Taking a Ride with Theme Park Engineers

If you have ever ridden on a rollercoaster, you probably did not spend much time thinking about the expert craftsmen and engineers who put hours of energy into making sure the ride was both thrilling and safe. But coasters — and the theme parks that they live in — are testaments to meticulous design aimed at delivering a specific experience. The Theme Park Engineering and Design Group (TPED), a multidisciplinary student organization based in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, explores these puzzle pieces, and gives members hands-on opportunities to learn from their love of themed entertainment. Peter Looft, a mechanical engineering student and the group’s president, spoke with the College of Engineering about TPED and their plans for the upcoming term.

Tell us about some of the benefits of joining TPED.

TPED members at Universal Studios Orlando Resort
TPED members at Universal Studios Orlando Resort in 2019.

We provide a space for students to express their interest within the themed entertainment industry, whether it be people who just enjoy going to theme parks or those who would like to pursue a career within the industry. To do this, we host a wide variety of events, including weekly body general meetings, where we usually have a presentation and discussion about a specific topic within the industry. We also host a lot of guest speakers from within the industry that we have developed professional connections with through our 10 years as an organization. In addition to guest speakers at least twice a year, we get a behind-the-scenes tours of local theme parks like Morey’s Pier in Wildwood and Coney Island in New York. Our organization also participates in a lot of competitions that we have quite a good record at, winning multiple hosted by some of the biggest companies like Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative. Our members are also creative and have some cool ideas for projects that we help fund. Some of our biggest examples from the past include a virtual reality motion base, working models of real-life amusement rides, and various animatronics. We try our best to do everything possible for our members!

How has the organization adjusted to being fully virtual?

We transitioned quickly, moving our general body meetings to Zoom by the first week of the spring term running things as we normally would have just in a virtual environment. We did have to cancel events such as our spring trip to Hershey Park, but the virtual environment made it easier to host guest speakers from industry hubs like Orlando and Los Angeles.

What are some highlights of the fall term?

We did some fun things during this past fall term.  One of our most successful events was a Quizzo we hosted during welcome week — we got over a hundred participants! For a long time, we also wanted to collaborate with Dragon Jedi and finally achieved this when we hosted a lightsaber design competition.  To make sure our members were still getting their share of social interaction we also hosted events like Among Us virtual game nights, where everybody got a chance to take a break from classes and enjoy the company of their friends. Overall, we found it to be a fun and successful term for the organization!

Have you been able to undertake any collaborative projects while virtual?

We have a few exciting things in the works right now such as a projection mapping project, where you can use projectors to show moving images on the side of a building and take advantage of its design to do some cool things. This is a commonly used technology at theme parks, so giving our members a chance to get experience with it is a great opportunity. You can see it in work at City Hall during the holiday season. We figured this would be an easy project to collaborate on virtually since we can provide the software to our members to work on at home. Also, when we need to test it, we can do so outside in a socially distanced setting or have one member do the testing. In addition to this we also have a group of eight members working on an adapted invitational competition that we normally participate in every year at Universal Studios Orlando.

What does the organization have planned for the winter term?

This is a big term for us!  The beginning of February is our 10th anniversary, which we were hoping to make a large event where we brought our alumni on to campus. For now, that will have to be postponed until activities like that are able to be hosted again. This won’t stop us from celebrating, though, as we have some big plans including a guest talk from an Alumni who works for Walt Disney Imagineering. In addition, we have fun events like a virtual murder mystery. We are excited for the term and are hoping we can add as much as possible to the Drexel experience for students despite a global pandemic.