What would a roller coaster look like if you designed it? Would it careen toward a lake’s surface to swing riders up at the last second? Would it twist and turn around transparent water slides so riders and sliders could watch each others expressions around loops?
Andrew Reiff’s roller coaster design achieved those things, and for his ingenuity he won an experiential scholarship from St. Louis-based architectural design firm PGAV Destinations. The company has designed notable monuments, such as the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center and the Manta roller coaster at Sea World Orlando.
“I’ve wanted to be in themed entertainment since I was a little kid,” said Reiff, a Williamsport native and Penn State senior studying interdisciplinary digital studio in the university’s School of Visual Arts.
The major looks at 3-D modeling in conjunction with architecture, video game design and animation.
Reiff found PGAV while he was researching jobs in the fields of architectural and entertainment design. That’s when he said he saw the contest PGAV has been running since last year to find exceptional students in related fields.
“We do it as a recruiting tool and to generate interest in our company,” said Ned Diestelkamp, a vice president with PGAV and head of the scholarship review panel at the company.
Each year, the panel debates competition parameters and sets it up to see what lies in the imaginations of today’s budding designers, he said. It helps PGAV look at potential talent for its teams from the country’s universities from a broad spectrum of disciplines.
Because PGAV employs architects, landscapers, industrial designers, graphic artists and sculptors, there is a lot of potential for anyone to create an outstanding project, he said.
“We set the scholarship up to cross a variety of design disciplines,” Diestelkamp said.
“(Reiff’s) talent crosses that, so he’s a good example of what we’re looking for.”
When Reiff found the competition, he set to work thinking about roller coaster designs around a themed experience. In this case, that evolved into a water park theme called “Appalachian Creeks.” Roller coasters interact with water slides, and everyone at this imagined park gets a unique experience from even just standing in line, he said.
“I wanted to think about how the guest experiences it — what they see and hear outside of the ride experience,” Reiff said.
For winning the PGAV competition, Reiff and his family will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for three days in September.
That will give him the best hands-on experience of all: riding the roller coasters of today, so he can get new ideas about design of tomorrow’s rides.
“We encourage them to do this, find somewhere they can gauge their competence and skill,” said Carlos Rosas, an associate professor in the School of Visual Arts in charge of Reiff’s major.
Because State College can be a small town in many ways, students doing well here doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be stars elsewhere, he said.
So they need to challenge themselves by entering contests similar to PGAV’s to test their skills. It also introduces students to others in their prospective fields and they can get immediate feedback, he said. It’s also about transition.
“We’re always happy when they get these because it builds their confidence,” Rosas said. “At some point, you have to transition from a student to a professional, and the earlier you can begin that transition, the more likely you’ll have a successful career, especially in such competitive fields.”
Reiff agreed, saying that the exposure to others in the architectural design fields has been great because of the PGAV’s public relations.
That’s given him the ability to network, show off his talents and explore his passions.
“I think winning this competition has really got me off on the right foot,” Reiff said.