posted March 11, 2013

Student Project Named Semifinalist in Disney Competition

A project by four Hope College students was named a semi-finalist in the 2013 Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations Design Competition.

Open to teams of students or recent graduates who were sponsored by a college or university, the national competition challenged participants to “pick one city anywhere in the world and design an entertainment/recreational experience for its citizens and tourists.”

The Hope group was among 35 semi-finalist teams, selected from among 187 that passed an initial round.  The submissions were judged by Disney Imagineers from around the world.

The four-member Hope team designed “Fort Disney: Detroit,” with attractions including an indoor water park, sports and fitness complex, play centers, fine and casual dining, and, not least of all, an opportunity for guests to participate in an adventure to help Mickey Mouse save the fort from a cadre of classic Disney villains, including Captain Hook and Malificent the sorceress.  Among other features, guests would be provided personalized “mission trackers” that the park would be able to read electronically—even, for example, enabling animatronic characters to recognize them by name.

“Most of the people in our group are from the Detroit area,” said junior Brooke Jeries of Highland, who was the team leader.  “We obviously have some Detroit pride.”

The four students, all of whom are juniors, represent a range of academic interests.  Jeries is an electrical engineering and physics dual major; Angie Kurtz of Streamwood, Ill., is majoring in theatre; Hailey Perecki of Romulus is a studio art major; and Caitlin Ploch of Redford is a mechanical engineering and physics major.

The students’ contributions to the project reflected their academic emphases, with Jeries and Ploch especially providing concept development and technology research and development; Kurtz providing concept art; and Perecki providing concept art and video sketches.

They brainstormed ideas across the summer of 2012 and then worked in earnest to meet the competition’s November 9 deadline.  Jeries noted that the group enjoyed the opportunity to apply what they were learning to an independent project.

“We tried to take everything we’ve learned while being here and incorporate it into something that wasn’t a homework experience—we just wanted to make people laugh and smile,” she said.

Six of the other semi-finalist teams were chosen as finalists with the chance to compete at Walt Disney Imagineering in California for first-, second- and third-place awards.  As semi-finalists, the members of the Hope team had a unique opportunity of their own:  a conference call with Disney Imagineers who took time to provide feedback about their submission.

Participation in the competition was the realization of a dream for Jeries, a lifelong Disney enthusiast who’s known about the event since she was a child.  She and Ploch are planning to enter the event next year as well, and Jeries is hoping her involvement with Disney won’t end there.

“I decided I wanted to be an Imagineer when I was nine,” she said.

“I knew about this competition as a way to make connections with the company and also to try it out and see if that’s something I want to do,” she said.  Based on her experience this past year, she noted, “I’m positive.”