The TPEG Alumni Community Theme Park Design Competition 2020

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit earlier this year, hundreds of college students with lifelong dreams of working in the themed entertainment industry saw summer jobs and hard earned internships evaporate before their eyes. Luckily, a group of Ohio State Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG) alumni decided to do something about it. Abigail Erwin, Tiffani DuScheid, Stephani DuScheid, and Mandy Dodge organized a Theme Park Design Competition to provide students with an opportunity to showcase their creativity and skills and the results were incredible.

We recently sat down with the team to learn more about how they created the Theme Park Design Competition.

C101: Who is behind the TPEG alumni community?

Abigail: We are a group of four friends who were all members of the Theme Park Engineering Group at Ohio State University. We all met through the group and it meant a lot to us. Mandy and I are both former Presidents. I currently live in Nashville, TN working for Animax Designs creating animated figures as an Associate Mechanical Design Engineer. Tiffani reached out to me at the beginning of the summer with the idea for this competition and I gladly agreed to collaborate.

Tiffani: This past winter we were able to collaborate again at OSU’s second annual Students in Themed Entertainment (S.I.T.E.) conference. Mandy worked on hosting the conference while Abigail, Stephani and I shared our experiences with the students as alumni. I currently live in Orlando, FL. I work for Walt Disney World ® Resort as a Business Operations Senior Associate.

Mandy: I am a recent graduate of OSU and former president of the Theme Park Engineering Group. I currently live in Cleveland, OH.

Stephani: I graduated from Ohio State in 2019, where I studied Electrical Engineering.  During my time with Theme Park Engineering Group I served as Social Chair and was on the team that planned the first ever Students in Themed Entertainment (S.I.T.E.) conference.  I currently live in Orlando, FL and work for Universal Orlando Resort as a Controls Engineer on their Sustaining Engineering team.

C101: Where did the idea originate to launch a competition for students?

Tiffani: Like so many people I found myself overwhelmed by all of the bad news and lost opportunities for college students and recent graduates around the world. I just had this feeling that I had to do something. So, I reached out to Abby, Stephani, and Mandy. They are three extremely intelligent and creative women whom I knew would be up for this challenge. During college when Mandy and Abigail were presidents of the club, they were always encouraging everyone to sign up for the different design competitions that were happening at other schools. This was the area that I knew the most about from a student perspective and I thought it could hold a lot of value for students. It was designed to challenge students in the areas of time management, attention to detail, teamwork, and a cohesive vision. Furthermore, it allowed them to create a deliverable they could use with them in future interviews and showcase their work and skill level.

C101: How did you come up with the theme for the competition?

Tiffani: There is so much art from history and across all time that it provides a vast amount of creative opportunity. We chose a group of 10 artists with different backgrounds and styles to provide a wide variety of inspiration. We wanted to create a balanced amount of creative freedom while still building structure into the competition. The students had to choose one of the ten artists and bring any of their works to life.

C101: How many students and/or teams participated?

Stephani: 14 teams ranging from one to five participants submitted projects to the competition.  In total, 49 students from 18 universities participated.  These students ranged from Sophomores to recent graduates with a wide variety of majors.

C101: How were the projects judged?

Abigail: All four of us judged each project by filling out a rubric based on the following criteria:

  • Did they follow the prompt – does their design meet the requirements?
  • Attention to detail – how well have they thought it through?
  • Creativity – did they draw inspiration from the artist while still making it unique?
  • Practicality of Design – would this work in the real world? Would it be sustainable?

Each aspect of the design requested by the prompt was given a possible score out of 10 in the four categories I just mentioned. 10’s were reserved for truly exceptional work; they were hard to get, but there were definitely groups that earned them! Once we scored individually, we got together to review and confer. The top three teams were the highest scorers. All teams received their scores and comments from us. We kept everything as fair as possible by having a third party assign team numbers and asking the groups not to put their names anywhere on the project.

C101: Besides the winning team, were there any particular projects that jumped out at you? Anything you want to highlight? Were there any surprises?

Abigail: Other than the winning project, there were a few groups that blew us away. I really enjoyed the way O’Keefe Country (Xochilt Khoury, Paige Brunson, Christian Roberts, Kylie Stamey, Matt Bashford) added environmental impact as a core value and consistently noted how its design choices tied back to that.

