Growing up in southern California, Phil Bangayan knew he wanted to work for either JPL or one of SoCal’s many theme parks. Enamored by these two very different worlds, he dreamed of a career that imbued science and problem-solving with a little bit of magic. He became one of the few fortunate people to truly realize his childhood dreams. After earning his BS ’94 and MS ’96 in electrical engineering from UCLA and his M.B.A. from MIT in 2003, Bangayan returned to California intent on making his childhood self proud.
As an undergraduate student, Phil Bangayan quickly established himself as someone who went above and beyond in everything he did. Excited by the possibilities that the Internet offered for sports and statistics, he offered to help develop UCLA Athletics’ first website, and remained webmaster of the inaugural site from 1994-1997.
During his first year as a graduate student, Bangayan got to enjoy two things he’d looked forward to most: exploring his passion for teaching and witnessing UCLA Basketball win a national championship (Coach Jim Harrick’s stunning victory against Arkansas secured the title, UCLA’s first in 20 years).
The only way to top such a victory was to complete his stellar master’s thesis. Under the guidance of his advisor Abeer Alwan, Bangayan pushed the boundaries of what he’d learned as an undergrad, and found that he loved designing his own experiments. One of the most valuable lessons learned through the process of his thesis was how to not only create a model that reflected what was generated in real life, but also how to communicate this in a way that satisfied the standards set by his advisor and by himself. Now for the first time, he enjoyed the benefits of working with UCLA’s affiliates and partners, whose considerable resources included access to Cedar Sinai’s pioneering fMRI research. Through the repeated cycles of synthesizing data, interpreting results, and conveying them effectively, he improved his skills as both a scientist and communicator.
After completing his Master’s, Bangayan achieved his childhood dream of working as a satellite engineer at JPL. He then worked as a research scientist at the Rockwell Science Center before making the cross-country move to attend MIT’s M.B.A. program. He returned to Southern California to work as a senior business planner at Disney. During his tenure there, he wrote the business plan for Mickey’s Halloween Treat.
Now in his third year on the UCLA Alumni Board of Directors, Phil Bangayan continues to raise the bar for alumni engagement. He served on the scholarship committees for the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, the new student welcome committee and the UCLA School of Engineering’s advisory board. He also helped select recipients of freshman scholarships for 10 years. Bangayan participated in the Alumni Mentor Program both officially and unofficially, and remains close with his students. In fact, he hired two people whom he met as freshman scholarship recipients – he met them when they were 17 and helped them become Disney executives.
Outside of UCLA, Bangayan serves as a mentor through Make in LA, a hardware startup accelerator. He also supports technological entrepreneurship on the board of the MIT Club of Southern California. For five years he held executive committee positions on the Caltech/ MIT Enterprise Forum and the LA Business Tech Center.
In 2011, Bangayan was hired as a director of marketing at Universal Studios Hollywood on the Strategy & Insights team with an emphasis on the Annual Pass product, just in time to make theme park history. Southern Californian Potter fans reveled at the announcement that “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” would be coming to their own backyard. He and his team together with their USH colleagues worked to ensure that diehard fans’ expectations were exceeded.
Even before his now intimate familiarity with Harry Potter, Bangayan had nothing but “the utmost respect” for J.K. Rowling, who famously rose from struggling single mother to best-selling author, renowned philanthropist and worldwide influencer within a matter of years. He and his USH colleagues completely immersed themselves, making sure they truly understood every character so as to truly do the Potter legacy justice. Bangayan had previously led his team through this process for “Transformers: The Ride – 3D,” “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem,” and “Fast & Furious – Supercharged,” but “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” presented an even larger and more intricate canon. With the Potter brand, as with its predecessors, the Universal Studios Hollywood team strove for the utmost authenticity, and knew exactly what fans wanted and expected.
Much of The Wizarding World’s success is due to everyone’s attention to detail. Wisely, all teams involved anticipated the popularity of the land, and sought to make it as interactive and enjoyable an experience as possible no matter where you are. The immersive queues offer story and entertainment throughout the lines, and particularly attentive visitors will be pleased to spot several Easter eggs.
When bringing to life one of the most beloved brands of all time, Bangayan and his USH colleagues exceeded the expectations of people who know the books and movies inside and out by building upon the world and offering unexpected surprises: interactive wands, the ceiling of the Three Broomsticks that looks straight out of the movies, and the JKR-approved menu. (Most importantly, the butterbeer recipe underwent several iterations until it was declared perfect).
Bangayan’s career literally enables him to make dreams come true, and his ability to do this stems from everything he learned at UCLA, both in and out of the classroom. “UCLA is a place where you have to take initiative,” he notes. “As a webmaster and researcher I had to take initiative. It’s great preparation for life.” His childhood dreams dovetailed neatly with the skills he worked hard to develop at UCLA: engineering and problem solving, but also argument-building and team cultivation.
And the most valuable part of his UCLA experience? “The people I’ve met. The students I’ve met and mentored, coworkers whom I can bounce ideas off of, people whose experience I can learn from … the people I’ve met at UCLA have been the most helpful in my career.”
Phil Bangayan enjoys spending time with his family, and of course, watching UCLA Basketball.
Katie Neipris received her B.A. in English in 2014 and is the author of “The Inconvenient Process of Falling.”