Rebecca Lam has come a long way from the little girl who was terrified riding her first roller coaster.
Now she loves nothing more than to enhance the guest experience of visitors when they step into a world of man-made enchantment. Lam is surrounded by the wonders of creativity and technology in her new role as a planner for Walt Disney World Resort’s project management group in Orlando.
“This is an opportunity to understand the project management side of the industry, adding to the knowledge of how attractions are built and assembled, which I worked on in my previous role at Disney’s manufacturing division,” Lam said.
Lam earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Rice University in 2015. “Rice is the Hogwarts I always dreamed about,” she said. “My 11-year-old self always waited for a letter from Hogwarts and when I got my acceptance letter from Rice, that was my Hogwarts moment.” Hogwarts is the fictional school of magic in the Harry Potter books.
Growing up in Atlanta, Lam’s family visited Six Flags Over Georgia frequently. “Even when I was very young, whenever I waited in line with Baba, my dad, an electrical engineer and theme park junkie, he would ask me questions about how to make operations more efficient or the guest experience better.”
While at Rice, Lam got her first taste of a theme park’s industry side during a family visit to Walt Disney World. “I became excited when I realized there are people behind these screens who do this for a living,” she said.
During that trip, Lam learned about the Disney ImagiNations Design competition and knew she had to enter. “Themed entertainment is the perfect triad of advanced technology, art, and hospitality,” she said. “Rice fosters all of these, making it the perfect environment where I could create a multi-faceted team. I found such joy doing this project that I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. This project was the catalyst for my career.”
Lam’s team was a semi-finalist in 2014 and again in 2015 out of hundreds of entries.
One of the team’s projects was creating a Cape Town, South Africa transportation system concept showcasing the diversity and connectivity of its people. “During a recent meeting with an Imagineer, I brought a visual of this project and he remembered seeing it during the competition,” she said. “I realized I had come full circle. This competition was what interested me in this industry and now I was in a meeting with one of the judges.”
Lam loves themed entertainment as a whole, not just the thrill of the attraction. “I love transporting people into these worlds,” she said. “I like building on these stories knowing that guests learn from them how to become better friends and family in their own lives.”
Lam credits Rice for preparing her with the skill sets to achieve her goals. “My freshman Introduction to Engineering Design class was a tremendous influence,” she said. “This industry is project-based and that class taught us the tools to be successful and accountable for our project results.”
She was proud of being in the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership program and was in its inaugural class. The program strengthened her decision-making abilities, an important part of project management. “Project management is some of the most important work a student does at Rice because it prepares you for the real world,” she said.
At Rice, she joined Themed Entertainment Association as a NextGen member and the experience solidified themed entertainment as a perfect fit.
On her last day at Rice she accepted an internship with Oceaneering Entertainment Systems in Orlando, which quickly led to a full-time position as a ride engineer.
“We focused on creating rides and shows that evoke emotional responses among guests and how to move audiences through stories. We relied on SolidWorks which Rice teaches its engineers to model new attraction systems,” she said. Oceaneering Entertainment Systems provides ride vehicles for attractions such as Transformers™: The Ride-3D at Universal Studios Hollywood and Singapore.
Lam’s advice for those interested in this career path? “If you want something, take the necessary risks,” she said. “I took a lot of chances on my journey here and it is definitely scary. Listen to your inner voice, because through that I learned what sparks joy for me.”
“One of our interns is a Rice student at Brown,” she said, “and working with him is my opportunity to see the next generation of Rice students showcase their influence on this amazing industry.”
On her last day at Rice, Lam posted her thoughts after leaving the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen: “Rice, you’ve humbled me, inspired me, humanized me, and by the grace of God, have equipped me for whatever comes next in this life.”
Lam never tires of her work environment.
“What better way to be rewarded on a walk after work than with fireworks in the sky,” she said. And strolling by Cinderella Castle doesn’t hurt either.
Lam is an employee of The Walt Disney Company and the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of hers and the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Walt Disney Company.