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Paso students wow Disney exec – may lead to jobs as Imagineers

Students Matthew Gustafson and twin sisters Melanie and Elaine Silver won the fifth annual Roller Coaster Building Contest on May 20 at Paramount’s Great America amusement park in Santa Clara with their creation “Shifting Sands.”

Afterward, a Walt Disney Co. Imagineering director approached the three and offered them internships and the possibility of jobs after college, according to the students and their teacher.

The students are all members of Paso Robles High School’s Endeavour Academy, a program that teaches practical applications of math and science.

“There were some top-level physics classes from other schools that really put out the effort to win this competition this year,” said Steven Kliewer, the Endeavour Academy instructor. “It took some real effort and background knowledge for them (the Paso Robles team) to win.”

The contest attracted students from 37 California high schools. They had to design a model roller coaster and were judged on design elements such as rider enjoyment, creativity and theme, and technical merit.

The Paso Robles students designed and built a 3-foot-tall model of an Egyptian-themed coaster that sends a marble shooting around a winding track with four loops, ending with a dramatic blast through a pyramid tunnel. The ride lasts about 30 seconds.

The roller coaster model featured a golden pyramid, the Nile River and two hieroglyphics-marked obelisks made from materials such as foam, cardboard, string and electrical wire.

After the competition, the students were approached by Jon Georges, director of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering. He offered them internships and discussed jobs after college.

“He told us that he picked out our project beforehand as the best and that he was rooting for us,” said Elaine Silver. “He gave us his card, and after he walked away all three of us had the biggest grins on our faces.”

Contest prizes included $500 in gift cards to the Discovery Channel Store, five passes to Great America, a banner now hanging in their Endeavour classroom, and gifts from a Tokyo Electronics representative.

The three Paso Robles High teens were on a mission to win this year after they advanced to the finals last year but came up short with their castle-theme project.

The students learned a few lessons from their first go-around, including the need to make a longer track. Their model last year featured only a seven-second ride.

The students spent about 40 hours on the project, working at each other’s homes after school and on weekends. The students applied their knowledge of friction and energy to determine the slope of the track and the shapes of the loops.

All three students plan to follow up on the internship opportunity. Melanie Silver said she wants to pursue a career in roller coaster design.

“It was the icing on the cake,” said Melanie Silver of the Disney offer.


About Lou Mongello

Lou Mongello is a former attorney who left the practice to pursue his passion, and is now a recognized Disney expert, author, speaker, and host of WDW Radio. Learn more…

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