Designing her own independent study curriculum at UC Berkeley pays off for a huge Disneyland fan — the recent grad just started a Walt Disney Imagineering internship.
Like many who were raised in California’s Orange County, Kristine Sanders, 21, grew up going to Disneyland, a lot.
When thinking about what to do with her life, she considered trying out for Rose Queen, like her mother, Robin Carr, did successfully in 1975. And then she got the idea that made sense for her: She wanted to become a Disney Imagineer.
“I think Disney can save the world. I think Disney can save us from ourselves,” she said.
Sanders headed to the University of California, Berkeley after she was approached by the women’s rowing coach, who had seen her on her high school team. Once there, she was unsure about her major. Her dorm mate was studying architecture and suggested she try it, but she nearly failed the science requirements.
Since she loved the design aspect of architecture and loved Disneyland, she decided to create her own major in “Disney Imagineering.”
First Sanders had to convince a faculty sponsor to help her put together a unique independent study program. She found Professor Charles “Chip” Sullivan, who liked her idea, and together they created a curriculum that was approved by the dean of the College of Environmental Design.
She took classes in architecture, environmental design, landscape architecture, city planning, art, sculpture and drawing.
“I wanted to get a better idea of having an idea and getting it onto paper or drawing in a computer and rendering it out,” Sanders said.
She also added classes in sociology.
“I wanted a better perspective on how people function in society and on the street,” she said.
Since it was a major in Imagineering, Sanders had to have a thesis that related to the major — in this case it was called, “Disney’s in the details.”
“I argue that what happens in Disneyland in its theme park architecture, and all the micro theming and attention to details, connects you to this space. It makes this emotional psychological connection that is undeniable,” she said.
Sanders likes how Disneyland resonates with everyday life, and would like to see more of that in all design work, she said.
“At some point in design, people forgot to design for our bodies and for ourselves,” she said.
Adam Bezark, who owns his own theme park design company based in Los Angeles, did much the same thing in the 1970s at USC.
“I took a combination of classes in film, architecture, urban design and graphic design, public relations, audio engineering, writing and presentational speaking,” he said.
Like Sanders, he had to set up his own major, including a senior thesis in which he designed a hypothetical Chicago World’s Fair for 1992. Bezark graduated from USC in 1980 and went on to work on attractions and live shows for Universal and Disney.
“I wish her luck and would like to invite her up to meet us,” he said, adding that a few places offer degrees similar to the one Sanders created, such as the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh — though that one is lumped in with video-game design.
Sanders graduated from UC Berkeley in May. She returned home to Newport Beach, Calif., and immediately did two things.
First, she went to Disneyland, where her favorite attraction is the Jungle Cruise.
“It’s the most immersive experience of all the attractions. It leaves you wanting to get out of the boat and walk around and touch the animals — I also love a good pun,” Sanders said.
The second thing was to put in her application at Walt Disney Imagineering, the arm of the Walt Disney Company that designs its theme parks, cruise ships and more. She got in and started an internship at the campus in Glendale, Calif., as a design asset specialist last month.
“It’s so exciting, but I can’t tell anyone what I’m working on,” she said.