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RHS Alum Helps Win Disney Team Competition
Vernon Earns Trophy
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An engineering team from the U.S. Naval Academy, which includes RHS alumni Eli Vernon, back right, shows off the display and other parts of the presentation they created that won them first place in the 29th Imaginations Design Competition. They were tasked with creating a new pavilion for Disney Theme Parks. Ultimately, they beat out 300 other teams from colleges and design schools from all over the country. Photo Provided By Walt Disney Inc.

Just after the first of the year, a team of engineers from the U.S. Naval Academy traveled to Southern California to compete in a design contest hosted by Walt Disney’s Imagineers

Team leader was Riverbank High graduate, Midshipman 1st Class Eli Vernon. The other three engineers on the team are also from California.

Midshipman 1st Class Allison Annick is from Pasadena, Midshipman 1st Class Kathryn Fung is from Folsom, and Midshipman 2nd Class Franchette Allarey comes from Fairfield. They beat out more than 300 teams around the country to make it to the final round and receive an invitation to the mouse house.

The Annapolis crew took First Place in the 29th Imaginations Design Competition.

Walt Disney Imagineering is the creative force that dreams up and designs all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships and other family entertainment experiences worldwide, along with overseeing the creative aspects of Disney’s games, merchandise and publishing businesses. The Imaginations competition seeks out the next generation of diverse Imagineers from universities around the country.

“Walt Disney Imaginations emphasized to me that there is space for creativity in any work environment,” said Allarey. “It was a real-world example of how an organization is more creative and successful when it values diversity across disciplines and demographics. It rewarded risk taking and pursuit of new avenues.”

Each year, student teams are challenged with a design prompt, and the final six teams receive an all-expense paid trip to Walt Disney Imagineering in Anaheim, California, where they present their concepts to judges for final review.

This year’s prompt challenged the teams to design a concept for an installation at the team’s campus or in their city; the installation should serve as an inspiration to the public, honor the past, or offer a vision of the future, while considering the location and respecting and integrating local traditions and geography.

The Naval Academy team’s concept is titled “Starboard Port” and is a design for a park raised off the coast of Annapolis which incorporates a wooden dock interspersed with LED lights that leads guests to a constellation of marble pavilions standing in the Severn River. Each pavilion features interactive exhibits dedicated to those who live their lives upon, below, and above the sea; where visitors can take the helm of an age-of-sail ship, pilot the first nuclear submarine, or take a seat in a space shuttle.

According to Walt Disney Imaginations, the USNA team worked well together and were both personable and professional while their passion showed through clearly.

The competition required the participating teams to organize ideas, flex creative muscles, and effectively plan and execute their concept design. Each team created a visual display, as well as a digital presentation, which detailed the specifics of the project. The midshipmen hand-painted the 3D-printed models of their marble pavilions, and created a poster with artwork showing their interactive exhibits.

“With limited time and resources, we were able to not only represent the Academy on an international stage, but show thought processes and aptitudes equivalent to some of the most creative colleges in the country,” said Vernon.

The RHS grad described the inspiration for entering the competition.

“In the fifth grade, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Immediately, my mind ran to the 10 gallon jug that sat in my parents’ bedroom closet.

“How that massive, magic water bottle would fill with loose change over the course of years and how, when it was full, my family would travel from the break of dawn to an otherworldly place where animals spoke, mysterious mountains screamed, and presidents long dead walked the earth. Just over 11 years ago, I told my fifth grade teacher that I wanted to be a Walt Disney Imagineer. When plans for Stanford and Caltech fell through, I thought that dream, of becoming a storytelling engineer, had faded away. I went instead to the United States Naval Academy and began preparing to become a Naval Officer, but I had a plan. Every year since the mid-1990’s, Imagineering would send out a prompt to every engineering and design school across the country: “We’re building a theme park on the moon, design us something!” “We’re bringing back an ancient wonder of the world, how would you do it?” and the like. And I am happy to report that, with a little help from some very talented people, the United States Naval Academy’s Disney Imaginations Team was flown out to Anaheim to present, and has returned victorious.”

The 1st Class Midshipmen are in their fourth year at the Academy, and will be graduating in May. By the end of the month, they’re expecting to receive their first duty station assignments to start out their enlistments.


News Correspondent Ric McGinnis contributed to this story.

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A group of engineers from the Naval Academy celebrate with a photo with Mickey Mouse at the Walt Disney Imagineering Center in Glendale, CA. They had just won the 29th Imaginations Design Competition earlier this month. The tall midshipman on the left is Riverbank High grad Eli Vernon, and the others are also from California. Photo Provided By Walt Disney Inc.
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This team of engineers from the U.S. Naval Academy shows off the first place trophies they won a couple of weeks ago in the 29th Imaginations Design Competition hosted by Walt Disney’s Imagineers. The soon-to-be graduates include Riverbank High alumni and Midshipman 1st Class Eli Vernon, second from right. Other team members were from Pasadena, Folsom and Fairfield. Together, they beat out more than 300 teams around the country to make it to the final round. It was a competition to design a new.