Campus partnership will bring student- and instructor-created interactive installations to Boiler Gold Rush

Last updated: March 16th, 2022

In partnership with Purdue’s Fusion Studio for Entertainment and Engineering (FSEE), Purdue Orientation Programs will launch its inaugural Boiler Gold Rush Entertainment Challenge this August by featuring interactive installations around campus during the week of BGR. All of the Purdue-themed installations will be created by Purdue students and instructors.

The partnership began at a networking event. The Fusion Studio team (Dr. Mary Pilotte, School of Engineering Education and Professor Rich Dionne, College of Liberal Arts Theatre Department) met Craig Johnson, director of Orientation Programs, and discussed ideas about how to incorporate engineering and entertainment aspects into Boiler Gold Rush. The Fusion Studio team then attended “Fountain Fest” during last year’s Boiler Gold Rush welcome week. The event, which aims to connect incoming students with the Greater Lafayette community, inspired the team to come up with some creative ways to increase engagement.

“We reached out to show our interest in connecting our teams and connecting people together who are working even tangentially in fields related to engineering and the entertainment industry,” says Rich Dionne, co-director of the Fusion Studio, associate professor of practice and theatre production manager in the Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance.

The idea was to provide mini-grants for faculty and students who might be interested in proposing a project that could be integrated into BGR. The team launched the BGR Entertainment Challenge, and now four grantee installations will be designed, developed, and constructed by the combination of faculty and student groups, each of which have been awarded $2,500 mini-grants for their creations.

The four awardees include: Dr. Chris Cayari for his installation of “Hail Purdue in Virtual Reality;” The Theme Park Engineering and Design (TPED) student group for “A Journey Through Purdue;” Wan Kyn Chan in collaboration with the Electronic and New Media Art Club for the proposal “A Warm Light for All;” and Dr. Andreas Arrieta in collaboration with the Programmable Structures Lab for his development of “Bistable Embrace.”

Students work behind the scenes on set construction. The new Fusion Studio for Entertainment and Engineering will allow students to build on their interest in engineering and entertainment. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

Cayari, assistant professor of Music in the Rueff School for Design, Art, and Performance, will gamify Purdue University’s fight song through his “Hail Purdue in Virtual Reality” installment. This project launches just in time to honor the 110th anniversary of Purdue’s fight song. Since its creation in 1912, “ Hail Purdue” has experienced many musical renditions, each one exhibiting school pride. Cayari’s virtual reality adaptation of the traditional tune provides a modern perspective that displays the same school pride established in 1912. The project will create four mobile virtual reality stations that will be placed around campus. Each one will provide the chance to play the virtual reality game Beat Saber with four versions of “Hail Purdue,” with every version celebrating a different genre of electronic dance music.

The Theme Park Engineering and Design student group’s project “A Journey Through Purdue” will feature a series of interactive displays at different locations throughout campus. Each display will present participants with an individual puzzle that consists of clues to other locations. This themed installation offers the chance for students to compete to find the displays and solve the puzzles to receive a prize from the TPED club.

Wan Kyn Chan, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, will collaborate with Will LaFreniere (President of the Electronic and New Media Art Club) to create “A Warm Light for All.” This project will place a cylindrical, monolith-lamp structure at a location on campus. If no interaction occurs, a warm, slow light will emerge from the structure, however as audiences begin to interact with the installation, the light will gradually become warmer, more animated and brighter in proportion to the sound levels nearby. This embodies the energy and excitement of incoming students joining the Purdue community.

Andreas Arrieta, associate professor of mechanical engineering, proposed the “Bistable Embrace.” This installation is based on work that has emerged from his Programmable Structures Lab research. The “Bistable Embrace” is a series of soft, compressible domes that individuals can interact with to create an infinitely reconfigurable, malleable shape providing the opportunity to perceive an inanimate object with a lifelike characteristic with the feeling of mutual contact.

Team Supervisors pose for a group photo at the Boiler Gold Rush 2021 Closing Ceremonies

“These installations will spruce up the academic transition of our new students during BGR,” said Virginia Cabrera, senior assistant director of Orientation Programs. “It will benefit the BGR experience and students will learn about the cool opportunities they have to really engage in hands-on experiences, through their majors or through their involvement in some of these academic units and student organizations.”

Dionne believes these immersive experiences could possibly be a part of campus beyond BGR in the future.

“I think all of these projects have the possibility of being on campus all the time at any time,” said Dionne. “It would allow students to see the possibilities in the overlapping of these two fields (of engineering and the entertainment industry), to see what faculty and other staff and students are doing, to find a way to be inspired or connect with those people that have an interest in those kinds of projects.”

Both BGR and FSEE teams are already discussing how these installations will be reused year after year with BGR and the possibility to expand depending on how successful they are.

“The goal is to create something sustainable that can happen again in future years,” said Cabrera. “The hope is to definitely continue this effort and that instructors and current students become interested in continuing to showcase their work throughout orientation for incoming Boilermakers.”

Author: Katie Larason

Communications Assistant for Student Success Programs,


Rich Dionne, co-director of Fusion Studio; associate professor of practice, technical direction, theatre; coordinator of design and production for the Rueff School, 

Mary Pilotte, co-director of Fusion Studio; associate professor of engineering practice, 

Craig Johnson, director of Orientation Programs, 

Virginia Cabrera, senior assistant director of Orientation Programs, 

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