The Storytelling, Technology and Digital Media in Theme Parks class finishes with a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Students go on behind-the-scene tours, participate in workshops and hear speakers. I spoke with five students who participated in the fall, 2019:
Alex: Alex Houser, a senior in the games and animation major from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Kayla: Kayla McNeal, a senior journalism strategic communication major from Oak Hill, Ohio.
Kayleigh: Kayleigh Stelling, a senior screenwriting, producing and psychology double-major from Columbus, Ohio.
Megan: Megan Bomar a senior multimedia design major from Westerville, Ohio.
Bailey: Bailey Fink, a senior journalism news and information major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This is the final blog (for now!) in the Global Experiences Showcase series, which tells the stories of Scripps students learning through experiential travel.
Q: Why did you want to take the class?
Alex: I have had friends who took this class in previous years, and they told me how great it was. I also really wanted to do the Disney Imaginations Competition, and I knew that was one of the projects for the class. Finally, I knew that I loved both the professors teaching it (John Bowditch & Beth Novak). (Editor's note: Remember those names--you'll be hearing more about them throughout this post!)
Kayla: I had wanted to take this class since I was a first-year student here at OHIO. I thought learning about theme parks and the way in which writing is a huge part of the everyday operations, would be something super cool to have experienced. I mean also... who doesn't want to go to Disney World and see how the magic happens? It's funny though because as the time got closer for me to apply, I wasn't going to. I got really worried about how I was going to pay for everything, and I also worried about what would happen if I got into the program and my friends didn't or the other way around. Thank goodness I didn't listen to that little voice in my head because this class was easily the best class I've ever taken during my four years at Ohio University.
Kayleigh: During my first semester at OU as a freshman, my learning community group was actually visited by a senior who was taking part in the class that year (2016). I think the program was still pretty early in its creation, but I decided pretty early on I wanted to apply for the class my senior year. I also had the chance to visit Disney World in December of 2018 because a few of my friends worked in the parks, and I had an amazing time learning about the intricacies of the parks both off- and on-stage. When you're able to take a class about something you love, it hardly feels like work.
Megan: I wanted to take this class because I really wanted to learn about how theme parks create attractions. I study mostly web design, app design, illustration, audio, and video but I have never created something like a theme park attraction. A theme park attraction combines a lot of these elements but you have someone in person to immerse them in an experience. I really wanted to learn about this and how it could be accomplished.
Bailey: I wanted to take this class because I had heard great things about it since freshman year. I also have always been obsessed with all things Disney and even Universal. I mean the obvious answer, would be we got to go to Disney World, but I was also intrigued to see how theme parks run because that was always something my family loved when I was growing up, so I’ve always been very interested in amusement parks.
Q: What were your project(s) for the class?
Alex: In this class, we had two projects: one was the Disney Imaginations Competition. In this, my group of four (Bailey Fink, Olivia Ujlaki, Matthew Kugler and I) designed a themed attraction in Athens. We chose the theme of Athens squirrels and made a theme park entirely based on them called “The Grove.” For the second project, we worked in pairs to research and present information about different rides at Disney World. I worked with my roommate Matthew Kugler as we researched “Frozen Ever After” in Epcot. We had a lot of fun doing this, to the point where we made shirts for our presentation.
Kayla: For the class, we first did a big project through Disney's Imaginations competition. This competition, in a nutshell, is a national competition spearheaded by WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering) where college-aged students from across the country follow a prompt to create an attraction. I cannot talk about what my group did and how the process went until the end of February per Disney rules (haha), but it was an experience that was challenging, fun and something I got very excited about. The second project we did was with our roommates. My roommate on this trip was Bailey Fink, and that was a trip in and of itself. Roommates were allowed to choose an attraction from a list that John and Beth, our professors, had created, and we had to talk about elements of that attraction as they had pertained to what we learned. We presented in Athens and then again on our field experience in Orlando at Walt Disney World. When was the attraction built? What is the pre-show of your attraction like? What technology is used? How easy is it for guests to get to the attraction? What could be enhanced? Bailey and I got to present on Rock N' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and it was the best and most fun I had while giving a presentation.
