Are you currently seeking colleges and universities who have themed entertainment degree programs?

As a Theme Park Architect I get this question a lot, “What university can I attend or what college courses do I need to take to learn how to become a designer in the themed entertainment industry?”

List of Colleges and Universities with Themed Entertainment Degree Programs:

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

Located in historic Savannah, Georgia, the Savannah College of Art and Design – also known as SCAD – has a variety of degree programs including Architecture, Graphic Design, and Interior Design. One of their newest degree programs is focused on the themed entertainment industry.

SCAD is the first and only university that offers a Master of Fine Arts degree program that is specifically tailored to teaching students about design in the themed entertainment industry. SCAD’s professors hail from top themed entertainment organizations like Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative.

University of Central Florida (UCF)

Located in Orlando, Florida, the University of Central Florida – also known as UCF – has a new Master of Fine Arts, Themed Experience program. Per their website:

Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, Themed Experience track prepares students to be the next generation of creative leaders in the themed experience industry. The program teaches the unique creative and production skills, process and concepts utilized to design and produce themed environments such as theme parks, zoos, aquariums, themed retail, dining, museums, virtual worlds and exhibitions.

University of Florida (City Lab)

Located in the theme park capital of the world, Orlando, Florida, the University of Florida’s new Master of Science in Architectural Studies with a concentration in Themed Environments Integration is focused on themed environments project design and construction team integration. Per the website:

The program leverages the core strengths of the College of Design Construction and Planning (DCP); architecture, landscape architecture, construction management, and interior design, and puts them together with industry expertise. The degree focuses on the enmeshed needs of an industry embodied in arts, technical disciplines, and construction/fabrication that makes an immersive themed environment possible. Students obtain core knowledge and then are faced with industry problems which they tackle collaboratively to create research-informed limit-pushing designs.

The DCP offers two tracks of study for students interested in learning a holistic, collaborative approach to themed entertainment design:

  • Master of Science: This Master of Science is for students with undergraduate or graduate degrees who wish to undertake advanced study and research in Themed Environments. Students entering the program follow a structured curriculum and depending upon their academic qualifications may be required to take additional coursework prior to starting the degree program. The program requires students to develop an individual focus of study that will serve as the foundation for thesis research completed in the final semester of the program. The degree program of study requires a minimum of 36 credits and is normally completed in 16 months (3 academic year semesters and a 12-week summer semester) and consists of the following coursework.
  • Graduate Certificate: A Graduate Certificate in Themed Environment Integration may be obtained independently or alongside the Masters in Architecture (MArch) professional degree. Independently the graduate certificate requires a minimum of 21 credits (in bold above) and is normally completed in one year. Alongside the MArch degree program, students take the TEI courses as their electives, plus additional TEI courses. Usually, this adds one semester to the length of the MArch degree program. Applicants for the Master’s degree program or Graduate Certificate must apply to the University of Florida Graduate School and complete the online application. Admission is a two-part process; an applicant must be accepted by the University of Florida Graduate School and then by the Graduate School of Architecture.

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Ringling College of Art & Design   

The Ringling College of Art & Design, located in Sarasota, Florida offers their newest Bachelor of Fine Arts program that is tailored to Entertainment Design. Ringling says the following about their new program:

As an Entertainment Design student at Ringling College, you will learn to transform a narrative, concept, or theme into a real-world experience that whisks users into a world of your making. You will collaborate with artists, designers, and other creatives to conceive, visualize, and realize your vision, and you will develop the visual communication skills of an artist and the problem solving skills of a designer.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Missouri State University

The Missouri State University is located in Springfield, Missouri. MSU offers an Entertainment Management Undergraduate Program, within their College of Business. This degree program is unique in that it is focused on the management of themed entertainment more than the design of themed entertainment experiences. MSU states the following about their program:

The benefit of our entertainment management degree is that you get a general exposure to all aspects of the entertainment industry and a strong business foundation. We feel this gives you more opportunities. For example, the person who graduates with an entertainment management degree could be quite successful in the area of artist management, but they could also transfer their knowledge and skill into areas like:

  • Event management
  • Venue management
  • Sports management

Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI)

Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, IUPUI’s School of Engineering and Technology – Department of Computer Information and Graphics Technology offers three options for students interested in learning more about themed entertainment design:

  • 120 Hour undergraduate degree with a concentration in Themed Entertainment through our Computer Graphics Technology program. Students take our three core classes in themed entertainment and can specialize in one of 6 areas taking courses from across campus. Students are also required to complete an internship.
  • 18 Hour standalone certificate where students from other universities or are already in industry can get a “leg up”. Students take the three course core, a internship (or equivalent) experience, an elective in an area of their choosing and a senior capstone 
  • 15 Hour Minor for students at IUPUI. This is the same coursework as the certificate minus the internship

IUPUI’s Themed Entertainment learning tracks focus heavily on understanding the themed entertainment industry and the process of creating themed entertainment experiences such as theme parks, zoos, trade shows, museums, aquariums, and more.

CALArts

The California Institute of Arts – also known as CALArts – is located in Valencia, California (northwest of downtown Los Angeles) offers a Themed Experience and Production within their School of Theater program. CALArts states the following:

The CalArts School of Theater provides students with an ever-expanding set of opportunities in new and future pathways for performance and design. Among the most exciting of these is the world of immersive environments and themed entertainment: experience design.

The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University offers an Entertainment Design and Technology Minor program focusing on live events, theater, and themed entertainment. The focal point of this Minor program is to provide students from any department who want to learn and apply skills of their respective discipline for careers in themed entertainment, theater, and live events.

The curriculum is tailored to the student’s individual interests and career goals that will better prepare them for later positions within the themed entertainment industry. The Entertainment Design and Technology is not open to students currently majoring in Theater, since this program was created as a bridge for undergraduate students from non-Theater majors.

For those interested in declaring their minor in the Entertainment Design and Technology program, they should reach out to Brad Steinmetz, Program Advisor and Associate Professor of Design and Technology.

Another opportunity, recently created, is an Engineering for Entertainment course that’s now included as a technical elective in some of Ohio State’s engineering programs. This elective design course focuses on a variety of stage mechanisms for live performance environments such as:

  • Stage lifts
  • Rigging systems
  • Turntables
  • Automation control systems
  • Tracked wagons
  • Fluid power
  • Motorized winches

Also consider, if you are enrolled at The Ohio State University, one of their 1400 plus student organizations, the Theme Park Engineering Group also known as TPEG. The TPEG is more centered around the engineering of themed entertainment experiences and attractions. The group states the following:

The purpose of this Organization is to enhance the technical knowledge gained by members in the classroom through applications in the theme park and entertainment industry. This shall take the form of team design projects as well as various educational opportunities.

Penn State University

The Pennsylvania State University, located near the town of State College, Pennsylvania, also has a strong Architectural Engineering program and Theme Park Engineering Group that produces engineers qualified to work in the themed entertainment industry. The Penn State University TPEG states:

“Our goal is to provide our student members with the opportunity to collaborate with experienced professionals of the theme park industry. We also initiate and complete engineering design projects while we discuss theme park engineering topics with other students, faculty members, and industry professionals who share similar interests.”

About the Author J. Daniel Jenkins, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP is a licensed Architect and a former Walt Disney Imagineer with over twenty four years of Commercial + Themed Entertainment design, design mangement, and A&E subject matter expertise. Jenkins, President | Owner of Holihoon Media LLC, is also the Founder | Chief Editor of themeparkarchitect.com who's goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture, engineering, and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment centric topics and travel.