First-annual Women of Industry panel celebrates women’s leadership in entertainment design

Orange and gray graphic announcing Women of Industry panelists and details
The panel of speakers includes two College alumni, Sophie Ruiz ’23, Entertainment Design and Sarah Schmidt ’17, Computer Animation.

First-annual Women of Industry panel celebrates women’s leadership in entertainment design

Orange and gray graphic announcing Women of Industry panelists and details
The panel of speakers includes two College alumni, Sophie Ruiz ’23, Entertainment Design and Sarah Schmidt ’17, Computer Animation.

On March 22, 2024 at 7 pm, ݮƵ College of Art and Design and their Center for Diversity and Inclusion will host the first-annual Women of Industry event. The panel, initially inspired by Women’s History Month, will feature a number of women working in the themed entertainment industry. Each year, the panel will focus on a different creative industry. 

This women-focused discussion will touch on the unique opportunities and challenges for women in the Themed Entertainment Industry. Eight panelists will share their professional and

personal experiences about working in a male-dominated profession and talk about the evolution of women leadership. 

“A while back, ݮƵ’s Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Elçin Haskollar, asked me about the current issues surrounding DEI right now in Entertainment Design,” said Jamie DeRuyter, Entertainment Design department head at ݮƵ College. 

“I immediately thought of the lack of equality for women in the industry. With roughly 80 percent of Entertainment Design students currently identifying as women, we need to prepare these young and aspiring professionals to take on this male-dominated industry. Hopefully, with this many women entering the field, they can tip the scales and make a real difference in the work culture.”

Debra Wren of Wrenhouse Design has enjoyed a 30-plus-year career working in themed entertainment. “Although there has been a big shift in how women are perceived in this industry during my career, there is still work to be done,” she said. 

“This is especially true when working ‘in the field’—on construction sites, in fabrication shops, etc.—where it still tends to be very male-dominated. It’s important to also recognize that location plays a big part in this level of acceptance of women also. There are significant cultural factors that play into women’s roles across the industry.”

The Women of Industry panel will take place in the Roskamp Exhibition Hall on ݮƵ College’s Main Campus. It is open to students, faculty, staff, and the general public are encouraged to attend. Admission is free. 

Meet the Women of Industry 2024 Panelists 
Jayne Alcorn
Walt Disney Imagineering 
Jayne Alcorn started at Walt Disney World and Walt Disney Imagineering from 1971 to 2006—a 35-year career. Upon retirement, she started up Atelier Alcorn LLC and contracted back to Walt Disney Imagineering for another 10 years. Alcorn was a designer, manufacturer, and installer, supervisor of sets, and worked on interior and exterior props and dressings, artificial foliage, and furnishings of themed environments. In addition to her design experience, she also holds a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art from the University of Central Florida.

Arielle Rassel
Arielle Rassel has loved telling stories for longer than she can remember—and for over a decade, she’s been doing that through the creation of compelling location-based experiences all over the world. With experience in management, creative design, and production, her projects to-date include theme parks, zoos, brand centers, aquariums, museums, retail, dining, and other attractions. Rassel has participated with, and overseen design and production teams from blue sky through opening day, managing projects with the most minimal of budgets up to those with multi-million dollar capital expenditures. Among her most notable employers and clients are Walt Disney Imagineering, Google, Universal Creative, Scenario, and currently Thinkwell Group in Orlando, FL.

Sophie Ruiz ’23, Entertainment Design
Stardust Entertainment, LLC
Sophie Ruiz graduated from ݮƵ College as part of the first graduating class of Entertainment Design in 2023. After working on a variety of projects for different companies in the themed entertainment industry, Ruiz launched her own design company, Stardust Entertainment. The company was founded based on Ruiz’s thesis project (an FEC project named Stardust Arcade & Diner) and works primarily with independently owned family entertainment centers, bringing their visions to life by various methods of concept visualization. stardustentertainment.co 

Denise Hatcher 
Denise Hatcher is managing director of AOA with over 25 years of experience in the themed entertainment industry. A multi-faceted leader and executive, Hatcher oversees business administration and works closely with the executive team to support client relations and advance AOA into new industries and heights. During her career with The Walt Disney Company, Hatcher led sales and marketing strategy for Disney Vacation Club and Disney Parks. She developed marketing campaigns, integrated communications plans, and managed special events, dedications, and openings including New Fantasyland at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and special events such as Star Wars Weekends, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, and exclusive charter events onboard Disney Cruise Line.

Shelby Honea 
Universal Creative 
Shelby Honea is an executive producer, creative management for Universal Creative. She was the producer responsible for developing and delivering Jurassic World VelociCoaster, an award-ݮƵ attraction, notably delivered in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Honea is a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Entertainment Engineering and Design Program. She was a part of the NextGen pilot group and currently sits on the TEA Eastern Board. Outside of work, Honea has yet to find the odd roadside attraction she didn’t like, but she is still looking.

Sarah Schmidt ’17, Computer Animation 
Disney Live Entertainment 
Sarah Schmidt is a themed entertainment concept artist and illustrator, currently working with Disney Live Entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineering in Orlando, FL. Schmidt is originally from Michigan and graduated from ݮƵ College in 2017 with a degree in Computer Animation. She started her career as an art intern with Disney Live Entertainment and has stuck around ever since. 

Janelle Picard
Janelle Picard has over 20 years experience as a producer and creative director for large-scale attractions, mobile apps, and interactive installations. She is also skilled in graphic design, documentation, project management, and communication. Picard is responsible for overseeing and communicating the design evolution, budgets, and schedules of projects in the themed entertainment industry. 

Debra Wren 
Wrenhouse Design 
Debra Wren has a 30-plus-year career in the themed entertainment industry, including over 17 years as a Walt Disney Imagineer. She specializes in thematic design and implementation of signage and graphics, art direction, fabrication oversight, and project management. Currently, Wren is working on Universal’s new park, Epic Universe. She is the co-owner of Wrenhouse Design, LLC with her husband, Scott Wren, who is also a former Imagineer and ݮƵ alum. 

Entertainment Design is the art of creating compelling and engaging experiences that translate a narrative, concept, or theme into a real-world experience that resonates with guests. ݮƵ College’s Entertainment Design major teaches students to collaborate with artists, ݮƵ, and other creatives to bring their visions to life, and develop the visual communication skills of an artist and the problem solving skills of a designer. With a focus on the built environment, artistic and technical skills are applied to project designs for theme parks, museums and exhibitions, concerts, sporting events, expos, hotels and restaurants, retail spaces, and more for an industry expanding worldwide. In this program, students learn how to be effective ݮƵ and collaborators within teams that work on creative projects across all kinds of entertainment experiences. 

This woman-focused discussion will touch on the unique opportunities and challenges for women in the Themed Entertainment Industry.

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