Purdue Cohosts Second Symposium on Education in Entertainment and Engineering

Event Date: July 29, 2020
The School of Engineering Education and the Department of Theatre in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance at Purdue University hosted the second Symposium on Education in Entertainment and Engineering event online July 23-24, 2020, bringing together experts on education in entertainment and engineering.

In collaboration with co-host University of Nevada Las Vegas, over 75 attendees including industry representatives, practitioners, faculty and students participated in the two-day event. The event aims to showcase the amazing breadth and means of expressing the intersections of art, emergent technologies, engineering, education, and more.  

Zoom Screenshot of Participants with Signs
Photo: Attendees were given homework to write a word that best presented their impression of the conversations and topics covered the prior day. The image represents a small portion of the 65+ participants. 

Mary Pilotte, Associate Professor of Engineering Practice and Director of the School of Engineering Education’sUndergraduate degree programs in Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies and Multidisciplinary Engineering, and Rich Dionne, Associate Professor of Practice and technical director in the Department of Theatre of Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance in the College of Liberal Arts, were joined by Michael Genova, Fine Arts Co-Director of the Entertainment and Engineering Program and SJ Kim, Assistant Professor, both at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in organizing and co-hosting the event

This year’s event covered the timely topic of the how the entertainment industry has responded to the pandemic. “Venues and companies have wrestled with how to implement high-level and often costly safety guidelines as they examine how and whether they can reopen,” said Dionne. “What is the outlook for live entertainment in the next few months in the short term, and what is the potential long-term impact?” A panel discussion on the response of the pandemic included Kevin Hines (Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University), Gemma Hodgson (Vice President of Business Development, TAIT), Matt Jackson (Technical Director, Adirondack Studios), Kim Scott (National Treasurer, USITT and General Manager of Intrique Shows, Inc. Celestia), and Ed Weingart (Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut and Technical Director, Connecticut Repertory Theatre). Each shared their insights on the pandemic and stories of how their organizations and institutions are responding to present and future conditions in the industry. 

There were two sessions with breakout discussions, including (1) Using microcontrollers to teach scenic automation, led by Jonathan Shimon from the University at Buffalo and (2) Exploring the relationship between traditional research and creative activity in the applied technical arts academic setting, led by Robert Coleman and Marlo Randsdell from Florida State University. 

“The symposium format, which began as a small seed of an idea in 2018 to bring together people from many professions, disciplines, and communities of practice, has never been more relevant or important today,” said Pilotte. “We see this event as critical from two perspectives - one being that the live entertainment industry is worth billions and is now jeopardized by the pandemic’s paralyzing effects. The second consideration is that there is growing demand for a highly skilled engineering workforce to support this very technical and creative industry sector.” Evidence of the latter has had exciting implications for Purdue University through a relatively new degree concentration through the Multidisciplinary Engineering Degree Program in the School of Engineering Education. Boilermakers now make their choice to attend Purdue because it currently has the only accredited degree program with a concentration in theatre engineering. The concentration is uniquely linked to the College of Liberals Arts, embedding students in the work of producing Department of Theatre plays and performances as a fundamental part of their coursework during their time at Purdue. Students pursuing the concentration spend much of their time inside and outside of the classroom with Professor Dionne. He instructs courses in structural and mechanical design for the stage, automation controls and show networks, project planning and advanced arena rigging, all foundational for the live entertainment industry. Beyond Theatre Engineering, additional entertainment-related concentrations in Multidisciplinary Engineering include Acoustical Engineering and Lighting Engineering. 

The symposium will continue as an annual event with opportunities for universities and industry contribute in a range of ways. For those interested in participating in or supporting future events, please email fusion-studio@purdue.edu.


Mary Pilotte, mpilotte@purdue.edu; Rich Dionne, rdionne@purdue.edu

Contact: Teresa Walker, teresaw@purdue.edu


photo album of the 2019 Inaugural Symposium on Education in Entertainment and Engineering hosted at Purdue University. 

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