Burnsville High School Senior Alyse Dees may be a high achiever in many areas, but she has been focused on one ultimate goal since she was 12 years old: becoming a Disney Imagineer. She recently came one step closer to that goal as one of only 100 students in the country selected to spend a week at the Disney Dreamers Academy, where she worked with and learned from current Disney Imagineers.
“I’m a bit of a Disney fanatic,” said Dees, who learned of the academy from her godmother, a former Disney employee. “We have drawers full of Disney movies at home, including on VHS, even though we don’t have a VCR.”
Dees earned her spot at the academy by writing multiple essays, the longest one detailing her life’s ambition of becoming an architect and eventually an Imagineer.
Imagineers bring Disney properties to life by creating all of the rides and attractions for the parks, cruise ships, resorts and more. Imagineering encompasses dozens of career fields, such as engineering, design, animation and music.
Dees spent four days at Walt Disney World in March getting a behind-the-scenes look at all things Disney and participating in interactive career workshops, listening to industry speakers and designing projects. She was the one person selected from her group to intern with Imagineers at Disneyland this summer.
“I get to fly to Glendale, California where Walt Disney Imagineering is headquartered and job shadow for a few days and learn how they operate. I’m very excited,” she said.
Dees first discovered Imagineering in sixth grade when she built a model roller coaster in her introductory physics class and loved it.
“I was like, ‘I want to build roller coasters when I’m older,’” she said. “So I Googled ‘How do people in Walt Disney World build roller coasters?’ and that led me to Walt Disney Imagineering and the entire industry behind it, and I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
She credits a civil engineering and architecture class she took at Burnsville High School with helping her decide to pursue a degree in architecture. The course was part of the Project Lead the Way program offered at the school.
“I realized I liked the architecture part better than the civil engineering part, so that really sealed that it’s what I want to do,” she said. “I just want to design things. I want to design parks and experiences and I think that’s what drew me in the most - it’s not just a building, it’s an experience. It’s an attraction.”
Dees, who has been taking honors, Advanced Placement or college-level courses since eighth grade, will be attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., next fall where she will pursue a five-year master’s degree in architecture.
A former gymnast who dedicated 20 hours a week to her sport until stepping away last year, she’s also very active in theater, appearing in the cast of “High School Musical,” “Akeelah and the Bee” and “Seussical” this year. But the activity this self-described government geek loves most is YMCA Youth in Government, where she held one of 16 elected positions this year and has participated in the Model UN program and the Youth Conference on National Affairs.
BHS Social Studies teacher Colleen Coleman said Dees is a stand-out student who is always informed on current events and has a real passion for issues related to equality, justice and government. And while she has well-thought-out opinions, she is also really willing to listen to others, she said.
“It will be so exciting to see what Alyse does, because she has such passion and such drive that I know she will make a difference in whatever area she chooses,” Coleman said. “She’s the kind of student where you know the world will be a better place because of her.”
Dees said the teachers and classes at BHS have played a pivotal role in planning her future, beginning with her civil engineering and architecture class, which reaffirmed her career choice and helped her decide where she wants to go to college.
“That was a really big influence. And I love all my teachers – they’re all fantastic. My guidance counselor has been very supportive and helpful since I was in 10th grade,” she said. “Overall, Burnsville High School does a really great job of supporting people on their post-high school trajectory.”