Kayleigh: ...[This year's Disney Imaginations competition] happened to be about creating an iconic installation based around something important in your campus or hometown. After we finished that project about halfway through the semester, we worked in pairs to research and present an attraction at Disney World. There was an in- and out-of-park component to the presentation. In class, we presented on the history and technical information, and in the park, we presented outside our attraction about the environment and important details to remember.
Megan: ... [For our research project on an attraction from Disney], my partner and I researched Pirates of the Caribbean and even dressed up as pirates for our presentations.
Bailey: ...The [Imaginations] project was super fun, but also really difficult and my team actually got disqualified because of a mix-up in the application process, so that was a bummer. [My attraction presentation] was Rock N’ Roller Coaster (the best ride, not to be biased).
Q: What is something unexpected you experienced as part of the class?
Alex: I didn’t expect to bond so well with each and every one of my classmates. The synergy we had among the class was something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. It felt like every day, I was hanging out with 23 of my best friends. Sure we’d split off into smaller groups sometimes, but we would have no trouble at all merging back together and just hanging out with anyone.
Kayla: Something unexpected that I experienced as part of the class was how difficult the actual Imaginations competition was. Everything was very quick and deadlines were a lot. I also had a hard time submitting our project due to certain rules put in place by Disney and the whole process wasn't that great. The project itself was fun to work on and the people I worked with were some of the best people I had ever worked with, but it was unexpectedly super challenging.
Kayleigh: I knew that I would be working with a lot of new people and disciplines, but I never expected our Disney class would develop such a close bond over the class and trip. We were all upset to leave the final day in Orlando, and our group chats are still constantly updating with Disney and theme park news. On a more class-related note, we were able to check out a lot of behind-the-scenes locations in the parks that I might never have seen otherwise.
Megan: The most unexpected thing from the trip was gaining 23 new friends. I never expected to leave the class having made friends with every single person. We are still planning events together to this day and talk on a regular basis. I also met my two favorite professors. They are excellent at teaching and supporting our learning while still being really fun and personable. I would feel comfortable asking them for any help or advice I would need academically.
Bailey: I truly didn’t expect to learn so much. There was so much material covered throughout the course that I will literally always remember. I joke to my friends that I know more about Disney World than the average person should, but I also think it’s so cool. It was also fun to see us use the information we learned in class while at Disney, even if we were joking about it most of the time. But, we would yell things like “is this an omnimover” when we were on rides or “the wayfinding is SO bad” all of the time.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
Alex: After experiencing Disney World with all these friends, I can certainly say that it was my most magical experience and that the people I was with were my favorite part of the trip. Making it a bit cheesier, my real favorite part, were the friends I made along the way. To be honest, that was probably my favorite part of the class too. Just working on projects together, goofing around, and getting to know each other throughout the semester was awesome. Through this class, I have gained a much stronger relationship with both John and Beth.
Kayla: Whenever someone asks me what my favorite part of the trip was, it's really hard for me to pick a definite answer. Every part of the trip was wonderful. The things we got to do are things I probably won't get to do again for a long time, and I'm thankful that this trip allowed me to learn, but also have fun. Everyone in the class got really close before we left, so every day we were in Orlando was something new. We all were riding rides together, going to get food and drinks together and we all just had fun together. We cried together after rides from laughter and joy. We cried together watching fireworks displays. We sang together, we danced together and it was just amazing. The trip is something I cannot fully explain to anyone that asks because no one will be able to feel the joy I felt that entire week.
Kayleigh: To be completely honest, it's really difficult to pick a favorite part of the trip. Beth and John, our professors, did a great job of giving us enough time to explore on our own while still implementing class time with Disney cast members (employees) and OU alumni working at the parks. I'd say one of my favorite experiences had to be riding Galaxy's Edge newest attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Everyone woke up as early as 5 am so we could get in line for the park open at 6:30 am or so to get in the "virtual queue" for the ride. Saying Rise of the Resistance is an attraction isn't really giving it enough credit; it's more like a 3-part experience. For anyone, but especially a Star Wars fan like me, experiencing the mechanics and theming of the ride and Galaxy's Edge were a dream come true. The last night of our trip was a really cool experience, too. As a part of the class, we get VIP seating in Epcot for their night show along with a dessert party before. It was a great way to see everyone one final time before we flew out the next day. A big group of us took advantage of Magic Kingdom's extended hours and rode Splash Mountain one final time before we headed back to the hotel.
