Select Page

Making magic happen: Engineering and designing theme parks

ASU’s Theme Park Engineering and Design club helps students looking to design entertainment attractions find industry connections

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Features, Students

Arizona State University’s Theme Park Engineering and Design club’s goal is to bring together like-minded individuals with aspirations in the themed entertainment industry and help them launch careers. In an industry that tends to center around California and Florida, where theme parks like Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (pictured) are located, it can be challenging for students in Arizona to have the same access to opportunities. Photographer: Erik Wirtanen/ASU

We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. We call Imagineering the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.”

— Walt Disney

The themed entertainment industry is widespread and diverse, encompassing everything from theme parks to aquariums, zoos, water parks, museums and more.

The Theme Park Engineering and Design club at Arizona State University, or ASU TPEAD, is a group of students in a variety of degree programs with a passion for the themed entertainment industry. ASU TPEAD has approximately 35 members, about half of whom are students in the university’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The industry tends to focus on California and Florida, home to the most well-known theme parks owned by Disney and Universal, making it more difficult for students in Arizona to have access to career opportunities.

“A big part of our mission is to close the gap between our members and the themed entertainment industry and create opportunities for ASU students to pursue a career in the industry,” says Logan Harrison, head of ASU TPEAD. “Part of closing this gap is our association with the international organization called the Themed Entertainment Association, or TEA.”

Because the theme park industry is extraordinarily diverse — employing professionals from general fields such as mechanical engineers and architects to those in more highly specialized areas such as drone or kite-show designers — ASU TPEAD’s strives to present students with as many different career paths and opportunities as possible.

Logan Harrison

Logan Harrison at the Magic Kingdom in Walk Disney World. Photo courtesy of Logan Harrison

The group is filled with students interested in the mechanisms of attractions, creative students focused on the theming and storytelling of rides, students who have completed or hope to get into the Disney College Program, and those who are just generally interested in theme parks.

“On top of showcasing the diversity among available career opportunities, we also aim to reflect the diversity of the industry with our monthly guest speakers,” Harrison says. “Our goal is to provide an opportunity for each member to connect with at least one person in the industry, whether through similar interests, backgrounds, gender or ethnicity.”

The club typically meets biweekly and has two different types of events. The first event of the month is a workshop series that enables members to showcase their skills or interests relevant to the themed entertainment industry through a short presentation and a group activity.

The other monthly event, called TPEAD Talks, involves the group hosting chats about the industry. These are the group’s marquee events, featuring industry professionals talking about their career journeys, the roles they’ve had and projects they’ve worked on, and answering questions from ASU TPEAD members.

“So far we’ve been able to invite former and current Imagineers and Universal Creative team members, as well as folks who work for the numerous auxiliary companies in the industry,” Harrison says. “These guests have ranged from art directors and concept artists to architects and creative producers.”

This year, ASU TPEAD was officially recognized as the 48th U.S. TEA NextGen Organization, a student organization branching from the TEA.

“This connection not only provides us with a great network of industry professionals, but it also allows us to interact with other university organizations across the U.S.,” Harrison says. “It also opens the door for ASU TPEAD members to attend international events like TEA Inspire or the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, or IAAPA, Expo.”

Harrison, an architectural studies senior in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU, says his dream job has always been to work as a Walt Disney Imagineer. He is taking his first step toward that goal this summer, having been accepted for an internship with the Walt Disney World facilities asset management team.

“My love for Disney started at a very young age,” Harrison says. “It wasn’t until I was in elementary school and was able to experience Cars Land at Disney California Adventure for the first time, that I realized there are people who design and create these magical experiences. From then on, I’ve been obsessed, and it’s been my goal to create similar experiences for the next generation of guests.”

Madeline Mohrhauser, an industrial engineering student in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Fulton Schools, was recently elected as the president of TPEAD for the 2024–2025 academic year.

“As the next president, my goal is to create a collaborative environment where students who have a love for theme parks can come together and create something amazing,” Mohrhauser says. “Through hands-on projects, workshops and collaboration, I am committed to ensuring that members have access to opportunities for inspiration, growth and insight, while gaining practical knowledge about theme parks straight from professionals.”

If you’re interested in learning more about a career in the themed entertainment industry or have a love for theme parks, consider joining the Theme Park Engineering and Design club. ASU students interested in joining ASU TPEAD can follow the club on Instagram and become a member on Sun Devil Sync.

members of ASU's Theme Park Engineering and Design club

ASU’s Theme Park Engineering and Design club was invited to Glendale, Arizona, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Mattel Adventure Park. Photo courtesy of Logan Harrison

About The Author

Erik Wirtanen

Erik Wirtanen graduated from Arizona State in 2001 with a BS in Recreation Management and Tourism. He got his start in the communications field as an undergrad with the ASU Athletics Media Relations office. He worked at UC Irvine from 2002 until 2014 in the Department of Athletics and then The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. In August of 2014, Wirtanen joined the communications office at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1957 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

ASU Engineering on Facebook