At the University of Arizona, there are student clubs for architecture, design, engineering, performance, art and recreation. But only one organization represents students who are interested in a mix of those pursuits, or what might be called “imagineering”—the term coined by Walt Disney for the creation, design and construction of theme parks and attractions.
The UArizona Theme Park Entertainment Group (TPEG) is, according to club leadership, “a group of students passionate about themed entertainment”—theme parks, live shows, roller coasters, zoos, museums and much more. The organization, which meets weekly, strives to foster creative and technical growth in its student members, as well as to provide opportunities to gain professional experience and network with top companies in the industry. It holds skills sessions, Q&A with industry professionals and design-build entertainment experiences, while also participating in international competitions. Its only membership requirement, says club leadership, is “imagination and drive.”
This fall, that imagination and drive paid off for TPEG members in the UArizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture and College of Engineering, who competed in the industry’s most esteemed design-build competition: the Toronto Met Thrill Design Invitational. After four days of intensive work, UArizona TPEG finished with the competition’s highest honors.
Presented by Universal Creative, the Thrill Design Invitational held at Universal Orlando Resort brought together student teams representing 18 colleges from the United States and Canada, including Carnegie Mellon University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Toronto Metropolitan University and Savannah College of Art and Design.
At the competition, student teams were assigned a set of themed, entertainment-oriented design-build challenges that must be completed in less than 48 hours. TPEG’s challenges focused on interactive ride design, attraction design and mechanical design. Other challenges at the competition included patron-directed interactive experience, safety and accessibility, concept art and roller coaster attraction design. Teams had the opportunity to visit the Universal Orlando Resort parks to perform site analyses, conduct research on rider capacity and guest circulation and analyze various attractions as preliminary case studies.
Using skills obtained through their education at UArizona, the students developed a series of technical and illustrative drawings, storyboards, renderings, animations, digital models and decision matrices to present to a panel of industry leaders.
UArizona TPEG received the highest commendation overall, with distinctions for technical skill, feasibility, innovation and communication. In total, the team received 36 team recognitions, 15 commendations and other honors.
“There was no better group to represent the University of Arizona at this competition than TPEG’s student competition team—an experienced, interdisciplinary group of graduate and undergraduate students dedicated to pushing the limits of what is possible in safety, creativity, engineering, sustainability and accessibility in the theme park industry,” says Michael Marcellin, Regents Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the club’s faculty advisor. “They are decorated veterans of this competition, having brought back several winning trophies in engineering design and accessibility in years prior.”
“We can attribute a large amount of our success in the competition to having a multidisciplinary design team,” says Anthony Rascon, a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student. “In college, students are rarely presented the opportunity to collaborate closely with those of differing degrees. UArizona TPEG invites students of any background to learn more about themed entertainment by exposing them to design through the lens of business, art and mechanics.”
Erika Schmidt, who will graduate in May with her Master of Architecture after earning her Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments in 2020, agrees: “The beauty of the themed entertainment industry is that no matter your background or expertise, every professional has the same aspiration: to design immersive spaces that leave a long-lasting impression on guests through captivating storytelling, multi-sensory experiences and interaction with the built environment.”
In addition to Rascon and Schmidt, the UArizona TPEG team was comprised of Nick Sivertson ’23 BS Mechanical Engineering; Karson Knudson ’23 BS Statistics and Data Science and BS Electrical and Computer Engineering, ’24 MS Electrical and Computer Engineering; Alex Drey ’24 BS Mechanical Engineering; and Alyssa La Fountain ’25 BS Architectural Engineering.
The UArizona TPEG team advanced to November’s final round in Orlando, Florida following a qualifying round that was held virtually over the summer of 2022—a challenge completed over two months.
Learn more about the Theme Park Entertainment Group (TPEG), view other CAPLA student organizations or find out how you can support student clubs and other initiatives at CAPLA.