Feb. 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science — an annual observance adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote women’s full and equal access and participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Disney Imagineers are no strangers to encouraging the next generation of women scientists and technologists, in part through our support of organizations like Girls Who Code and FIRST Robotics, organizations that empower young people to explore these fields.
We are proud of the mentorship and inspiration Imagineers provide and wanted to mark this day by catching up with Julia Soderstjerna — a FIRST Robotics alum, ImagiNations Design Competition winner, and current Imagineer.
Julia began her career with Walt Disney Imagineering as an intern, but she dreamed of working for Disney from a young age. “Disney was one of the key influences that drew me to the sciences, along with space exploration and FIRST. I’d been interested in Disney and the space industry, mainly from visiting Disney parks and the Kennedy Space Center. However, participating in FIRST Robotics in high school made me realize I could be part of it all and gave me the confidence of real-life experience to pursue it.”
FIRST —For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is a national organization that encourages young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science and technology fields. Julia’s participation in FIRST Robotics fostered her love for mechanical engineering, leading to her majoring in that field in college.
“During that time, I participated in the Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations Design Competition,” Julia said.
ImagiNations is a design competition created and sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering to seek out and nurture the next generation of Imagineers. It opens up the opportunity for students to showcase their skills and talents to Imagineering through a Disney related project. Provided with a project challenge, students and recent graduates work in teams to deliver a concept in a similar way to how Imagineers develop their blue sky projects.
“I learned about the ImagiNations competition from an Imagineer I met at a D23 Expo, so I credit that experience quite a bit to where I am today,” Julia said. “I think it’s great to have opportunities like that, where Imagineers are accessible to the younger generation to show them that a career in STEM at Disney is possible.”
Since joining Walt Disney Imagineering as a show mechanical engineer, Julia has worked on attractions like Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and TRON Lightcycle / Run. One of her favorite things to work on are the Audio-Animatronic figures. “Audio-Animatronics figures are very special to me because they are such a treasured part of Imagineering and Walt’s legacy.”
When asked what about Disney drew her to science, Julia said, “Where else can you incorporate cutting-edge technology to create experiences that elicit such real, emotional responses? It’s a cool thing and proves that STEM can be so much more than what people might assume.”
To any women and girls interested in pursuing science in any form or capacity, Julia shared this, “being able to say you’re in a STEM field is such a powerful, confidence-boosting thing. It’s not the easiest work, but it’s extremely gratifying, and there are so many incredible ways to apply it. It’s hard to think of a field with more opportunities.”