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Carnegie Mellon University team wins Disney design competition

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Matthew Ho had never heard about Carnegie Mellon University until he read “The Last Lecture,” a book by late university professor Randy Pausch about how to fulfill one's dreams.

Ho, 23, a senior from Irvine, Calif., and three fellow Carnegie Mellon students took a step toward living their dream by winning the national Imaginations design competition sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, officials announced on Friday. Walt Disney Imagineering, of which Pausch had once been a member, makes Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments and regional entertainment venues worldwide.

“It's been a lifelong dream to become an Imagineer,” Ho said. “Randy Pausch was a huge reason I came to Pittsburgh and moved myself across the country.”

Ho and teammates Angeline Chen, 20, a junior of Cupertino, Calif., Christina Brant, 23, of Canfield, Ohio, and John Brieger, 21, of Sacramento, Calif., took first place in the national competition that combines creativity with engineering skills. The students were among 24 finalists from six universities.

The theme of this year's 23rd annual contest was to design an experience for a large city that transforms it for the enjoyment of its citizens and visitors. The experience had to take advantage of the infrastructure.

The CMU undergraduates won the contest with “Antipode,” a two-week festival of cultural exchange in Bangkok and Lima, Peru. Magical “whispering trees” serve as portals and leak out memories between the two cities.

The team examined aspects of each city's culture, such as the masks their people wore.

“Basically, we believe that through learning about another culture, you learn about your own culture by examining differences and similarities,” Brant said.

The competitors were judged on a 15-minute presentation complete with renderings, architectural drawings and maps.

Second place went to California Institute of the Arts for “Time Embassy,” an attraction that allows guests to experience Rome during the Italian Renaissance in a time-traveling taxi. UCLA took third place for “Ilhavela,” an extravaganza that leads visitors and locals on a chase through Rio de Janeiro.

CMU finished second last year and in 2012.

The top team won $3,000 plus $1,000 to be divided among the sponsoring university or organizations. The six teams of finalists visited Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, Calif., from Jan. 27-31.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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