January 26, 2024

Purdue University in Indianapolis students learn the innovative ideas behind ‘The Most Magical Place on Earth’

Themed Entertainment and Attraction Design students see how the magic is made at Walt Disney World


ORLANDO, Fla. — Millions of visitors from all over the globe descend upon Walt Disney World each year for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Last month, Purdue University in Indianapolis students traveled to Orlando to learn how those unique experiences are made a reality.

Boilermakers vying to become innovative future leaders in the themed entertainment and attractions industry participated in the Global Association for the Attractions Industry annual Expo on Disney’s campus and at the Orange County Convention Center. Led by Purdue University in Indianapolis faculty members Chris Rogers, Josh Polk and Michael Cole, who are part of the Department of Computer Graphics Technology, 24 students were able to hear from industry leaders and network with prospective employers while getting a one-of-a-kind experiential learning opportunity into the planning and execution of some of Disney’s most popular attractions.

“This was a boots-on-the-ground, interactive experience to understand the process behind these attractions and to go backstage and see some inner workings of rides and experiences,” said Rogers, who also directs the university’s themed entertainment and attraction design offerings in Indianapolis. “Our students really got to see the breadth of the industry — not just one focused area — and were able to understand how they could use their skills in a variety of different places.”

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From Nov. 18-22, students heard from industry leaders like former Walt Disney Imagineering executive Theron Skees; participated in workshops on themed design, immersive experiences, character development and storytelling, as well as the industry’s latest AI trends; and had face-to-face interaction with dozens of employers who were present at the trade show portion in Orlando, building an important networking foundation for future career opportunities.

“This was an amazing chance to expand my connections within the industry and deepen my understanding of technical concepts and emerging technologies,” said Juan Pablo Sola-Thomas, a student pursuing the Themed Entertainment Design certificate who just began an internship in June with The Walt Disney Co. as a sustaining mechanical engineer.

Purdue University in Indianapolis offers one of the country’s only Themed Entertainment and Attraction Design programs, serving students from a variety of disciplines. Many, like Sola-Thomas, whose background is in mechanical engineering, join the program hoping to utilize their STEM interests to make a tangible impact on people’s lives through experiences at theme parks, zoos, aquariums, museums or any number of other areas in what is soon to become a 12-figure industry. The market size of amusement parks worldwide is projected to reach nearly $90 billion annually by 2025.

Since the Themed Entertainment and Attraction Design offering became official in 2021, Purdue students from the Indianapolis program have gone on to work for national brands like Disney, Dollywood and Carnival Cruise Lines along with Indiana-based attractions such as Conner Prairie (Fishers) and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

As the program enters a new chapter with Purdue University, Rogers is excited about the future.

“Being that we’re Purdue, we want to lean into that,” Rogers said. “How can we continue to create a unique major that really has an impact on the industry? What would it be like to create a space of our own that would allow us to do research, teach and partner with companies and industry leaders?”

“The possibilities are really exciting.”

About Purdue University in Indianapolis

Purdue University in Indianapolis is a new, fully integrated extension of the West Lafayette flagship campus, expanding the academic rigor and accessible excellence that Purdue is known for to Indiana’s industrial and technological center. As the only public top 10 university, most trusted university and most innovative university in the state of Indiana, Purdue is focused and committed to strengthening its presence in the capital city. Purdue University in Indianapolis will reimagine a collaborative platform that connects students, faculty and local businesses to promote breakthrough discoveries and create a new and direct talent pipeline. Realignment of the existing IUPUI partnership is expected to be completed by the start of the fall semester in 2024. Learn more about Purdue’s latest giant leap at https://www.purdue.edu/campuses/indianapolis/.

Writer/media contact: Derek Schultz, dcschultz@purdue.edu  

Sources: Chris Rogers, Juan Pablo Sola-Thomas

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