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Storytelling class takes 19 students to Disney World for field experience

Jun 10, 2013

Nineteen students and two faculty members from OHIO's School of Media Arts and Studies recently visited Disney World. They are, front row, l. to r.: Morgan Messenheimer, Sara Lorenz, Maggie Lawlor, Mickey Mouse, Becca Amato, Maddie Schneider; middle row, l. to r.: Monisha Mukhija, Angela Salerno, Erin Riordan, Rachel Thompson, Emily Young, Sam Hemler, Lauren Worthington, John Bowditch; and back row, l. to r.: Jimmy Clark, Anthony Feola, Matt Adams, Chris Madison, Beth Novak, Demetre Evans, Anthony Aerni, Stephen Hicken. / Photo provided

Storytelling class takes 19 students to Disney World for field experience       

By Erin Roberts

ATHENS, Ohio (June 10, 2013)—Nineteen students enrolled in “Storytelling in Public Attractions” ended the spring semester at Ohio University with a seven-day trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, where they fulfilled course requirements including park research, scavenger hunts and blog entries.

“Not only was the trip successful in the learning outcome, but I think the students experienced more than what they thought they would,” said Scripps Associate Dean for Student Success Beth Novak, also a professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies and course creator.

Novak said that while she had been there twice before as a child, a family trip to the park in 2011 allowed her to see Disney World through a different lens. After returning and speaking with a student about the experience, she began to see the educational value of a course on the park.

“I was struck by the depth of my conversation with the student,” she said. “Because we’re teaching storytellers in the Scripps College, I thought there was an opportunity for our students to see storytelling in a new way.”

Novak said Disney’s designers and engineers, called “Imagineers” by the company, have been very successful in combining storytelling and various types of media into the park experience.

Senior Becca Amato, who loves all things Disney and even used her knowledge of the park to win the class scavenger hunt, said both the coursework and the trip offered an amazing learning experience. She said the course projects—one a group project creating a ride and another an individual project analyzing one of the parks’ existing rides—really helped students put everything they learned to the test.

“The whole experience was amazing,” Amato said. “To see and experience the park I learned about with my classmates the entire semester was awesome.”

Amato said in addition to taking a three-hour Disney Youth Education Series course on creativity and leadership, the group got several behind-the-scenes tours and other special treatment.

“At Universal's Islands of Adventure, we rode the Amazing Spiderman ride, and they let us ride the ride with the lights on so we could see the technology,” she said. “We then rode it again with lights off.  This helped us to see how they pull off the feeling that you’re falling and other special effects.”

Amato said another highlight of the trip was starting off their trip at the Magic Kingdom, where seven of the students enrolled in the course had selected rides for their individual projects.
“Each of those students became the tour guide for each of those rides,” she said. “They shared with us the technology that was used and the decisions made in creating and building it.”

Public Media graduate student Erin Riordan was impressed by how much she learned in the course, saying the $675 course fee, which covered all park tickets, meals, lodging and ground transportation in Orlando, a bargain.

“This class turned out to be so much more than I expected,” said Riordan. “I really, honestly learned a lot. The trip was the icing on the cake. We learned how Universal Studios and Disney make their decisions and design parks in a way that tells a story.  It’s an immersive experience.”

Novak said plans for the course include enrolling more students and opening it up to students from across the college, as well as adding John Bowditch, the director of Ohio University’s Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab, as another instructor. Bowditch, who accompanied the group to Disney this year, has ideas for how to incorporate digital design and other skills into the course.

For students like Amato, the course has expanded the Ohio University experience.

“Every time we’d get strapped in on a new ride, just before we’d take off, someone in our group of 21 would yell ‘OU!’ and we’d all respond, ‘Oh yeah!’” she recalled. “Everyone else would look around and realize we were there. It was just amazing to experience Disney as a group.”

To read about the trip firsthand, visit the course blog at For more information on the School of Media Arts and Studies, visit