Megan: My favorite part of the trip was the people. Everything in Disney was spectacular but our group was very inclusive and I felt comfortable talking to everyone in my class along with our professors. In terms of the parks, Galaxy's Edge was my favorite part of the trip. I am a huge Star Wars fan and got to build a lightsaber, ride in the Millennium Falcon, ride Rise of the Resistance (brand new Star Wars ride) and visit Oga's Cantina. I actually cried my first time in Galaxy's Edge in line for Smuggler's Run because I was so overwhelmed by the accuracy of this world. Rise of the Resistance also made me cry because it was so realistic and immersive that I actually felt like I just starred in my own Star Wars film. What made all of this so special was the support from my classmates. My magical moments were all the better because of the people I was surrounded with.
Bailey: My favorite part of the trip was the fact that everyone got so close to each other. Most people didn’t know each other when they got into the class, but by the end I feel like we were inseparable, we literally talk every day and hang out with each other all the time. Yes, being in Disney World was literally the most magical thing that I have ever experienced, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the people I was there with and the bonds and jokes we created along the way. We also all were really big nerds and goofballs, so it was amazing to see how everyone was so on board when you wanted to geek out over Star Wars or cry because of the fireworks show on Cinderella’s Castle.
Q: What was your favorite part of the class?
Kayla: I think the class is something where you have to take it to understand why everyone who was in the class still hangs out with one another. We all still act crazy when we see each other walking to class, and we all talk to each other every day thanks to Snapchat and GroupMe. Everyone wanted to be in that class. There wasn't a day someone came in and said, "I wish I was home taking a nap," or doing x, y, z. You could feel the excitement in the room especially as it got close to the time for us to head to Florida. I think what else made this class so special is who taught it. John Bowditch and Beth Novak are two of the kindest, most hardworking, incredible individuals I have ever met. If I had a problem, or I just wanted to tell them something funny, they were all ears. They truly cared and listened to what each of us had to say. Both John and Beth have families of their own, but on that trip, it was like they were 21-22 years old again just having fun with us all. We had a saying on the trip after riding Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Studios and Rise of the Resistance (opening week mind you, which was epic) at Disney's Hollywood Studios: "We Like Hagrid's. We Really Like Rise, But We Love John and Beth"... and that is the truest sentiment of the entire class. They brought us all together, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for that, for believing in me and for believing in all of us and giving me some of the best people to walk off the bricks within a few short months.
Kayleigh: Overall, I would have to say the class trip is my favorite part of the entire class. Of the work outside of the parks, though, I'd say my favorite part was entering the Disney Imaginations Competition. It gave me the chance to work with a great group of people with a lot of different talents. When we finished our project, it was cool to see how our collaboration and parts all fit together to build our concept and ideas. It also gave us the chance to research more about Athens and campus as a whole, which meant we met with departments I might not have otherwise spoken with. I could say a lot more, but it'd turn into a book. In the end, I'm really happy I decided to follow through and apply for the class. Being taught by Beth and John and gaining the real-world experience of the competition and in-park portions of the class have given me direction on what I'd like to do when I graduate this spring.
Megan: My favorite part of the class was the Imaginations competition project. I got to work on a project with three other talented classmates and found a new way to approach a creative piece. It really challenged me and I loved every minute of creating it. The encouragement from our professors for this project was inspiring and it took our projects to the next level.
Bailey: The best part of the class is the professors. Beth Novak and John Bowditch are truly the best professors I have ever had at Ohio University. Not only are they so knowledgeable about the subject matter, but also they are the kindest and funniest people that were so chill to be around for eight days. I don’t think I could have gone to Disney World with any other professors and felt comfortable enough to eat lunch with them almost every day and joke around with them the way that we did. On the last night at Disney, after all of our sappy goodbyes, we all told Beth and John that all 24 of us would be into their office hours once a week just because we wanted to hang out.
You can check out all of the photos on the Facebook album on the Scripps Website!