Emily Chu ’19 takes her engineering skills to Disney

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Growing up, Emily Chu ‘19 visited Walt Disney World many times (her grandmother lived nearby) and was amazed by it each time. 

“I think ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to work at Disney and build roller coasters,” she said. “I wasn’t sure that it would ever pan out, but it was a job that I always dreamed of having.” 

A few weeks after today’s commencement, Chu starts her new job as a Research & Development Imagineer for The Walt Disney Company.  

“Imagineers are the ones who do all the designing and building for the theme parks,” said Chu, who majored in mechanical engineering and geophysics. “I work specifically for research and development, so I work on a lot of future things that could be coming to the parks anywhere between three and 15 years from now.”  

She did an internship for Disney’s R&D department last summer, so she’s well familiar with the work that she’ll be doing. “I think I really liked how creative and collaborative it is,” she said. “It reminded me a lot of working in spaces like the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design (CEID), where people are just throwing ideas around and working together.” 

As Chu points out, “there’s really no degree in building a theme park available at most schools,” so the groups that do work on them tend to come from a wide range of backgrounds.  

“There are highly creative people who studied art or architecture, or highly mechanical people like engineers,” she said. “And then you have people who studied English in college and found their way into the theme park industry. So it was really cool to get to work with people who are very different.”  

Because many of the projects she worked on are still in progress, Chu said Disney prefers to keep most of them under wraps. One project, though, is for a prototype of an android that may one day roam through Disney World and interact with visitors. Chu knows of robots. When she was 6 years old on her way to a birthday party, her father stopped to see the FIRST Robotics championship (held that year in her home city of Atlanta). She was immediately hooked and soon started a robotics team at her school. At Yale, she joined Yale’s partnership with FIRST to mentor high school teams. 

Chu said the many hours she spent at the CEID, working alongside casual users aiming to make a Christmas gift for someone, as well as full-time engineers looking to patent the “next big thing,” helped her prepare for the diverse backgrounds of her Disney colleagues. 

“I’m an engineer, but I also know how to work with other types of people,” she said. “At a company like Disney and especially in a position like research and development, it’s not just building something from an instruction booklet – you have to figure out what you’re doing and know how to work with a group of people.”