Theme Park Club starts off academic year on track


Courtesy of Nigel Chew

Hokusai’s Edo, designed by TPED for The Ohio State University TPEG Community Theme Park Design Competition.

Joshua Perry, Reporter

It’s been a roller coaster ride of a year for Northwestern students, but more so, perhaps, for one club in particular.

Formed this year, Theme Park Engineering and Design Group (TPED) is building a community of themed entertainment enthusiasts amid chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TPED was founded in April by McCormick juniors Nigel Chew and Aaron Pulvermacher. Both have loved the themed entertainment industry from a young age — but for them, it hasn’t been easy finding others who share the same niche interest.

“I come from a super super small town, and when I was growing up, it was just me with the roller coaster thing,” Pulvermacher said.

So when the two friends met at NU, they decided to start their own group, Pulvermacher said.

Chew said TPED’s activities include three main focuses: entering design competitions, holding networking and speaker events, and learning more about the industry. But TPED’s biggest focus, he said, is community.

“It’s a space for anyone who is interested in theme parks, amusement parks, themed entertainment or just attractions in general,” Chew said.

And TPED is not at all limited to only STEM disciplines. Communication and McCormick junior Gillian Finnegan, TPED’s outreach chair, is studying theatre as well as mechanical engineering. She said theme park design is a special way to bring elements of her two majors together. Plus, it’s something she’s dreamed of doing since she was a child, Finnegan said.

“I’m pretty sure I wanted to be an Imagineer for Disney from the time I was like 11, or something like that, before I even knew what an engineer was,” Finnegan said.

TPED has already made accomplishments in the six months since its inception, placing sixth at an online design competition at The Ohio State University earlier in the year.

The groups were prompted to design a theme park based on an artist from history. As a team, Finnegan said TPED ended up picking Katsushika Hokusai, known for his iconic print “The Great Wave.” They designed the layout of the land, she said, as well as two rides, three restaurants and a concept for a fireworks show.

But putting the club together in the socially distanced world has not been a simple task. But Pulvermacher said organizing activities through the internet has been great for the group. With the help of platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp and Slack, TPED’s ability to collaborate and participate in competitions was unhindered.

“The whole remote aspect didn’t hold us back at all,” he said.

This fall, Finnegan said the group plans to host different workshops on topics like theme park background music or hosting guest speakers from major theme parks. She added that the group plans to virtually attend an industry conference about the engineering side of theme parks.

It’s unclear what the future of themed entertainment in the United States will be. Due to social distancing and health concerns, the pandemic has upended the theme park industry, and it could be years until it recovers, Chew said.

Despite the state of the world, the members of TPED are riding along anyway. For Chew, it doesn’t matter that the circumstances aren’t in his favor at the moment. He said he isn’t letting the world get in the way of what he’s passionate about.

“I’m still very keen on it,” Chew said. “It’s something that I do hope to get to at least some point in my life.”

A previous version of this story misstated a social media platform used by the club. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @joshdperry

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