Universal Parks internship turns IST senior’s career plans ‘upside down’

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John Esteves, who is majoring in Information Sciences and Technology (IST), had a rollercoaster experience during his 2017 internship at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

“I thought I would go into consulting, and my internship turned my world upside down,” he said.

The senior interned with the entertainment giant as it was launching a new theme park, Volcano Bay, and worked to implement wearable technology for park guests. The wristband, named TapuTapu, “is taking this concept of a virtual line and your wearable stands in line for you,” Esteves said. “There are also a bunch of little interactive things to get guests more immersed in their experience.”

Aside from saving spots in line, guests are able to open lockers, control water guns that spray on the lazy river, pay for food and merchandise, and even capture pictures at branded “selfie stations” around the park – all through their wristbands.

“It’s interesting to see with virtual and augmented reality where the industry is going,” Esteves said. “It definitely brings opportunities for students in information sciences and technology.”

He’s aided by the knowledge he’s gained from his chosen option within his major – People, Organizations, and Society – which focuses on how technology influences people and their experiences.

“IST is a hybrid. We are on that bridge (over Atherton Street), but the college is also that bridge between technology and business,” he explained. “In my option, what I’m getting is a lot more experience with businesses and how they use technology.”

Originally a biology major, Esteves discovered IST after taking a few introductory classes. “I always loved technology, but I always thought of myself as just a user of the technology,” he said. “I decided to switch (to IST) because that’s where the jobs are growing, and it’s something I find interesting.”

He credits landing his unique internship, in part, to IST 390, a professional development class taught by Rita Griffith, the assistant director of student professional development in IST’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement.

“The experiences we got, like building resumes and learning how to properly interview, definitely helped me get me where I am today,” Esteves said,

Griffith noted that completing an internship, which is required of all IST students, not only provides crucial professional experience but also helps students figure out their career path. More than 75 percent of IST students complete multiple internships, and nearly 50 percent report finding a job as a direct result of participating in one. But with technology touching nearly every aspect of society and industry, the choices can sometimes be overwhelming for students.

“(An internship) can open a student’s eyes to the diverse opportunities available to them,” Griffith said. “At the same time, the experience can provide information about what they don’t want to do while they still have time to further refine their career choices.”

After having such a positive experience in the spring, Esteves is hoping to continue building his career in amusement parks. This year, he will be the president of the Penn State Theme Park Engineering Group. During his freshman year, he found the group through his brother’s involvement.

“I thought ‘oh I’ll just join it and make some friends.’ That was really it,” he said. “It turned out I was potentially making a career in this.”

The group not only takes recreational trips to theme parks, but also hosts professionals currently working in amusement parks and attends conferences to learn about the cutting-edge developments and technology in the industry. It’s also through one of the club’s former members, electrical engineering alumna Mackenzie Phelps, that Esteves first learned about potential internships at Universal.

“Network as soon as possible, because you never know where you’ll end up!” he advised.

Through all these experiences, Esteves feels he’s found a rewarding career path.

“In the parks, I’d see all these families having an amazing time and smiling,” he said. “You remember why you’re doing it. That fulfillment is what I’m looking for in a career after graduation.”

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