Minds Over the Magic Kingdom
Four students felt like they were soarin’ over NC State when they returned to campus Feb. 6 after a week in California, where they earned first place in the rigorous Disney ImagiNations design competition.
Back to the humdrum of his architecture classes, senior Andy Park found himself unconsciously whistling a happy tune. “Is that a Disney song?” a classmate asked. Park admitted he couldn’t get it out of his head.
But the students have good reason to whistle while they work. The top prize not only earns them $3,000, but a chance to score paid summer internships at one of the entertainment industry’s legendary creative shops: Walt Disney Imagineering.
In a word, the experience was “transformational,” says Brian Gaudio, a Park Scholar majoring in architecture. “Life-changing,” adds Kyle Thompson, another Park Scholar who will graduate in May with an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering.
For mechanical engineering junior Michael Habersetzer, words failed when the prize was announced in an event at Imagineering’s Southern California studios on Feb. 3.
“I only hope that somewhere someone in that auditorium had a video camera,” he says. “Because you wouldn’t believe the elation—the jumping, hugging and crying we did. It was so emotional, there on stage in front of our new friends.”
Those new friends include many of the Disney Imagineers who treated the students to the experience of a lifetime: a week behind the scenes with the creative minds responsible for all of Disney’s theme parks, resorts, cruise ships and attractions worldwide.
The Power of Imagination
At a company named for the merging of imagination and engineering, the students expected to learn a lot about collaboration. But reality far exceeded expectations.
“You don’t have to be just an engineer or just an architect,” Park says.
“At Imagineering, your discipline is Imagineering,” adds Gaudio, who found the creative environment at the company exhilarating.
“They transported us 1,000 years into the future,” he says. “We learned that when you let go of limitations, you can develop your dreams through the incredible power of imagination.”
That, it turns out, was also the theme of the students’ first-place project, “The Mind of Molly Mouse,” a theme park proposal set on the moon in the year 3011.
In the narrative they wrote for the project, the students wove a tale of two parks, one ruled by the evil supercomputer Archillion, a graceless behemoth capable only of linear thinking, and a rival park called Preclarium protected by the whimsical and creative Molly Mouse, a descendant of Mickey Mouse. As visitors travel throughout the two parks, Molly helps them gather the seeds of imagination to defeat Archillion.
Design Thinking in Action
It’s a tale that resonates at NC State as much as Disney. In fact, it’s easy to see why the students felt at home during their trip to Walt Disney Imagineering. The company practices the principles of innovation, collaboration and “design thinking” that NC State has been teaching for years.
It may also explain why NC State teams have made it to the ImagiNations finals three times in the past four years, and why NC State alumni are prized among the company’s current and former employees.
Thompson, a third-generation NC State engineering student, says the project has opened his eyes to new possibilities.
“I love engineering,” he says. “I love every equation, every formula. But at Disney you don’t have to be constrained by anything, by any engineering formula. You want to build a theme park on the moon? Sure, anything goes.”
He stops to reflect on the implications and this time he’s the one at a loss for words.
“Wow,” he finally says. “I want to work at Disney. I want to do something amazing.”
Pictured above, from left, Kyle Thompson, Michael Habersetzer, Andy Park and Brian Gaudio.