Make connections and build your own opportunities at Nebraska
When I started as a mechanical engineering student, all freshmen were required to take this intro to engineering class where they run you through the different types of engineering and the career paths engineers can take. I had heard about a competition called Disney Imaginations, which is a theme park design competition where every year they have a different prompt. I was really interested in forming a team and I thought I would check if anybody at the university had ever submitted a proposal to the competition before.
I asked my professor if he knew anything about it and he said he there would be a lot of interest, so he encouraged me to put up posters and see if anybody else would be interested. I got 30 emails in the first day. We got together and thought maybe this could be something a little bigger, so we started doing a little more research and found three or four competitions hosted by different companies or student organizations, and we decided to create the Theme Park Design Group.
Getting Real World Experience
To wind it back a little bit, themed entertainment is basically any venue or themed attraction that tells a story. Disney parks, escape rooms, or particularly engaging museum exhibits all fall under the umbrella of themed entertainment. We went from it being just me being casually interested in this competition, to having a full group with 25 people at orientation meetings, all in the span of a few weeks.
It was obviously a little bit of a stretch to go from dreaming about amusement parks to museum stuff, but we were contacted about working with the Lincoln Children's Museum pretty quickly, and the club was excited to get started. The exhibit was sponsored by Union Pacific and the theme “was faster than a speeding train.” What they were looking for was for people to help design, build and fabricate this entire exhibit that would run through most of the spring.
Every Saturday from January through March, we were at Innovation Studio building this museum exhibit. We did everything from budgeting to making a detailed model, sent that to them and created a concept proposal. After that we fabricated, painted and installed everything on the exhibit, then moved it over to the Children's Museum. I think we stayed $1,200 under budget and three weeks ahead of schedule. That was our first real taste of a design project, and people really, really enjoyed it.
The second that we finished, we were like, “man, what are we going to do with our Saturdays now?” So we immediately went on the hunt for another project.
Collaborating with Others
I've always been a little more creatively inclined and by working in a project management role, I'm able to touch on different aspects of the design process as a whole and help pull things together. And that's what I really, really enjoy. Working with this, we usually have a team of a couple people putting together a parts list while myself and some other people are working on putting together our CNC files or that kind of thing. And then we'll constantly work back and forth and check things, make sure everything's going all right.
The engineering department offers Clifton strengths training, so we actually went through the program with a group of our officers, and learned a lot about how each of us operates, which has been super cool. I've met some really great people through this club. Our former vice president is now my roommate, like that kind of thing. Our work through this club has definitely given me a better understanding of how we all operate. It's also been really important to me for people to feel open in expressing themselves and giving me feedback. I have had opportunities both in my coursework at Nebraska, and through random people that I've met here, and that kind of thing would not have happened anywhere else. It's been mind-blowing the, the opportunities that the Theme Park Design Group has created.
Forging New Connections
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Whether it's homework stuff or a bigger project, you have nothing to lose by emailing someone and asking them for their feedback. That's been super helpful for our club as a student organization. I'll email other student groups and say, “Hey, have y'all ever built a museum exhibit?”
Obviously, Nebraska isn't a theme park capital of the Midwest or anything. On paper, it seems like a really dumb idea. The closest theme park that we have is Worlds of Fun. It's been really cool to be able to have this group of primarily out of state kids come together and say, “Nebraska has no connections to the themed entertainment industry, so we're going to make something.” What we've been focused on as a student organization is pulling people together to have fun and get some design experience under their belt, but still build those pathways and connections for if you do want to make this a career option.
I started this as a freshman with no clue what I'm doing and still kind of figuring it out. I remember being nervous about putting up a poster. In hindsight, that was the dumbest thing ever. But to me that was a big risk because I’m from 1200 miles away in Alabama, came here not knowing anyone, and the fourth week of school I'm out here putting posters up to see if anyone else likes the same things as me. You have nothing to lose by asking people. Worst case scenario isn't even that you’ll hear “no.” You can learn a lot from a no, but you can't learn a whole lot from radio silence.