
The Theme Park Engineering Group is an organization for students of all majors who are interested in working with theme parks in a variety of capacities.
Every week, the organization has meetings to discuss different aspects of the theme-park industry and often has speakers from places like Universal or Disney come speak to them.
Kirsten Conrad, president of the organization, has been a part of TPEG since it was brought to campus two years ago. She served as secretary that year, as well.
“I fell in love with it,” Conrad said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about, and I love sharing it with other students, and I want them to find their passion in the industry.”
The group goes to a conference each semester. In the fall, they go to The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
“This is the industry showcase, so anybody who’s anyone goes to the showcase and shows off their new rides, new technology,” Conrad said. “You go there, and you can try out everything.”
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Conrad added that students can network with the professionals attending the conference and can even get an internship and potential job offers.
“They make those connections, and that’s the biggest thing in this industry because it’s so small yet so diverse,” Conrad said. “You really have to know someone who knows someone to get the job.”
Each spring, the group goes to a meeting of ASTM International, a global-standards organization.
The organization attended the technical committee meeting known as F-24, for the theme-park industry. Students get to interact with professionals in the industry and have hands-on experience, helping set the standards for the industry.
Students can learn how to set safety standards by looking at past and possible scenarios and learn how to fix and prevent those problems.
An optional opportunity for the students is to attend Sky Next, which is a conference exclusively for students. Conrad said this conference is more for students to learn about the industry and go on behind-the-scenes tours.
Along with conferences, TPEG also participates in competitions.
The first competition is called Ryerson Invitational Thrill and Design Competition, which is held in the fall and is hosted by Universal Creative. TPEG sends a team down to Orlando to compete against other schools from around the world.
“We do different challenges that are related to different aspects of the industry,” Conrad said. “There will be design challenges, and there will be engineering challenges. You’re going to want a very diverse team which has different skills to cover anything you could be encountered with.”
These challenges are given to each of the teams, and they are given 24 hours to come up with their ideas and present them.
Conrad added that this competition is international. She also said every year she has gone, the competition has doubled in size and is continuing to grow.
“The big thing about the intense competition is that you are presenting these ideas in front of judges who work in the industry, who are very prominent in the industry,” she said. “They take your ideas, and they point out flaws in your design or where you missed an opportunity to add something. So, it’s a really great learning opportunity for students to kind of build on this experience and to learn more about what goes into making an attraction in the theme industry.”
Along with the challenges in this competition, the team members are given tickets to go to the park and do research behind the scenes at Universal. This competition also provides the team with a ticket to IAAPA.
The winner of the competition is also offered an internship with Universal Creative.
“You really get looked at by Universal for internships by just going to the competition,” Conrad said. “By going to the competition last year, they opened up internships for just competition students, which is a really great advantage for our students and other schools’ students.”
The second competition that TPEG participates in is hosted by Cornell and is offered online.
“Students work completely from Auburn, and you don’t have to travel,” Conrad said. “You just make a presentation and send it off. It gets critiqued by professionals, and there is even a cash prize.”
TPEG also participates in behind-the-scenes tours at parks throughout the year. Last semester, the group visited OWA, a newer theme park in Foley, Alabama.
“They have actually asked us to come back and do these engineering-education days,” Conrad said. “Next month, we will have two trips where students can volunteer at OWA for a day and experience the park. They can do behind-the-scenes maintenance work and learn the processes of getting the park up and running. We also get to do the first ride of the day.”
“If you’re in our club, you get the networking opportunities,” Conrad said. “You get to learn about these products. The hardest part for us is getting students’ foot in the door because the industry is so small, and people are so passionate about what they do.”
Conrad loves TPEG because she believes that it helps students find their niches because there are so many creative opportunities offered for them.
“They don’t leave the industry. So, job and internship opportunities are very few and far between,” Conrad said. “So, knowing these people and having them know your name and show that you’re passionate about the industry will get you miles ahead of everyone else. They get hundreds of applications, but how do they pull your name out of that stack? It’s because you go to ASTM, you go to IAAPA, you go to Ryerson and you meet these people in person. By joining our club, you get that opportunity, and I think that’s how you make it in the industry.”
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