Theme Park Engineering and Design Group enters two ride design competitions, wins one


Photo courtesy of Nigel Nicholas Chew

Theme Park Engineering and Design Group members work on their functional model of a swinging pendulum ride. The club competed in two separate competitions April 9.

Alexa Crowder, Copy Editor

McCormick sophomore Jasmin Ali-Diaz spent April 9 running back and forth between two rooms in the Ford Center. She and her teams were virtually presenting their theme park ride designs in two separate national competitions: the University of Florida’s Swamp Thrills and Iowa State University’s Ride Engineering Competition.

Ali-Diaz is a co-president of Northwestern’s Theme Park Engineering and Design Group, a student organization founded in 2020 that offers theme park enthusiasts an introduction to the industry. The club meets throughout the year to prepare for competitions and other projects. This month, it won first place in Swamp Thrills, a national amusement ride design competition that focuses on the conceptual and artistic aspects of themed entertainment.

This year’s theme was time travel, and TPED’s entry was a robotic arm simulation ride called “Rewind.” 

In “Rewind,” hypothetical riders board a robotic arm fixed to a track. Set in the future, the ride represents a cheap time travel machine — but this technology soon malfunctions and sends riders to unexpectedly face disastrous moments in history.

A conceptual design for “Rewind,” TPED’s first-place entry for the Swamp Thrills competition. (Photo courtesy of Nigel Nicholas Chew)

“For these kinds of competitions, it’s not (about) building something physical. It’s trying to see how creative your idea is, how feasible it is,” said McCormick senior Nigel Nicholas Chew, a co-founder of TPED. “We come up with the story, the concept art, the ride vehicle, the schematics, the layout of the attraction and those kinds of things.”

ISU’s Ride Engineering Competition has many engineering-based requirements like dimensions, ride type, continuous operation time and acceleration force. Teams are judged based on their systems engineering report, functional model and final live presentation.

TPED built a swinging pendulum ride called “Monsoon Mayhem” for the competition. Riders would board a claw-shaped attraction that swings them back and forth at increasing heights. Although the team did not place, its model succeeded in running for the required eight hours during the competition day. 

McCormick sophomore Maia Traub, TPED’s competitions and external events chair, said this competition was the club’s first in-person project since its founding during the pandemic.

“In terms of learning hard skills and being able to present something physical, this is the first project we’ve done, which I really enjoyed,” Traub said. 

Despite pandemic restrictions, TPED was still able to complete major projects over the past two years. For example, the club partnered with Shedd Aquarium in 2021 to redesign its outdoor garden spaces. 

Several members of TPED, including Ali-Diaz and Chew, said they hope to join the theme park industry in the future. The club hopes to continue growing and expand its presence on campus, Ali-Diaz said. 

The club is working toward Associated Student Government recognition to gain funding, and its next big projects at NU include building a themed sensory space on Dillo Day and a haunted house in the fall. 

“I’m from Orlando, Florida, so I definitely frequent theme parks, and the theme park industry is where I want to take my career after college,” Ali-Diaz said. “(The club) is such a great opportunity, not just for the love of theme parks, but also (because) the people in TPED are really amazing.”

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Twitter: @AlexaCrowder

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