Monday, April 21, 2014

Themed Entertainment industry networking: Coming to a university near you

by Aimee Roy, BaAM Productions

As creative interdisciplinary programs at institutions of higher learning evolve to address the experience design industry, relationships are forming between the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and their faculty and departments. Likewise, university and college students exploring career possibilities are connecting to TEA.

That’s where the “TEA @ [University]” endeavor - part of TEA's booming NextGen Initiative - comes in. The TEA is home to legends and heroes who inspire the many up-and-coming designers, engineers, operations specialists, etc. seeking careers in Themed Entertainment. Current students and recent grads are able to join TEA at special "NextGen" rates, and, TEA's NextGen Committee facilitates outreach opportunities where TEA NextGen members have the chance to learn directly from and network with established industry figures.

The TEA @ University initiative
In order to grow this effort at the post-secondary level, the NextGen Committee has launched a “TEA @ [University]” initiative to give students and their advisors the resources and tools necessary to create a club to bring the TEA to their campus.

Two schools have led the way for TEA clubs. NextGen members at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia) and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at UCF (Orlando) established TEA clubs at their respective schools. The club founders were already active students who were also TEA members. The success and interest they gatheredhave since inspired the start of similar clubs at campuses throughout North America, including Penn State – and there’s no holding back now.

Today’s TEA @ SCAD club is led by Katherine Dixon, who says, “There are no words to describe just how valuable this organization is if a young designer wants to enter the field of Themed Entertainment. In a way, I believe that the field is underground. Certainly there is someone who builds the rides, creates sets, or completes rock work. But the important question is, who?  I have learned about the community of designers and engineers who make these magical experiences through the TEA.”    

As students take the leap from their studies into the real world, “TEA @ [University]” clubs can help bridge that gap. Clubs offer opportunities for guest speakers from the industry, networking events, and collaborative exchange among fellow club members. This last point is especially valuable for Katherine, who acknowledges that, “fellow TEA NextGen-ers, without a doubt, will be working with each other in the future. Why not start to foster those relationships early on?  That is indeed a large component of what this program is for. It is also a space to talk about current events in the industry, share ideas, and grow as young designers.” Sights are set high for TEA @ SCAD. Their past events range from restaurant critiques and an IAAPA survival session – with plans to launch a bi-weekly PechaKucha event and sandcastle competition in the spring.

To aid the cause, the TEA has developed a series of guidelines for clubs and their advisers, which will support the continued establishment of TEA clubs at colleges and universities. The guidelines have been designed to ensure that TEA information and resources used by clubs maintain consistency of the Association’s brand and membership standards, while also creating a seamless extension of the Association at the post-secondary level. 

Who can join?
Any student enrolled at a post-secondary institution hosting a TEA club will be able to join that club, but it will be highly encouraged that they also become TEA NextGen Members so that they can take full advantage of the benefits available through the Association. For a NextGen member, that means having access to the online Internship Exchange program, industry-specific webinars, exclusive TEA member events, discounted NextGen rates to events like the TEA Summit and SATE Conference, and opportunities to volunteer within the industry and at industry gatherings.

Students wishing to start a “TEA @ [University]” club at their school can reach out to the TEA NextGen Committee chair, Clara Rice at The TEA will then be able to provide a set of established guidelines, logo artwork that includes their school’s logo, a welcome packet, introductory TEA video, and more. For university clubs seeking TEA members as speakers, clubs can send their requests to the TEA NextGen Committee and/or the Division Board serving their
Aimee Roy
university’s geographic region (there are four Divisions: Western North America, Eastern North America, Europe & Middle East and Asia Pacific; see the TEA website for details). Once a club is underway, the NextGen Committee will remain informed of activities through club reports developed by the club president. 

Of course, it’s more than just the NextGen students who stand to benefit from this new initiative.  These clubs connect TEA member companies with students who have made clear their interest in becoming industry professionals. These students are extremely passionate and eager to learn - they are potential candidates for internships and employment at member companies, and they bring their own unique perspective into the TEA. Additionally, TEA clubs will build awareness of the Themed Entertainment industry on university and college campuses; providing students with industry insight from a global perspective.