Theme Park Engineering Group makes the magic of parks come to life

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Theme Park Engineering Group, which focuses on industry-related engineering design projects and hands-on park visits, takes every opportunity for a good adrenaline rush.

“Think about that feeling when your stomach is about to drop out, that flash when the stage lights come on, that moment of horror when you are about to get scared in the haunted house,” Manny Esteves, a senior in mechanical engineering, said. “We are the group of kids that live to make that happen.”

Esteves, the club’s current president, leads the organization to provide students with theme-park industry networking opportunities, engineering and design projects, and discussions with people who share similar interests.

Though the club is focused on engineering, more than 50 students from across a variety of majors come together to participate in weekly meetings, projects, discussions, tours and events that the group participates in throughout the year. They continue to grow as they accept new members year-round.

Esteves said one of the most inspiring and exciting parts of being involved is touring theme parks and Broadway shows where they can see how the projects they are working on at Penn State translate into real-world operations.

Over the past year, the group visited Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, where they completed a walking tour of the park and had a behind-the-scenes look at how the rides operate and create the “magic” for their customers.

In addition to theme parks, the group also explores other areas of the industry, such as design and lighting for concerts and Broadway shows.

Last semester, the group met with Tait Towers, a stage technologies company based out of Los Angeles that designs sets for Disney and Universal Studios, as well as concert stages for artists such as Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars.

During the spring 2015 semester, the club traveled to New York City to see Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway and get a behind-the-scenes look at how the production is put on multiple times a week for thousands of audience members.

They toured the backstage area, received a brief history of the theatre’s past performances, viewed special effects on the stage, and tried on props and costumes, including the trident from The Little Mermaid.

“As a leader it is so cool to take members to their first Broadway show and see how their faces light up for live theatre,” Esteves said. “We get to share these new experiences, build a good community, and make friends for a lifetime while we are at it.”

After the Aladdin visit, the group toured Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, where they explored the mechanics of one of the country’s most historic roller coasters, the Cyclone.

When they are not touring parks and shows, the club works on various projects on campus such as creating special effects for the Forensic Science Club’s haunted cottages during Halloween and designing a theme park model for teaching children science during Science-U summer camps at University Park.

Esteves said he values the experiences, internships and connections he has had because of the group, and he is proud of the members for the passion they put into it.

“When you walk into a room and see every seat is taken at a meeting, it kind of lights you up a little,” he said. 

As of April 2014, the Penn State Theme Park Engineering Group has been recognized as an official University club of the Themed Entertainment Association.

For updates on meetings and events, follow them on Twitter at @PSU_TPEG.

Last Updated February 29, 2016