By Joey Mazzaferro

This year, our college expanded its academic offerings by venturing into the world of themed environments. The School of Architecture’s CityLab-Orlando began its Themed Environments Integration (TEI) program last fall in the heart of the theme park capital of the world.

Leading the program is Steven Grant, who previously worked at Walt Disney Imagineering for 28 years. He is a registered architect and past president of the American Institute of Architects Orlando Chapter. Despite his architecture background, the program itself is very multidisciplinary, offering students with various backgrounds an amazing and enriching educational experience in the world of themed environments.

The TEI program recently completed its first year and Grant is preparing for the second year to happen in a very different world than the one the program began in.  Part of that process is already occurring.

“We are holding two online classes this summer: The Project Development Studio and Master’s Research Project Prep,” Grant said about the classes he is co-teaching with SoA lecturer Stephen Bender. “I am excited about being able to teach with Bender, who wrote the basis of the TEI program in consultation with industry representatives. At times, I am both a student and teacher in these classes.”

The focus of the Project Development Studio is exploring how to make the digital world of collaboration more effective and engaging. The Themed Environments Program plans on holding a symposium in early fall to share the learnings with the industry.

Grant is also working on planning for the Fall. One thing he is particularly excited about is writing the Introduction to Themed Environments class. He is using what he learned in his Liberal Arts studies at Rollins College to enrich the course content.

“The Introduction to Themed Environments class will provide an overview of all topics that will be practiced and studied in the program’s classes to follow, in addition to a historical and theoretical interpretation of the themed environments industry through a study of its history, philosophical basis, aesthetics, theater and storytelling,” Grant said.

The program will have a full cohort of 15 students in the fall. Like last year, it will include a diverse group of students with a multitude of undergraduate degrees, including architecture, mechanical engineering, poly sci/geography, theater technical arts, interior design, international studies and telecommunications/film.

“What is different about this fall’s cohort is that students are coming from other parts of the country,” Grant said. “The word is getting out.”

Grant considers the first year a success. The TEI program included six courses: four new ones and two existing ones. There were 55 industry guests that spoke with the students at CityLab-Orlando, and during office field trips and tours.

“Having students with multiple backgrounds worked out very well,” Grant said. “They successfully integrated their diverse skill sets to solve team projects, while having fun and learning a lot. I could not have asked for a more engaged and enjoyable first cohort.”

Sounds like the Themed Environments Integration program had an exciting and successful first year. We look forward to all the great things the program has in store for year two. To learn more about TEI, visit https://dcp.ufl.edu/tei/.

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