UNR students finalists in innovative Disney design contest

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Imagine a subway system underground that would take travelers not just on a physical destination but on an imaginative one through the planet's deepest oceans, its greenest jungles or through the stars and beyond.

University of Nevada, Reno seniors Gabrielle Bachand, Andrew McNeilly and Nolan Nicholson have designed a concept called "Line 55" that would allow passengers in Chicago to take a literary journey as they move from place to place through the city by rail.

This past week, the three students have been finding out what the top minds of Walt Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts' branch of design and development, think of their idea as one of six finalist teams of its 24th Imaginations competition.

"It's been interesting to see how the different components (of the project) fit together with art and science," said Bachand of Minden, a chemical engineering major who also is minoring in art. It's been wonderful to see how much creativity is needed for science and how much technical ability is needed for art. It's really been an interesting experience."

This year's competition called for entrants to apply Disney's power of imagination to transportation with in a major city. Projects are meant to include family-friendly activities and designs that enhance accessibility, travelers' experiences and entertainment while remaining energy-friendly.

"Our project is an add-on to the Chicago transit system with several new routes into the world of literature," said Nolan, a chemical engineering major with a minor in business administration. "Routes are equipped with special cars that are an incursion into the world of literature. There's a set of four subway cars that passengers get to use."

Bachand said once passengers board, they would find their car equipped with special shells or windows that display whales swimming by, for example, or Oregon trails, rockets or planets en route to outer space, all based on themes and all changing so that each time one steps on a car, they have a difference experience.

"We want people to be interested in reading, so we're putting them in the middle of some of the greatest literary works of all time," he said. "We put them in the middle of these stories, and then they research them on their own time. We feel nowadays, people don't get to experience this as much on their own."

The three team members met through UNR's Disney Club, which takes on a more serious ambition than one might think. Its home is in the College of Engineering. McNeilly is vice president of the club.

"We wanted to show people the professional side of Disney," he said. "It's not just fan-based. We're really serious about showing that this can be a profession, a career choice and the benefits that go along with it."

The students received the good news that they would be coming when their faculty adviser, Candace Bauer, announced they were chosen as a finalist team in December after a brief video interview with Disney Imagineers.

Soledad Boyle, Disney's internship manager, said the competition was created to give college students another opportunity to find internships with Disney and for the company itself to discover and nurture new talent.

"The way that it works is that, at least for the last three or four years, we put out a very specific challenge," Boyle said. "It's very vague for each team but they have enough freedom to come up with a proposal that they can imagine whatever they want."

According to competition guidelines, Imagineering judges select projects based on a team's collaborative skills, mastery of their individual skills, whether the project engages guests, provides comprehensive understanding of the local and tourist market of the chosen location; whether the team can tell a compelling story; and a driving passion for the Disney brand and Walt Disney Imagineering. The project also must be set apart from what visitors already experience at Disney resorts.

The projects never come to fruition, Boyle said. The idea is to spur innovation and creativity that would fit into Disney's drive for imaginative thinking.

"Each submission was very unique," she said. "For the theme of the University of Nevada, Reno, their Line 55 proposal, I think why it stood out was because it was educational, which is something that fits in our hearts and because it's also fun, and the way they presented it was very clear and concise. It was very easy for our judges to understand."

Other finalists the UNR team is competing with this week hail from the Art Center College of Design, Drexel University, Ringling College of Art + Design, San Jose State University and Texas Tech University. Their competitors chose to base their projects in Zurich, Sydney, New Orleans, Toronto and Venice.

The first-place team takes home $3,000, the second-place team receives $1,000 and third-place winners receive $500. Teams split the prize. Boyle said all accommodations are paid for. Internships also are competitive and offered for a variety of fields, Boyle said. With more than 140 different disciplines, the possibilities nearly are limitless for those who dream of joining the Disney team in art or science.

"I think for the six teams, regardless of whether they win first place or not, they feel their prize was being here, and we would definitely love to see more teams from the University of Nevada, Reno," Boyle said.


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

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