Students in Themed Entertainment: Recapping OSU’s first student led conference

On Saturday, February 2nd I had the opportunity to attend SITE, Students in Themed Entertainment, a conference put on by the students of Ohio State’s Theme Park Engineering Group.  Professionals from ten different themed entertainment companies and  sixty-five students from twelve universities all came to Columbus to network and support each other. The schools represented were:

  • Theme Park Engineering Group at The Ohio State University
  • Carnegie Mellon University Theme Park Engineering Group
  • Theme Park Engineering & Design at Purdue University
  • University of Buffalo Theme Park Engineering Club
  • Penn State Theme Park Engineering Group
  • Themed Entertainment Association at Notre Dame
  • Theme Park Engineering Group at the University of Michigan
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Pellissippi State Community College
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Akron
  • Cincinnati State University

Photo by OSU TPEG

What was SITE like? Here’s a quick recap of the day’s activities.

To get the event started, there was a fun group activity/ice breaker where mixed teams of students and professionals had to design an attraction based on three random words. My group’s words were: roller coaster, water skiing, and cooking. Yes, you read that right.

Roller coaster = easy. Water skiing and cooking? Together? What?!

After some brainstorming we came up with… “The Dining Plan.”

It’s a Wave Breaker style coaster themed to water skiing and we named all of the elements something related to cooking. The ride features three parts: The First Course, The Second Course, and the Third Course. The first LSM “lunch” (yes lunch, not launch) gets the trains up to 55 mph before hitting a banana roll double inversion followed by a bow-tie noodle element. The 2nd lunch blasts you to 60 mph into the spaghetti bowl, followed by a restaurant with rooftop grandstand flyby. Next is a chocolate river splashdown that flows into a banana split. Finally, you slow down into the cakewalk.

I think we nailed it.


Photo by OSU TPEG

The keynote presentation was by OSU alumnus Jonathan Smith, Corporate Director of Rides and Engineering at SeaWorld Entertainment. His deep dive went into the details of designing and building SeaWorld Orlando’s new for 2018 attraction, Infinity Falls. Jonathan explained why it was more challenging and time consuming to commission the river raft ride due to the variable ride path versus a large roller coaster like Mako which has a defined path.

Photo by OSU TPEG

After lunch, Kevin Kellenberger, Assistant Director of Safety and Engineering at Universal Creative, gave an inside look at how they develop the most advanced theme park rides in the world, such as Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida.

Brian Kosmac and Crystal Meyer, engineers at the Gravity Group, explained the development process of Kentucky Kingdom’s new 2019 coaster, Kentucky Flyer, including the ride’s placement and earlier design iterations.

Photo by OSU TPEG

A Student Project Fair in the middle of the afternoon then gave the students an opportunity to showcase their work to all the themed entertainment professionals (and you may be hearing more about a few of these projects soon, so stay tuned).

The final presentation was by Scott O’Donnell, Themed Environment Specialist at ETC, who gave a unique look at a key component of theme parks not often discussed: the control and operation of the lighting systems.

Photo by OSU TPEG

Wrapping up the main event was a Professional Q/A Panel, which I had the pleasure of participating in. The themed entertainment professionals on the panel not yet mentioned were:

  • Gabriel Russ, Electrical Engineer, Irvine Ondrey Engineering
  • Scott O’Donnell, Themed Environment Specialist, ETC
  • Zach Roesch, Ride Maintenance Supervisor, Cedar Point
  • Greg Spears, Ride Maintenance Manager, Cedar Point
  • Jacob Janoso, Engineer, Entech Innovative
  • Sam Cardine, Kentucky Kingdom
  • Matt Waldenmeyer, 3DX/Iacono productions
  • Drew Wallace, 3DX/Iacono productions
  • Matt Schmotzer of Print My Ride was going to be on the panel but was unable to attend, so instead you’ll just have to read the feature we did last year to hear about his amazing work.

The panel began with an introduction by each member before sharing their story:  their current job and title, how long they’ve been in the industry, how they got their start, why they got into the industry, and more. The importance of good communication was echoed multiple times as was the advice to stay humble and be hungry to always learn more.

For myself, it was an honor to sit with so many esteemed professionals who help bring to life all the attractions we know and love. It was great to see not only the students but the professionals embrace and understand the importance of this event even though it was the first year for it. Four of the professionals even flew in all the way from Florida to participate (and in the middle of winter no less).

Photo by OSU TPEG

A dinner and social event at a nearby restaurant was a great way to close out the day with good food and good conversation.

Overall, for being the first conference put on by students I have to say I was very impressed. Many professionals including myself used the phrase “I wish we had this when I was in school.” It’s awesome knowing that the future of the amusement industry will be in good hands for years to come.

Thanks again to Dan Mueller and the entire team at OSU TPEG for inviting us to participate and for hosting SITE. I hope OSU TPEG plans on making this an annual event. And if they do and you’re an aspiring student hoping to find a career in theme park engineering I highly encourage you to attend. The information and contacts you make are invaluable and are not easily found elsewhere.

Photo by OSU TPEG

Learn more about Ohio State’s Theme Park Engineer Group here.

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