Iowa Computer Science graduate reflects on dream job in Disney animation

Greg Nichols says the graduate degree he earned in CLAS prepared him for an exciting career in animation, leading to fulfilling work on major motion pictures like Moana, Zootopia, and more.
Tuesday, August 23, 2022

By Emily Delgado  

Greg Nichols (10PhD) came to the University of Iowa to study his doctorate in Computer Science — he thought he was on a path toward a career in academics, but instead, as a graduate student, landed a competitive internship with Disney that changed his professional trajectory.  

Greg Nichols
Greg Nichols

“This was a mental shift for me; I had been pretty set on staying in academia, so I hadn't been considering internships,” Nichols said. “Working in animation had been a dream that I hadn’t really thought to actually pursue.”  

Nichols left Disney in 2018 and has since worked at Argo Al, a self-driving car set-up where he has been managing a team building internal development tools. 

Nichols says the work he had done while studying Computer Science at Iowa made him a perfect fit for an internship at Disney and that his studies gave him the foundation he needed for work in animation.  

“Quite a lot of it [skills learned at Iowa] transferred, and it really allowed me to hit the ground running and make some immediate contributions at Walt Disney Animation Studios,” he says. 

While studying in Iowa City, Nichols said he spent much of his time surrounded by computer graphics and working with his lab mates. He says those experiences taught him how to problem solve and to accomplish goals with few resources — skills that have served him well professionally. 

Working on a laptop

“I've found many, many opportunities to apply that mindset since then,” he said. “Even at an enormous company like Disney, you still don't have all the resources you wish you did, and if you can find clever ways to have an outsized impact using only what you have, that's always welcome.” 

Iowa’s Computer Science Department is part of the College of Liberal Sciences and was established in 1965. It has since produced many successful graduates who are well versed in computational thinking and are prepared to enter the ever-changing computing world of today. 

This includes Nichols, who during his eight years with Disney, worked on eight major films, including mega hits like Moana, Zootopia, and Big Hero 6. 

“I loved everything about it [working in animation] how varied the work is, the people I work with, and how people all over the world enjoyed the end results,” he added.  

Greg Nichols and his wife at a Moanna welcome party
Iowa graduate Greg Nichols celebrating at a Moana wrap-up party. 

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.