Team of Notre Dame students named finalists in Disney Imagineering design competition

Author: Carrie Gates

Disney Group Notre Dame students (seated, from left) Jessica Klouda, Madeline Zupan, Erin Rice, and Mark Davidson (standing at right) have advanced to the finals of the Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition. Their project, "The Spirit of the Isle," was completed as part of Professor Scott Shim's (standing at left) Collaborative Product Development course in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

Imagine bringing the magic of a Disney theme park to the Notre Dame campus.

Students in Scott Shim’s Collaborative Product Development course recently took on that challenge—with great success.

Disney ImagineerThe team's project, "The Spirit of the Isle."

In the course, students formed interdisciplinary teams and used the principles of design thinking to create concepts for an immersive outdoor space at the University. The projects were then entered in the Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition.

Two Notre Dame teams made it to the semifinal round, and one has now advanced to the finals, earning an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney Imagineering—the creative force behind the Disney parks, resorts, and attractions—in Glendale, California, this week.

“I am extremely excited for our students, and I know they will represent the University well,” said Shim, a professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. “This is a well-recognized, innovative design competition and a great opportunity to showcase the cross-disciplinary collaborations we are cultivating at Notre Dame.”

Shim’s course, the capstone for the collaborative innovation minor in the College of Arts and Letters, is open to students from any college or program at Notre Dame.

ErinriceErin Rice

MadelinezupanMadeline Zupan

JessicakloudaJessica Klouda

MarkdavidsonMark Davidson

The team competing in the finals includes Madeline Zupan, a master’s student in Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program, undergraduate design major Erin Rice, and undergraduates Mark Davidson and Jessica Klouda, who are both pursuing a dual degree in mechanical engineering and industrial design.

The students are one of just six college teams from across the country—out of hundreds of entries—to be named finalists. They will spend the week presenting their project to Imagineering executives and will be judged on their ability to collaborate across disciplines, their individual skills, their ability to tell a compelling story, their knowledge of and passion for the Disney brand, and whether their project provides an engaging guest experience.

All four students said they were proud and excited to make it to the final round and have the chance to meet with Imagineering executives—especially because several past winners have gone on to internships and full-time Imagineering positions.

Using design-thinking methodology and research techniques they learned in the course, the students drew on data from 150 student interviews and surveys. With users’ needs in mind, they brainstormed imaginative ideas for the space and then continuously refined and enhanced their concept.

For their project, “The Spirit of the Isle,” the team envisioned a manmade island where guests enter from behind a waterfall to experience an engaging amphitheater, explore sweeping terraces, or venture into a cave beneath the falls, which can double as an ice-skating rink in winter.

“Design thinking forces you to start with your end user,” said Zupan, who majored in science-business at Notre Dame, graduating in 2016. “So in our project, we were constantly going back to our initial interview feedback and research to ensure that what we were designing aligned with student and visitor wants and needs.”

Working together with team members from different disciplines was essential to the process, they said, and good preparation for the real-life challenges they’ll face in their careers.

“It’s easy to get stuck in the way that you’re used to doing things, but when working with a multidisciplinary team, the ideas and workflow are always fresh,” Rice said. “The engineers bring tangibility and functionality to blue-sky ideas. I’ve always found value to taking courses that encourage this kind of work environment.”

All four 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.”

“The skills that we learned are ones you often don’t learn anywhere else. 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.”

— Erin Rice, design major