With Mickey Mouse as your boss and the Magic Kingdom as your campus, college is bound to get a little magical.
Through the Disney College Program, students from all over the world are able to work the front line in the theme parks for a semester.
Many ISU students take this opportunity each semester and move to Orlando, Fla. for a résumé booster and memories that will last a lifetime. Students are able to work in a variety of roles, including food and beverage, operations, retail/sales, lodging and entertainment.
Eric D. Olson, assistant professor who worked at Disney for nearly six years, says that students interested in hospitality must experience good service before they can truly provide it.
“Disney is well known for their training and development programs, so I think students are very attracted to that,” Olson said. “By working there, you are able to see the success for a very large company and how they deal with processes and organization.”
Students interested in the program go through a rigorous interview process, including online and phone interviews. Although students must work hard, they also play hard too. College program students receive many benefits, including theme park admission and sneak previews of new attractions.
Program members also follow strict rules to keep with the company’s image. Employees, called “cast members,” must follow what is called the “Disney Look,” which the program’s website describes as a “classic look that is clean, natural, polished and professional.”
Kelsey Duff, senior in marketing, said one of the most memorable experiences during her internship happened while working at Chef Mickey's, a Disney character-themed restaurant.
“One memory I’ll never forget was we had a Make-A-Wish [Foundation] child at the restaurant on his 10th birthday,” Duff said. “They actually didn’t think he would make it past 3 years old. He wasn’t very responsive and it was really sad because we couldn’t really tell if he was aware of what was going on. But when Donald Duck came over to see him, he wiggled his feet, so we knew he was aware. Everyone was tearing up; it was definitely an eye opening experience.”
For Jessica Fox, senior in hospitality management, celebrating Thanksgiving with her fellow program members was a memory she said she’ll always cherish.
“It was hard at first because I’ve never been that far away from my family for seven months at a time,” Fox said. “But the family that you make down there helps when you’re missing your own.”
Olson said one of his favorite Disney memories happened after watching a child let go of his balloon. Upon going to get the child a new one, the family explained that they had let the balloon go in memorial of their child who had recently passed.
“For them, it was that magical experience of getting away from dealing with the day-to-day reality of dealing with disease and spend time as a family and have fun and laugh,” Olson said. “I always remember that story just because of how important the Disney brand and theme park division really is for a lot of families.”
After students finish their college program, they are eligible to interview for the Disney Professional Internship, which allows students to work in an area that is more focused on their major or area of interest.
Both Duff and Fox said they hope to work at Disney after graduation. Fox is also currently applying for an internship this summer.
Duff said she is extremely grateful for her time at Disney and is appreciative of the new perspective it gave her.
“You don’t get a global perspective in Iowa,” Duff said. “While I was there, I got to meet with families from all over the world, so it really strengthened my intercultural communication.”
Although worried that working at Disney would take away from its magic, Duff said if anything, the program has just given her more appreciation for Disney.
Fox also said she was grateful for the perspective the program gave her, along with new friends who live all over the world.
Fox said she would encourage students of all majors to apply for the college program if they are interested.
“Research what you’re applying for,” Fox said. “If you know what you’re applying for and you know what it requires, it will help your interview process. They like hearing from people who know what they want.”
Duff also encourages students to take advantage of all the program has to offer.
“It’s totally worth leaving college for just a semester,” Duff said. “I know a lot of people don’t want to leave Iowa State and miss out on what’s happening here, but if anything you make new memories while you’re down there.”
For more information about the Disney College Program, click here.