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U students ‘Imagineer’ their way to the finals

The team went to Disney headquarters for five days.

Walt Disney Imagineers design and build rides, restaurants, experiences and shows for parks, cruise ships and resorts worldwide. University of Minnesota students pretended to be Imagineers in the 22nd annual Disney ImagiNations competition.

The team — made up of two College of Science and Engineering students and two College of Design students — was the University’s first to make it to the finals and placed in the top six out of 180 teams last week.

This year, the challenge was to design an experience — be it a ride, restaurant or vacation idea — set in a city where Disney doesn’t yet have a presence.

The University students chose Rio de Janeiro and came up with “Cores Brasileiras.”

In the attraction, riders sit in a pod that takes them through the streets and scenery of Brazil.

As finalists, the team went to Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters for five days to meet Imagineers, visit Disneyland and interview for paid internships.

Arya Adiartha, a sustainable design graduate student; Isaiah Bergstrom, a mechanical engineering senior; James Cosper, an interactive design graduate; and Lucas Kaeding, an electrical engineering senior, made up the team.

Steven Varela, the Imagineer mentor for the team, said the mix of design and engineering expertise gave the students an edge.

“They were able to elaborate a very complex story to a very diverse group of judges from both a design and engineering standpoint,” he said, “which is very difficult to do.”

Varela was on an ImagiNations team in 2009 and has been helping out with the competition as an Imagineer since.

Kaeding, who made it to the semifinals of the competition last year, said he wanted different viewpoints on this year’s team so its project would be multifaceted.

Bergstrom said other universities consistently place in the competition year after year, and he wanted the University to do the same. Cosper agreed, saying the University needed more “intercollegiate collaboration” like this.

Adiartha said the most important thing he learned from the project was how to speak the different “languages” of design and engineering.

When the team designed the project, Bergstrom said they brainstormed at coffee shops for hours at a time.

“That was really one of the neatest and most frustrating parts of the project,” he said. “Very slowly, we started to … put together the story, which was then iterated throughout the next five months.”

Bergstrom warned that it was “way more than a side project” because they put so much work into it. But the work was worth it, team members said.

“This is something that requires a lot of commitment and dedication,” Varela said. “Every little bit of effort that you put into this project reflects how committed and dedicated you are to joining us and creating these fantastic places.”

Everyone on the team agreed: just getting to the finals was reward enough.

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