Disney Imagineer R'Course students
April 10, 2024

From Disney make-believe to reality

A Highlander’s wish of teaching a R’Course about Disneyland rides comes true

Author: Malinn Loeung
April 10, 2024

Jennifer Ibarra Disney Imagineer
Ariel (left) and young Jennifer Ibarra (right)

Cosplaying Snow White as a six-year-old is one of Jennifer Ibarra’s first Disneyland memories. Her parents got her a reservation at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a Magic Kingdom role-playing experience where “Fairy Godmother’s Apprentices will pamper and primp your child until they look storybook-stunning.” Ibarra chose to dress up as Snow White because she had recently cut her hair and felt Snow White was the princess she looked most like. “I have always been a huge Disney fan ever since I was small,” said Ibarra, now in her third year at UC Riverside.

Ibarra’s family has been annual pass holders since 2012, going every weekend when she was a child. She recalls often coming from school and her dad saying, “Let’s go to Disneyland!” to which she would not resist. More recently she’s swiping her Magic Key Pass once or twice a month, sometimes driving straight from the UCR campus after class. Her favorite classic ride as a kid was Space Mountain, especially when it was revamped for Halloween, and her new favorite is Rise of Resistance. 

“It’s so immersive whenever you walk into that ride, it feels like you’re in Star Wars and it’s just awesome. The cast members play the part as your captor and you’re their prisoner,” Ibarra said about the Rise of Resistance ride. “They’re rude to you and it’s so, so funny. They’ll snap at you and say you’re on the wrong side, or they tell you to get out of the ship or say you’re under their order. It’s super fun.”

Given Ibarra’s passion for Disney, it’s perhaps not surprising her proposal to teach a student-led R’Course centered around it. The thought of teaching a one-unit class under the direction of a faculty mentor excited Ibarra, who plans to become a teacher.

Disneyland Imagineer
Students working on Disney Imagineer R'Course final project.

Before Ibarra’s class “EDUC 198: Disney Imagineer” became an actual course offering, she worked with fellow Disney lover Cathy Lussier, an associate professor of teaching, to discuss teaching strategies and develop a syllabus. Ibarra also worked with Jennifer Kavetsky, R’Course coordinator, who helped her polish her proposal. They took the very broad idea of a Disney class and shaped it into a class about the rides, something a bit more manageable. Then her proposal was approved by the R’Course Governing Board. 

Students can expect to learn about queues, ride engineering, Disney history, and what goes on behind the scenes through lectures, videos, discussions, activities with prizes, and guest speakers.

Ibarra’s first guest speaker in fall 2023 was a Disney Imagineer who worked on the first Galaxy’s Edge. For her winter 2024 class, a wood carver for Disney shared his experiences creating hand-carved signs and cues for the park. She finds most of her speakers on LinkedIn and Facebook. Although current Disney cast members and other employees are willing to visit, they are difficult to book due to nondisclosure restrictions. However, former cast members are willing and able to share their expertise. She manages to book a former Disney Imagineer or Disney influencer each quarter.

Ibarra knows her students are a mix of Disney fanatics and people fulfilling graduation requirements. But for the real fans, she hopes her class brings Disneyland to them since the park’s entrance fee is high and isn’t necessarily accessible on a college student’s budget. She starts every class with a Disney theme song and even teaches class in Disney merch, encouraging students to do the same. 

Disneyland Imagineer
Disney Imagineer R'Course final project sketch.

For their final project, students team up to dream up a ride, sketch it out, and present the experience. They share what movie or character inspired their ride, and describe the lighting, scenes, and other details.

Ibarra has taught the class four times and each time it has reached its 20-student capacity with a waitlist. R’Course classes can be offered for only six quarters, so anyone interested in taking Disney Imagineering can add themselves to a waitlist for spring 2024 or enroll for fall 2024 before the course is retired. And anyone interested in teaching a R’Course, can learn more from Undergraduate Education. 


Jennifer Ibarra Disney Imagineer
Jennifer Ibarra, UCR Class of 2025

More about Jennifer Ibarra:

  • Visits to Disneyland: More than 100!
  • Favorite character: Stitch (of Lilo and Stitch)
  • Favorite Villain: Ursala
  • Best part of teaching: Getting to know her students.
  • Wish for her last class: Take her students to Disneyland! (To learn, of course...)

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