Happiest student on earth: UC Berkeley’s first Disney major

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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On a campus where computer science, biology and political science are among the most popular majors, senior Kristine Sanders chose an unusual path: Disney.

After transferring into the College of Environmental Design from the College of Letters and Science freshman year, Sanders knew she “wasn’t going to make the cut with math and physics” at the end of her sophomore year. After talking with her adviser, she found out about an independent major in the College of Environmental Design. The major gives students freedom to study something more specific or more broad than other CED majors.

To pursue an independent major in the College of Environmental Design, a student must have a faculty sponsor who helps put together a list of courses and a graduation plan, within certain criteria involving unit requirements. Sanders created her own major — Imagine, Inspire, Illustrate — and she is the only student at UC Berkeley in that major.

“This has to be one of the most unique and visionary theses I’ve chaired since I started teaching at Cal,” said Sanders’s faculty sponsor Chip Sullivan in an email. “Kristine is the first student I’ve taught that specifically wanted to be a Disney Imagineer and designed a curriculum to best prepare her for this creative career.”

As a young child, Sullivan watched Disney shows on TV every Sunday and wanted more than anything else to work for Disney as an Imagineer. Sullivan said he is living vicariously through Sanders’s vision as her adviser.

Sanders’s curriculum consisted of classes in psychology, sociology, art and theater, as well as architecture and landscape architecture.

“It’s incredible. I feel really fortunate,” Sanders said. “How many people can actually study what they love?”

From a young age, Sanders always had a strong interest in Disneyland. When other kids wanted to be firemen or doctors, she wanted to work for Disney. She has been an annual passholder since she was five, and goes to the theme park every day when she is home.

Sanders said majoring in a nontraditional major gets hard sometimes because she’ll “get really weird looks, or people will underestimate what I’m studying. They’ll think it’s kind of a joke.”

But just as often, people think that majoring in Disney is a great idea and wish they’d taken their own education into their hands.

“Some people say that working for Disney or seeing how the magic works ruins it for them,” Sanders said, “but I think that understanding the magic makes it … more magical.”

According to Sanders, her ultimate goal is to be a Disney Imagineer, and to design a new park and a cruise ship for the company.

“Kristine has broken new ground in the design arts and has opened up new potentials for other students who might want to create their own independent major and thesis in Imagineering,” Sullivan said. “She has established new horizons in the creative arts.”

One of her favorite quotes by Walt Disney is “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible” — fitting, for UC Berkeley’s first Disney major.

Contact Michelle Leung at [email protected]

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  • Matt flynn

    Um… maybe she should have doubled majored in Chinese.

  • Jedi Mo

    Very cool I think. if you want to be real happy in life, always do what you like. I’d say, however, start your own theme park design biz. Disney is a very “umbrella-like” term that alot of aspiring designers do not realize. When you get in, it takes years to actually do what it is that fits you best, not always, but for most. What seems the happiest place on Earth is really just a quagmire of corporate BS and cronyism. You’ll actually have the chance of making more money to sustain the rest of your creative endeavors if you expand on your own. Of course, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you want. I give you an A for imagination! *thumbs up*

  • Kristine, don’t listen to the neigh-sayers! When I was a student at Cal in 1980, I wrote my own major just as you have done. I included classes from Environmental Design, Film, Theater and environmental psychology. I then went on to get by graduate degree in architecture. The plan worked as I’d hoped because within a few months of finishing school, I was working as a theme park designer at Imagineering. I was at Disney for 27 years until I retired last year to take a role as head of creative for Universal Studios Japan. So, when you finish school, look me up. We’ll look at your portfolio and see if we can find a role for you. You go girl! If you can dream it, you can do it!

    • Diane Rioux

      Hi, My daughter is a sophomore in high school but has dreamed of becoming a Disney Imagineer since she was a little girl. Any advice on what classes she should be taking in high school and also recommendations on colleges she should be looking at?
      Any advice would be truly appreciated. I want to help her make her dream come true!

      • She should study design and storytelling. Plus find an area to focus on, be it landscape, engineering, illustration, writing, project management, etc. There are dozens and dozens of different disciplines within Imagineering. She needs to follow her passion.

  • CalAlum99

    If she really wants that barista job, just go apply at Starbucks, this is quite the roundabout solution.

  • Mr. LHD6

    I’m waiting for the inevitable “UC Berkeley’s First Disney Major Unable to Get Job at Disney.”

  • Raymond W.

    Kristine, I am so proud of you! I still remember you telling me that this was your dream job and that you would do it one day. I know you will! I’m not sure if you remember that one RA in CKC that you’d hang out with once in awhile… Wishing you the best!

  • lol

    a spectacular waste of tuition

    • Nunya Beeswax

      I agree. It would have been so much better for her to go to Haas and spend the rest of her life figuring out better ways to trick people out of their money.

      • Rosa Montes Goldberg

        Haas is a pretty spectacular place, and I never once was taught by one single professor to do anything remotely like what you are implying. In fact, Professor Vogel was teaching ethics at Haas when other business schools were not. #FIAT LUX Golden Haas Bears.

        • Nunya Beeswax

          So did you major in salesmanship or usury?

          • JO

            You need to get better because you aren’t even a good troll. I’d give you 3/10 to be honest.

          • Nunya Beeswax

            Well, thank God for honesty–because I don’t know what I’d do if some anonymous schlub on the Internet was being dishonest.

          • Justin Martin

            I dont know what you’re all talking about. I just graduate from college with the same dream as her, and here I am a year removed from college, designing theme parks. So to call it a waste of money is an uneducated statement.

          • Nunya Beeswax

            Good for you (and her)!

          • Michelle Ford

            You go guys I will be waiting for your new parks!! Dont listen to the naysayers keep going how Genious are you!!!

          • JO

            Are you ritard?

          • Nunya Beeswax

            Why, are you looking for friends?