An interdisciplinary team of four Notre Dame students won second place Friday (January 27) in the Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition.
The competition, which aims to seek out and nurture the next generation of Disney Imagineers, challenged teams to apply the same design principles used in creating Disney’s famous theme parks and resorts in order to envision new outdoor spaces within their own universities that address the needs of students, faculty, and visitors, while providing a respite from the stresses of everyday life.
Mark Davidson, Jessica Klouda, Erin Rice, and Madeline Zupan were honored for their project, “The Spirit of the Isle,” a manmade island where guests enter from behind a waterfall to experience an engaging amphitheatre, explore sweeping terraces, or venture into a cave beneath the falls, which can double as an ice-skating rink in winter.
For the final round of the competition, six teams—chosen from more than 300 entries—spent an all-expenses-paid week on the Imagineering campus in Glendale, California, where they presented their project to Imagineering executives and learned more about the creative force behind Disney’s attractions and immersive experiences.
“We were elated when our names were called to receive the second-place prize,” Zupan said. “At that moment, we were standing in a room filled with competitors who represent some of the best creative programs in the country. It was an honor to even compete with them. But to win the prize and receive applause from them and the Imagineers was a high moment for us. This was a perfect culmination of our week at Disney.”
The team entered the competition and designed their project as part of Professor Scott Shim’s Collaborative Product Development course in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. The capstone for the collaborative innovation minor in the College of Arts and Letters, the class is open to students from any college or program at Notre Dame.
Zupan, an Ashland, Ohio, native, is a master’s student in Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program. Rice, who is from Lake Forest, Illinois, is an undergraduate design major. And Davidson, from Boca Raton, Florida, and Klouda, from Lisle, Illinois, are both pursuing a dual degree in mechanical engineering and industrial design.
All four agreed that their cross-disciplinary collaboration was essential to their success.
“Our different academic programs and personal experiences allowed us to see the same opportunities from different perspectives,” Davidson said. “Engaging in collaborative environments is what fosters innovation.
“In industry, there is a trend toward creating collaborative teams across disciplines, and having experience in this environment will better prepare me for my professional career.”
A second team of Notre Dame students—mechanical engineering major Randy Balletta and architecture majors Caitlin Chartier, Ellen Chen, and Dylan Reed—from Shim’s course made it to the semifinal round of the Disney competition.“In industry, there is a trend toward creating collaborative teams across disciplines, and having experience in this environment will better prepare me for my professional career.”
“The core content of the class has all the requirements of the Disney Imaginations competition—innovation, design thinking, and collaboration,” Shim said. “We were able to investigate qualitative behaviors and experiences of the Notre Dame student body and offer contextual solutions that were convincing to the audience.”
Using design-thinking methodology and research techniques they learned in the course, the students drew on data from student interviews and surveys. With users’ needs in mind, they brainstormed imaginative ideas for the space and then continuously refined and enhanced their concept.
“Design thinking has provided me with a wide variety of methods to use in any future challenge I encounter,” Klouda said. “By using these different techniques, I am able to stay more open-minded and explore ideas and solutions I may not have reached before.”
The teammates agreed that they would recommend the Collaborative Product Development course to students in any discipline.
“The skills that we learned are ones you often don’t learn anywhere else,” Rice said. “Professor Shim not only taught us valuable design methods and tools, but also helped us explore how the design industry intersects with other fields like business and engineering.
“I am so proud that our team can represent the growing design thinking program on Notre Dame’s campus in such an elite and influential competition.”