Into Infinity (Melissa Carlin, Mariel Carlin, Angelica Clemente, Diego Valenzuela), inspired by Yayoi Kusama, designed a simple, yet intimate interactive experience where guests would create a map together of colored dots symbolizing different emotions; they even tied this into their merchandising options. Mosaica (Jacob Plocher, Mary Crawford, Katelyn Wyatt, Madelyn Steurer), inspired by Alma Thomas, had the most creative use of an Omnimover, being able to close off into a capsule or open up into show scenes and the addition of interactive elements on the vehicles themselves.

Something I had not anticipated enjoying so much was looking at the menus. Many groups had great graphic design on the menus for their restaurants, and the food sounded delicious! I was really impressed with everyone’s artwork, especially because most of the participants were engineering majors, for whom that is an extracurricular skill.

Tiffani: I would like to preface this by sharing that I was so impressed by every single project. These students created videos, renderings, concepts, and lands that were far beyond anything I could have ever expected. They are all so talented and you can tell they are dedicated to their work. Some work I would like to highlight is as follows. One of my favorite merchandise items was from Kusamatopia (Knechtse). They took Yuyoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden Performance Art and turned it into a piece of jewelry that captured the essence of the art in a really elegant way. Into Infinity (Melissa Carlin, Mariel Carlin, Angelica Clemente, Diego Valenzuela) had a very clever and trendy design for boba tea to match certain pieces of art. Finally, Hokusai Harbour (Jack Ferletic, Lito Morona, John Folts, Jason Wanamaker, Alejandro Edwards) brought Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji to life with a walk-through attraction where guests could view Mt. Fuji in 36 different ways. It matched the essence of the artist and showcased that the land itself is meant to be an experience. Overall, all of the students who participated did a phenomenal job this summer!

Mandy: I was blown away by the talent, creativity, and detail of every project submission. Each project was unique and offered its own interpretation of the prompt. It was clear that the students put a lot of time and effort into these submissions and they should all be extremely proud of what they came up with! Aside from the winning team, there were a few others that stood out. I was extremely impressed by O’Keefe Country (Xochilt Khoury, Paige Brunson, Christian Roberts, Kylie Stamey, Matt Bashford). They did an amazing job incorporating the themes of their land (sustainability, creativity, and entertainment) into each and every component of their design and relating them back to the prompt. They did an outstanding job taking the challenge of the location in stride and relating the artist to the location for thematic consistency. I felt the storytelling aspect of their presentation went above and beyond! I was also very impressed by Hokusai Harbour (Jack Ferletic, Lito Morona, John Folts, Jason Wanamaker, Alejandro Edwards). The level of detail, conceptual and technological, of their signature attraction, Fuji Falls, was unbelievable! They also did a fantastic job creating a backstory for their land that really pulled all of the various components together.

Stephani: We were so blown away by everyone’s submissions.  The time and dedication they put into their projects was evident.  I was very excited to see a few teams include safety standards in their projects when describing how their attractions would work and how they would comply with current industry standards.  The teams that took these into account were Hokusai Harbour (Jack Ferletic, Lito Morona, John Folts, Jason Wanamaker, Alejandro Edwards), Mosaica (Jacob Plocher, Mary Crawford, ​Katelyn Wyatt, Madelyn Steurer), and Infinity Gardens (Jessica Goldberg, Mike Sturman, Eric Ginsberg, D’Angelo Reyes).  I was also impressed by the nighttime spectaculars many teams designed.  They were all so creative and I wish I could go see them in real life!  The team behind Mosaica (Jacob Plocher, Mary Crawford, ​Katelyn Wyatt, Madelyn Steurer) even created a video rendering complete with a script, soundtrack, and fireworks choreography for us to enjoy.  The team behind Fuji Village (Amanda Orndorff, Kyle Wilson, Eric Lytle, Haley Grubbs, and Natalie Hirakawa) took us scene by scene through the imaginative and technical details of their fountain and projection show.  Overall, everyone did a fantastic job and should be very proud of their final products!

See some of the 2020 project submissions here.

C101: Do you plan on making this an annual competition? Future plans?

Mandy: This competition provides the opportunity for students of all circumstances to put their skills into practice and showcase their passion for themed entertainment. While we started the competition due to the current state of the industry, it will continue to provide students with that same opportunity. The talent and enthusiasm that came with the project submissions this summer was nothing short of inspiring and we certainly want to continue to foster that creativity. While it may not be in the same exact form every year, we hope to continue offering this competition annually for students.

Thanks again to the TPEG Alumni Team for answering our questions and to all the students for their hard work and wonderful projects. Learn more about the competition on their website. Stay tuned, soon we’ll be doing a deep dive with the winners of the competition, Team 31!


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