Walt Disney World might be a common place to visit for spring break. But Nick Prechel ’22 and his fellow Westover Honors classmates enjoyed the experience as part of an academic project.
Prechel, for example, was making observations about how people reacted to waiting in lines for rides and how their attitudes changed based on the wait times. He hypothesized that visitors would be unhappy to wait in long lines, but the four-day excursion gave him the chance to test his idea.
He found that people who had to wait in line for up to 100 minutes remained positive and did not mind the line. However, after 100 minutes they started to become irritated and more upset, especially if they had children with them.
“My group and I had to wait in a 140-minute line for a ride and got to experience my research,” Prechel said. “I found that while we were all waiting, I could see the positive attitudes fade and we became more irritable while waiting.”
This research was part of House of Mouse, a new Westover Honors colloquium taught by Dr. Mike Robinson. The course taught the students how to conduct field research and gave them the experience of observing real scenarios as well, all while enjoying the fun of Disney World. “Many people were surprised that they were actually working while in Disney,” Dr. Robinson said.
“Actually, going to the parks provided real-world observable data and I got the experience firsthand in a way I couldn’t in the classroom,” Prechel said.
Before leaving for the park, each student came up with an idea for a research project. Using the scholarly knowledge gained from the first half of the course, students came up with some fun ideas of what to explore.
Some examples were seeing the popularity of turkey legs in different parks, how parents reacted to their children while at Disney World, and the technology and architecture used there.
“This is field science with flexible ideas,” Dr. Robinson said of his class before the trip. “I am certain that they will find stuff to observe in the most magical place on earth”
Along with research, different groups of students planned each day at Disney with activities for the entire class to enjoy.
“House of Mouse is the real Westover experience, with hands-on experience and being able to think for yourself,” Dr. Robinson said. “Teaching these students is good stuff. Any preparation for research in the real world is worthy for students.”
The project was eye-opening for Hannah Belayachi ’22. “Visiting Disney for research caused me to see the parks through a different lens since it’s a place where you would be least likely expect research to happen,” she said.
For the second half of the semester, students are analyzing their data and finishing their research projects.
Although Dr. Robinson plans to teach House of Mouse again, his first group of students has already surpassed his expectations. “Although this class will be offered again, I’ve already had every hope fulfilled by these amazing students,” he said.