Last month, seven Michigan Tech students left campus in the early hours of the morning on Saturday, November 11th. With travel funding and support from industry leader LAI Games, an award-winning arcade producer, they set off on a 1,500 mile journey to attend the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo in Orlando, Florida.
Mechanical engineering students Jason Rogers, Cameron Whiteside, Katie Morin, Julian Arens, Jackson Arens, and Joaquin Sibug, and Materials Science and Engineering student Aaron Boonstra, spent the full week of November 13th-17th attending educational sessions, networking with industry professionals, and exploring the vast trade show floor.
All are members of the Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG) at Michigan Tech, which aims to promote the education and appreciation of the themed entertainment industry on campus. The group looks behind the scenes of the industry, in order to get to know the design, engineering, and technology behind some of the world’s most thrilling attractions. TPEG is advised by Kent Cyr, assistant professor in Michigan Tech’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts.
Hundreds of companies representing every facet of the themed entertainment industry demonstrated that nearly every discipline of engineering had opportunities within this exciting industry. From material scientists discussing new compounds for roller coaster wheels, to mechanical engineers in awe at state-of-the-art animatronic figures, every member of the Group found something that inspired them.
Industry leader LAI Games sponsored the group and covered the cost of attendance to the Expo. The global company was founded over 60 years ago, and has its headquarters in The Colony, Texas and Singapore. LAI develops, manufactures, and sells coin and card operated prize merchandising games, as well as ticket redemption, video, and novelty games.
“There truly is something for everyone in this industry,” says Cameron Whiteside, fifth-year mechanical engineering student, and Secretary of TPEG at Michigan Tech. “Whether you’re a mechanical engineering student, or a computer science student, business major, theater technology major, artist, journalist, whatever your discipline—there is absolutely a company that utilizes your skills in themed entertainment.”
Several members spent the week speaking directly with company representatives and industry professionals, showcasing the unique set of skills and knowledge only Michigan Tech students can demonstrate. Some students even mentioned possible internship and full-time job opportunities.
In addition to the new professional connections made throughout the week, some students were returning to the Expo, having attended the previous year. They were able to reconvene with contacts they’d made at prior events, catching up on their latest projects and developments—both industry professionals and other students from theme park groups at other universities from around the world.
“In a few short years, these people will be our co-workers,” notes Whiteside. “It’s important to maintain connections with everyone you meet at these events, because you’re bound to run into them again at some point.”
Several recent graduates, including Ryan Briggs (BS Computer Engineering, ’23), are already actively working on some of the most groundbreaking projects in themed entertainment at TAIT, notes Whiteside.
The students were also able to meet with MTU alumni who have found their way into the industry over the years. Some alumni have been leading the industry for decades, like Korey Kiepert (BS ’97, MS ’99, Mechanical Engineering) who went on to co-found The Gravity Group, LLC.
“Our group started out as a few students looking at videos of new attractions on the other side of the world,” he adds. “Now we have alumni of TPEG working alongside the actual designers of those same rides. It’s honestly pretty amazing. I look forward to seeing what current members can do for the industry in the coming years.”
Whiteside will be graduating in December with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Technical Theater.
“TPEG would like to thank LAI Games for sponsoring the group and covering the cost of attendance to the Expo.