Hands-on Experience at the Happiest Place on Earth

If you’ve visited Disneyland Resort, you’ve likely experienced the magic and excitement of its shows and attractions, all carefully crafted originally by “Imagineers.” But have you ever thought about the design and engineering that goes on behind the scenes to sustain these great experiences? Over the last 15 years, many College of Engineering & Computer Science students have had the opportunity to play a part in Disneyland Resort’s technical process, gaining valuable experience while bringing fresh ideas and solutions to the resort.

Photo of Cal State Fullerton leadership and Disneyland Resort executives

Pictured are (left to right): Susan Barua, Dean; Darrell Jodoin, Director of Global Development at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Patrick Doyle, Director of Design & Engineering at Disneyland Resort; and Michael Karg, Senior Director of Development.

Mechanical engineering alumnus Darrell Jodoin (BS ’85), director of Global Development Facilities Operations Services for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, helped kick off this powerful partnership in 2004. Initially, Disneyland Resort sponsored tech breakfasts and sent speakers to the college, but the relationship soon provided something more. Even more recently, in 2019, the college named Disneyland Resort its Corporate Partner of the Year.

“When Disney transitioned to supporting students in their senior design projects through the Corporate Partners Program, we got more of our engineers involved in the mentoring piece and gained direct exposure to ECS students, their talents, and their ability to apply what they’d learned,” says Jodoin. “We invite students onto the Disney property and enlist their help with the real, tangible projects we’re working on.”

Decorative stock illustration of amusement park

For one memorable project, Jodoin says student engineers were tasked with developing a robot to assist with track inspections on various Disneyland Resort attractions. “We gave them the idea, and they took it from there,” he says.

The relationship is symbiotic, says Jodoin. ECS students get hands-on experience with all aspects of the engineering process – planning, budgeting, designing, building, and testing. Disney supports their projects through the Corporate Partners membership and mentors the teams, letting them learn throughout the process.

The students bring fresh eyes, an industrial “innocence” that drives questions and sometimes leads to a new way of looking at things – even among the most seasoned engineers.

Making Their Mark on the Magic

Often, the real-world experiences that Disneyland Resort offers ECS students include a very realistic schedule. Students must join technicians and engineers at the park at 3 or 4 a.m., before it opens, to check out the design challenges. They must also prepare to encounter bumps in the road as they plan and execute their designs.

“As an engineer, you’re getting into the problem-solving business,” says Jodoin.

Jodoin says he’s been well-served by his ECS education that gave him “a strong technical background, anchored in theory, with the approach that you need to go apply it.” When he was directly involved in senior design projects, he was continually impressed by students’ drive and work ethic. After his promotion a few years ago, Patrick Doyle, director of Design & Engineering at Disneyland Resort, took the partnership’s reins – and has been equally happy with the outcomes.

“I’ve long seen the importance of this relationship for the college and for Disneyland,” says Doyle. “Students are excited to be engaged in Disney projects, and that excitement rubs off on our Cast Members. And these young engineers learn what it truly takes to plan and accomplish a project.”

Doyle says he was especially impressed with a recent student team that worked closely with a Disney mechanical engineer to design rear steering for longer-length parade floats, a feature that would allow floats to navigate tighter turns.

“Their work earned them third place out of 96 projects in the ECS Student Projects Showcase and Awards,” says Doyle. “They put in a lot of hard work and came up with some great ideas we will look at when we address that need. We’re thrilled to see outcomes like these, signs of personal and professional growth under the mentorship of our people.”

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