Engineering the magic of Disney

Jun 2, 2006

Industrial Engineering co-op students Zac Hyde and Patrick Foxworthy help make Disney World run like magic, making the guest experience one to remember.

Keeping Cinderella and Snow White's domain safe and fun is one of those behind-the-scenes jobs that are rarely talked about, but is critical to the success of large entertainment venues like Walt Disney World (WDW). And when one thinks of engineering, companies like Ford, GM, Dell, Bosch or Harley-Davidson Motor Co. come to mind. But two Kettering Industrial Engineering majors are showing that the skills and academic training they receive at the University can be of significant help to the entertainment industry for places like Disney World.

For many companies, the balance between expenses and revenues is as delicate in the current economic climate as an ecosystem in a small pond untouched by human hands. In some instances companies must make alterations to reduce development and production costs in an attempt to bring items to the market as quickly as possible. The result is a poorly manufactured product that will fail at some point and cause the consumer to reconsider future purchases from that firm.

But according to Zac Hyde, a senior Kettering Industrial Engineering major from Linden, Mich., who co-ops at Walt Disney World Resorts, and Patrick Foxworthy, a sophomore Industrial Engineering major from Metamora, Mich., who also co-ops at Disney, ride failure and other guest experience aspects are issues that Disney Resorts do not tolerate. Sure, it may cost more to fix an attraction, because if it's not available to guests, their experience is somehow less than satisfactory. As a result, while costs are closely monitored, a memorable guest experience is the overriding concern of Disney Resorts.

For Hyde, this is a perspective that sets WDW apart from other similar entities. "No matter how much analysis I did on a situation, or what the monetary impact would be, there was always the Guest Experience trump card that would negate all of that," he said when describing his co-op at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. "It feels good to work for a company that really focuses on the guests and makes sure their experiences are memorable," he added.

Hyde's specific duties while at Disney in Florida included supporting Disney Transportation, which comprised the monorail system, ferry boats and buses that moved guests from various areas within the resort property. "Most people don't really realize just how large WDW is and the kind of logistics required to make it function smoothly," he said. Much of his actual work involved spending large amounts of time in the field collecting information that was used to evaluate and redesign the routing of buses. In addition, he studied guest demand patterns, or ways of how guests traveled to the parks in the morning and how they left in the evening. "This encompassed some long days, but I enjoyed it," Hyde said.

After his next academic term on campus, he returned to Disney early in 2006 and served in a number of capacities. He worked on the Disney Cruise Line, Disney's Magical Express ( a shuttle service between the resort and airport), assisted with the opening of two new attractions-Soarin' and the Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show-and other projects throughout WDW. But his most comprehensive project was the development of a mathematical model that would determine the optimum number of Fantasmic! shows to schedule each evening in the Magic Kingdom.

Like Hyde, Patrick Foxworthy's experience with The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., proved to be something unexpected. The resort consists of two parks-Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure-with hotels, a downtown Disney area and other attractions. At Disney, he works with the Maintenance and Engineering group. Some of his responsibilities include evaluating the maintenance team for Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue, a new attraction at Disney's California Adventure. "My role is to conduct late-night job shadowing of the maintenance staff," he explained.

During his last work term that ended in April, Foxworthy also helped develop a set of baseline metrics for Disney's on-site manufacturing and overhaul group, which involved creating a comprehensive standard operating procedure for the study that generates the metrics. "This way," he said, "a group other than the IE can recreate the study in the future to judge any improvements made in the area."

He also said that one of the best things about working in an industrial engineering cooperative position at the park is the opportunity to associate with talented, creative, exciting people. "Creating memorable guest experiences is more rewarding than words can describe," he said, adding that the atmosphere of working at "The Happiest Place On Earth" certainly makes his experience even more rewarding.

Jason Premo, corporate relations manager in the Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services, is pleased that Kettering was able to help these students obtain these positions. In his view, this entertainment arena "is a new market segment for Kettering University. Most college students only dream of a chance to work in this industry. Now, with this corporate partnership with Disneyland, the dreams of a few students have become reality." With more than 600 cooperative education partners in many diverse fields, the entertainment industry is one Kettering hopes to explore in further depth.

For both Hyde and Foxworthy, cooperative professional assignments at Disney Resorts were opportunities they never expected. But once they realized what the work entailed, combined with the organization's commitment in making sure guests have memorable experiences, they found their positions to be incredibly rewarding. And in an interesting twist, both Foxworthy and Hyde will work together in Anaheim this summer and fall. As far as their futures with the company are concerned, both think an engineering position at one of the Disney sites would be rewarding.

"Although I'm not sure where I will end up after graduation, Disney is definitely a good possibility, one that I would really enjoy," Hyde said.

Foxworthy echoed those comments. "I was a little surprised that this kind of an opportunity was available because Kettering has such strong ties to the automotive and other industries," he said. "However, I am very happy that I have a chance to work in the industry for such a large and influential corporation and I hope to stay within this industry and see where my experience takes me in the future," he added.

To learn more about cooperative education at Kettering University, visit, or call (800) 955-4464.

Written by Gary J. Erwin