Universal Creative, the team that designs, develops, and delivers attractions, shows, hotels, restaurants, and resorts across the globe for Universal Parks & Resorts, has selected UCF as a preferred partner for a unique and immersive learning experience launching in Spring 2023.

Called the UCF/Universal Creative Lab, the offering provides students with specially designed coursework and on-site sessions at Universal Orlando Resort, a unique vacation destination that has been creating epic vacations for the entire family and experiences that place guests in the heart of powerful stories and adventures. Class members will also have opportunities to interact with Universal show producers, engineers, creative directors, executives, and other industry professionals with the goal of providing students with an in-depth look at the design and development process.

“People love the energy and thrill of experiencing epic stories and exhilarating adventures and Universal is an incredible place to build a career,” says Mike Hightower, president, Universal Creative. “The Creative Lab with UCF gives students immersive, hands-on, real-world experience through instruction from our talented team. This kind of learning is great for UCF students, great for our theme parks and entertainment and great for Universal Creative as we help grow and inspire the next generation of creators.”

Further, the UCF/Universal Creative lab will help prospective theme park attraction designers and storytellers learn the skills and build the relationships needed to explore career opportunities while giving employers like Universal Parks & Resorts the opportunity to help shape real-world training programs that develop prospective talent.

“Universal Parks & Resorts has closely collaborated with UCF for many years, providing learning opportunities for students and faculty,” says John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administration officer at Universal Parks & Resorts. “The Creative Lab is a natural next-step, and we are proud to support the next generation of themed entertainment innovators.”

UCF’s themed experience program — which includes an Master of Science degree and a theatre MFA with a track in the specialty — began in 2019 to meet the growing demand for creating experiences across the tourism, hospitality and events industry in Orlando and beyond. Themed entertainment experiences extend beyond the theme parks — to hotels, restaurants, retail establishments and even venues like zoos and museums. UCF’s first cohort of themed experience graduates completed their studies this spring, and quickly found themselves in an in-demand, rapidly growing industry in Central Florida before they even crossed the commencement stage. This fall, 62 students are enrolled in the two programs.

“Orlando is the international hub of the themed entertainment industry,” says Peter Weishar, founding director of UCF’s themed experience program. “World-leading organizations, like Universal Creative, are right here at our doorstep. We know our students need first-hand knowledge of the cutting-edge innovation and industry best practices to become the next generation of themed entertainment. We are grateful Universal Creative shares that vision.” Weishar has more than 20 years of experience leading academic programs and has held a variety of roles within the industry.

The first class will be offered to graduate students enrolled in UCF’s themed experience program. A second class will take place in Summer 2023 and be open to graduate and upperclass students from any accredited college or university. Students will split time between trips to Universal Orlando and on-campus workshops focused on developing original themed designs.

The partnership also comes with some scholarships opportunities to defray tuition costs that are designed to attract new students and talent to the field.

“This partnership will provide incredible opportunities for students,” says Jeff Moore, dean of the UCF College of Arts and Humanities. “Students from academic programs around the university have benefited from interning or working at Universal over the years. This new collaboration ensures that these opportunities are open to a diverse range of aspiring professionals in an in-demand industry.”