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Disneyland class at UC Riverside is no Mickey Mouse course

A tour in Adventureland loads guests onto Jeeps for a peaceful safari led by Mickey Mouse himself. As Mickey begins to narrate, the safari stops when a tree falls, blocking the path.

Mickey tells riders it’s about to get rough before turning onto a bumpy road. Things go awry when the group disturbs animals, who give chase.

RELATED: More stories about Disneyland

This ride doesn’t exist — other than on paper during a unique course at UC Riverside. 

It came from the imagination of UCR students who are putting themselves into the minds of Disney’s best Imagineers.



The student-led course, “Disneyland Imagineer,” blends the magic of Disneyland with engineering and imagination as students simulate bringing rides off paper and into reality. 

Jennifer Ibarra, 20, a third-year education and liberal arts student from Fontana — is leading 20 students through a class about Disney Imagineering this winter quarter. She uses guest lectures from current and past Imagineers and offers students the chance to design their own Disneyland ride.

“The class is basically teaching us the process of creation when it comes to the Imagineering lessons and, like, how they create the attractions and theaters, which I genuinely enjoy, ” said Hailie Nash, a 22-year-old computational mathematics major who’s taking the course.

Nash, also a graphic design artist, wants to use her knowledge of math, engineering and art to become a Disney Imagineer or follow a similar path.

“I originally wanted to go into civil engineering and, to be fair, more precisely I wanted to go straight into mechanical engineering because I was interested in roller coasters, and I think a lot of the math and physics behind the creation of roller coasters … is really interesting,” Nash said.

The Walt Disney Imagineering Department got its start in 1952 when Walt and Roy Disney set up a separate enterprise to create the Disneyland Park in Anaheim three years before it opened.

For almost 70 years, Disneyland has drawn guests into a magical world, from the moment they pass through the gates to the end of the day, when on tired feet they return to the tram and back to normal life. Each land aims to give visitors experiences such as traipsing through a jungle, exploring the American Wild West or stepping into beloved storybooks.

Imagineers are tasked with continuing that magic.

Ibarra’s class is an elective that lets students explore the career option or simply enjoy the class for the love of all things Disney.

Raymond Kinman, a past Imagineer and current contractor with Disney, joined the class Thursday, Feb. 22, to share his journey.

The self-taught wood carver from Orange County became an Imagineer in the 1990s, bringing his unique skills to the park through charming wooden signs like the one that hangs above Pooh’s Corner in Critter Country.

His latest piece, a hand-carved sign, was unveiled in November 2023, when Disneyland reopened the tree house in Adventureland, renaming it the Adventureland Treehouse.

“It is your persistence that is your most valuable asset and it is the one thing you have complete control over,” Kinman told the class via a virtual discussion.

Ibarra opened her Thursday, Jan. 8, session by having students watch a video of the Matterhorn’s queue in Fantasyland. Students were asked to find ways that Disney Imagineers immersed riders in the experience — and to discuss how they would change things.

She had students focus on ride details and talk about the history and methods Imagineers used to create the world’s first tubular steel-track roller coaster. Inspired by Switzerland’s Matterhorn, it opened in 1959, according to Disneyland’s website.

After the lecture, Ibarra had students split into groups to create their own attractions. She asked them to choose between Adventureland and Tomorrowland and challenged them to make a ride to fit the land’s theme and use classic characters to tie back to Disney’s animation studios.

Students began tossing ideas onto large blank pieces of white paper on the walls. They pitched concepts to one another, building and fine tuning to create what would be an immersive experience for riders.

“I think the one thing that, like, inspires me the most is seeing the students, like, you know, create the ride and be so excited and passionate about engineering,” Ibarra said.

Students came back with ideas for the Mickey-led safari, a runway coaster with Chip and Dale and a grand adventure through Disney’s favorite jungle-themed stories that would pit riders against villains with the help of Mickey and friends.

Ibarra launched the class in spring 2023 as part of the university’s R’Courses series, which started in 2014 and lets undergraduate students design and teach innovative seminar courses. The one-unit courses cater to niche topics. Student instructors get to practice teaching a subject in which they’re interested and work with a faculty mentor.

Ibarra took a life-long love of Disney and a passion for teaching to create a class that has been popular enough to run for three quarters.

UCR cleared her to increase the student count because of a consistent waiting list and also approved the course for a fourth offering in spring quarter, Ibarra said. She can teach it for a total of six quarters.

“So clearly, this idea of using imagination and tying it into, you know, the idea of looking at engineering as a possible subject is kind of really working for students, which is cool,” said Cathy Lussier, an associate professor of teaching at UCR who is Ibarra’s faculty mentor.

Ibarra, who plans to become an elementary school teacher, gets the opportunity to work on teaching strategies while also inspiring students to explore Imagineering career paths that they may not have thought about.

“It’s super helpful for me as a teacher just to learn what strategies are working,” Ibarra said. “And also like seeing all of the students be passionate about the same thing that I’m passionate about.”

One of lbarra’s favorite ideas was pulled directly from Disney Imagineers. They write a bunch of ideas on pieces of paper, crumble them up and toss them into the middle of the table. Then someone else picks up the paper and adds to the idea.

“So it’s just kind of a lot of things that kind of, like, spark interest,” Ibarra said.

One of students’ favorite aspects of the course is its focus on ride layouts. As a final class project, Ibarra has students “build” a ride, from start to finish, with details including the concept and design, how ride safety would work and how passengers would move in and out of the attraction.

“You’ve got this idea, and you’ve got kind of how it’s funneling in and how it’s tying into your theme,” Lussier said. “But then how do you adapt it for all types of people, you know, all ages or sizes or, or formats, and then that’s part of the engineering process, too.”

Lussier said she is proud of Ibarra’s work. Seeing the class come to life, not just for Ibarra but for her students, has been incredible, Lussier said.

“You know, their imaginations were really sparked, and it’s been so fun to see that happen for them and for Jennifer,” Lussier said. “And then we talked about what this will be like when she’s an elementary school teacher, and she can use the same skills as part of that and I’m, like, that’s gonna be the best third-grade class anybody ever has.”

Source: Orange County Register

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