Members of the Ryerson Thrill Club get a tour of the Canadian National Exhibition.

Photos courtesy Alex Yamich

Thrills get competitive

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By Justin Chandler

The Ryerson Thrill Club — an engineering group dedicated to learning about the amusement park industry — is hosting the first ever invitational thrill design competition on Ryerson’s campus.

The event will take place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 and will feature teams from Canadian and American engineering schools.

Competitors will participate in three separate design challenges and travel to Canada’s Wonderland to view demonstrations of amusement technologies. The competition will be judged by industry VIPs such as Steve Blum, the senior vice president of engineering and safety at Universal Parks, and Mark Stepanian, a project engineer at Premier Rides.

Various engineering faculty members will also serve as judges.

Alex Yamich, president of the Thrill Club and a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, said the three challenges are meant to evaluate participants’ real-world knowledge of the industry. The three challenges consist of a rollercoaster design challenge, a creative design challenge and an academic challenge – there will be an overall competition winner as well as winners in each challenge.

Challenges will involve creating an original ride design, refitting an existing ride concept and demonstrating the connection between engineering courses and industry practices.

While there are no major monetary or material awards offered for winning, Yamich said that’s not necessarily the point.

“You have to know your theoretical stuff,” said Yamich. “The reward should be successfully completing your project. You are your own source of reward.”

Competitors are coming from Drexel University, Guelph, Waterloo and Cornell, Yamich said.

Kathryn Woodcock is an associate professor at Ryerson and the Thrill Club’s faculty advisor.

She studies how amusement parkgoers interact with attractions and how operators, inspectors and ride designers do their work.

“I believe the competition’s challenges will demonstrate how well this domain integrates the many different engineering skill sets,” Woodcock wrote in an email. She said the challenges are “critical lessons for contemporary engineers and designers.”

Before this year, there was really no way to showcase the club’s activities, Yamich said.

“Unlike formula racing or the Baja team, we don’t have a specific competition or any real way to show real, tangible output,” Yamich said.

The thrill design competition offers members the chance to get feedback from the pros on what they’ve put so much effort into, he said.

The Thrill Club was established in 2012 to give students the chance to learn about an industry many would not have been able to access previously, Woodcock said.

“Because my research grant cannot fund student travel for non-research purposes, about three years ago the [Ryerson Thrill] Club was established to enable students to access more financial support and enable them to travel to industry locations,” Woodcock said. Funding now comes from the Ryerson Engineering Students’ Society and the faculty of engineering and architectural science.

Students involved with the club have the chance to tour amusement parks like the Canadian National Exhibition and be mentored by industry officials. Some graduates and previous members now work in the amusement industry, Woodcock said.

As well as gaining an insight into the workings of amusement parks, students also have the opportunity to pitch project ideas and receive funding from the club to complete them.

This semester, there are two working scale-models in progress, said Yamich, one of a zipper-style ride and another of a thrill tower.

The group plans to start its first animatronics project next semester.

“In this industry, it’s very personal. There are people who have known each other for 50 years in some cases and they’re all best friends,” Yamich said. “So having these events where students can just showcase what they can do is very important for growth and gaining some confidence.”

With files from Leah Hansen

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