The TEA Experience Cafe: Introducing the Next Generation of (Literal) Game Changers

March 06, 2013

Blogger-in-Chief, Clara here.  Last Friday, I had the opportunity to meet 25 talented graduate students at the launch of the Themed Entertainment Association’s TEA Experience Café.  The Café, an initiative of TEA’s Next Generation Committee, aims to introduce university students and recent graduates to the themed entertainment industry in a casual, interactive setting, while providing access to those working directly in the field.  After eight months of planning, Friday marked the official launch of the initiative and was held at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This is what greets you on the fifth floor of ETC.

Established in 1999, the ETC offers a two-year Masters of Entertainment Technology degree, and many of the students use their degree to foray into the gaming industry.  Step off the elevator, and you’re immediately transported to a world of storm troopers and spaceships, Gollum figurines and skeeball machines.  During my tour, I was introduced to several of the 18 projects currently being developed at the school, including a collaborative slot machine experience, a multi-platform Army training exercise, and a Risk-type game where participants use their collective singing voices to affect the result.  It was an inspiring afternoon, and I was excited to hear more from the students individually.

The student lounge.  I mean, I had to try my hand at skeeball, right?

Dennis Bateman of Carnegie Science Center and Christian Lachel of BRC dine with the students before the presentation.

The format of the evening was part presentation, part professional speed dating.  Christine Kerr of BaAM Productions, Christian Lachel of BRC Imagination Arts, Josh Jeffery of the Warhol Museum, Dennis Bateman of the Carnegie Science Center and I provided insights on our careers and organizations, and the students found that their backgrounds weren’t that different from those on the panel.  Dennis also treated us to an impromptu science experiment featuring a Fuji film canister, Alka-Seltzer, water and a spontaneous explosion.


Josh helps Dennis with his scientific demonstration.

During the Q&A, my advice to the students came from the playbook of my now retired mentor, Rick Steele:

  1. Fast, cheap, good.  You can only have two.
  2. “I don’t know” is the smartest thing anybody ever says.
  3. You can only shave time off the project at the beginning.
  4. The most important day of a project is its opening.

I also delved from my own experience and encouraged them to “be nice to little old ladies,” because you never know whether the 84-year-old woman sitting next to you at a focus group will be the person that gets you your next job (as happened to me with JRA).

Once in the one-on-one sessions, I discovered that the students had varied backgrounds.  One worked in construction.  Another performed in musical theatre.  A third came from a computer science background.  A common denominator for many of them was that they had no idea that working for a Disney, Universal, BRC, JRA or BaAM was even a possibility, and their eyes had been opened to new career paths.  

From left - Christian Lachel, yours truly, Josh Jeffery, Shirley Saldamarco, Dennis Bateman and Christine Kerr

Shirley Saldamarco, ETC faculty member, felt the evening had a profound impact on her students: “The students appreciated the 1:1 opportunity to show their portfolios and get direct feedback from industry professionals.  They were amazed at how approachable, down-to-earth and supportive everyone was.  The biggest surprise was they said the sessions helped them discover opportunities in the themed entertainment industry for people like themselves with such diverse backgrounds (music, arts management, cruise ships, etc).  Even students at our Silicon Valley campus weren’t left out, since they participated in interviews via GoToMeeting.  From all the emails and personal comments I received, everyone involved had an enlightening experience and enjoyable time.  I’m still not quite sure who had more fun – the guests or the students.”

I certainly had a great experience, and I look forward to keeping up with the students' progress and seeing where they land.

Are you interested in becoming a TEA Next-Gen member?  Visit the TEA Next-Gen membership page for details, and thanks for reading the JRA blog.  Next week, we’ll begin a multi-post blog series on how leisure attractions are increasingly being used to drive economic development in urban environments.

Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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