Theme parks across the country may be struggling because of COVID-19. But enthusiasm for the industry remains sky high within Ohio State’s Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG).

“For me and a lot of the people in the organization, working in the theme park industry has been a dream for a while,” said Robert Anderson, president of TPEG and a senior electrical and computer engineering major. “COVID isn’t going to stop that passion. We don’t want to stop learning about it. We don’t want to stop helping people get into this industry because we believe strongly it will bounce back.”

TPEG is a professional-development-oriented group that helps members gain technical knowledge of the industry. In past years, that meant guest speakers, tours of theme park rides and trips to conferences. And although restrictions have canceled trips and forced meetings online, there have been bright spots.

First, group membership doubled this fall and half of those new members are freshmen or students at Ohio State’s regional campuses.

And all these members have access to more connections than ever.

“One of the really sad things about COVID is how many people have lost their jobs in the travel and tourism industry,” Anderson said.

“We have alumni and former members who might have gotten laid off but remember our club fondly. As a result, many of them have reached out to talk to us about the industry. It’s blown my mind how many people want to talk to us.”

TPEG also has connected with similar student theme park organizations at universities across the country through a discord server it set up. The server now has more than 200 members from student groups across the United States.

“We’ve been siloed more than we realized, but the virtual tools have opened a whole different amount of people to connect with,” Anderson said.

Another important part of TPEG’s activities has always been engineering projects — think building miniature roller coasters to learn what it takes to design and create them. This year, while the group has not done as many projects, it has expanded into new areas.

One is the “Make a Difference” pitch project, in which some of the business and finance members of the group are researching and predicting what the financial, business and marketing implications will be from COVID-19.

“Eventually we’d like to present it to some companies, show our findings and maybe forge a relationship with them,” Anderson said.

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