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Ready to get lost in Wonderland?

Student-run Chapel Thrill Escapes brings its newest escape room to life – Rameses in Wonderland — continuing to provide an outlet for student creativity, entrepreneurship and collaboration on Carolina's campus.

A group of students gathered.

For Chapel Thrill Escapes, you could list many reasons for its growing success… its creative, innovative student team, the partnerships it has forged with the community, and even its easy-to-find location on campus, to just name a few. The team behind the magic has launched its newest on-campus escape room in Cobb Residence Hall, with rave reviews already coming in.

“Escape rooms bring people together, whether it’s a sports team, a startup company or a class group project,” says Sameer Rao, Chapel Thrill Escapes CEO and a senior majoring in business administration and computer science. “There are very few social activities in which you can collaborate with others and solve hard puzzles in a fun, imaginative setting. The go-to social activity in Chapel Hill tends to be getting dinner or food on Franklin Street. Students now have something new they can do with their friends…and they don’t even have to leave campus.”

The first student-built, student-operated escape room, Chapel Thrill Escapes is both a nonprofit and student organization – with a mission to provide an outlet for student creativity, entrepreneurship and collaboration on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. To bring its newest room to life – Rameses in Wonderland – the escape room team partnered with Carolina Housing, the 1789 Student Venture Fund and BeAM to create an imaginative and immersive experience.

“Our escape room team is comprised of interdisciplinary students in the fields of design, chemistry, business, computer science, psychology and so much more,” says Rao. “Our team is also multifaceted in its talent. We have members who can build advanced financial models, members who focus entirely on décor and artwork, and members who can build technologically-advanced puzzles.”

Since its launch in 2019, Chapel Thrill Escapes has utilized the 1789 Student Venture Fund awards as a valuable resource for its growth. The 1789 Student Venture Fund – managed by Innovate Carolina – provides student startups and social ventures at UNC-Chapel Hill with critical seed funding at their earliest stages, giving teams what they need for their ideas to take off.

“The 1789 Student Venture Fund provided the funding to make this happen,” adds Rao. “There was a point late last year where I wondered if we could financially build this room with the cash we had on hand. 1789 transformed that reality and allowed us to invest in high-quality build materials to make this room durable and truly enchanting.”

“It’s been amazing to watch Chapel Thrill Escapes grow as an organization over the past few years,” says Kimi Yingling, assistant director of innovation hubs at Innovate Carolina. “The 1789 Student Venture Fund supports students so they can focus solely on growing their ideas and exploring how their venture can make the greatest human, social or economic impact possible. It’s been a pleasure to provide that guidance and support to the Chapel Thrill Escapes team as they create one-of-a-kind experiences for the community.”

Another valuable partner for Chapel Thrill Escapes is Carolina Housing, who worked with the team to build the escape room at no cost, while offering support of major decisions regarding the build. In addition, the Chapel Thrill Escapes team worked with BeAM, collaborating with Anna Engelke and Glenn Walters for advice and ‘consultations’ for its members’ puzzle ideas. BeAM is a network of makerspaces where students can join the UNC maker community in the design and making of physical objects for education, research, entrepreneurship and recreation.

“The makerspaces were key to making this project happen,” says Rao. “The tools and supplies were not only used to make our puzzles functional but also used to decorate our puzzles. Great examples are our custom-designed deck of cards and laser-cut maze that are part of big puzzles in our room.”

One challenge many student-run organizations face is keeping their organizations growing and thriving, especially when students eventually graduate and move on. But according to Rao, that’s not the case for Chapel Thrill Escapes.

“I’m super excited for the future of Chapel Thrill Escapes,” he says. “I can’t share too much about future plans (as much of those will be shaped by a new energetic executive team), but we are beginning to lay down the vision for our next escape room and future steps to grow the organization.”

Learn more about 1789