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

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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]