Seven students gain real-world experience at Walt Disney World®
By Hali Chiet ('07)
Taylor Faulkinberry ('12), Jesika Hayes ('09) and Elizabeth Kibler ('10) brought their Madison magic to the Disney College Program in 2009.
While most JMU students spent the spring semester on the beautiful grounds of JMU's campus, seven students had the opportunity to work at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. As part of the Disney College Program, these students took on various roles at Disney's theme parks and resorts and gained valuable, real-world skills and experience.
Many of the students who participated in the program found out about it through an on-campus presentation. "I was on my way to class one day when I saw some colorful sidewalk chalk that read, 'Love Disney? Come find out about the Disney College Program!'" says Elizabeth Kibler ('10). Kibler, a business management major, was excited to apply. "I knew the program would give me a chance to experience how the concepts I have been studying actually apply in a business setting." Kibler worked at Magic Kingdom® Park, where she learned how to make homemade goods in the Main Street Confectionery and also worked in the merchandise shops. "My favorite part of the job was talking to guests and connecting with them on a personal level," she says.
Eryn Cody ('11), a JMU School of Media Arts and Design major, also had the opportunity to connect with Disney guests in her role as a Character Performer at all four Walt Disney World theme parks. "My job was to make dreams come true by interacting and taking pictures with the guests," Cody says. "It was amazing to be the one to create that magic that all the guests expect when they come to a Walt Disney World resort."
Jesika Hayes ('09), a theater major who worked in costuming at Magic Kingdom Park, agrees that being able to create memories for people of all ages was a magical experience. "I truly did work at the happiest place on Earth," she says. "I really enjoyed the people I worked with -- both guests and other performers."
In addition to gaining hands-on experience, students could enroll in courses that focused on the leadership and management concepts they learned and practiced on a daily basis. Amy Hunt ('10), a hospitality and tourism management major, completed a course called Exploring Leadership at the Walt Disney World Resort. "I loved every minute of the class," Hunt says. "The professor was great, and we did activities that improved our communication skills." For her internship, Hunt worked in Disney's Hollywood Studios™ selling snacks and beverages. After a month, she moved into support, where she prepared food for the main quick service food and beverage location and made sure that all other locations had the daily supplies needed to operate.
Taylor Faulkinberry ('12), a theater major, enjoyed other perks of working at Disney. "I liked being able to access the parks limitless times, getting family and friends into the parks, receiving discounts on food and merchandise, and being able to see things backstage," she says. Faulkinberry worked in costuming at Disney's Hollywood Studios™. She plans on staying with the company as a seasonal employee and hopes to transfer to an entertainment role.
Christopher Shockey, a hospitality and tourism management major, worked at Disney's Port Orleans Resort and Kathryn Wittman, an anthropology major, worked at the Tony's Town Square Restaurant at Magic Kingdom Park.
While some students choose to stay on as seasonal employees, others may choose to apply for a Disney professional internship, which offers opportunities in communications, finance, management, marketing, sales and information technology. Internships are paid and enable participants to gain skills, knowledge and hands-on experience directly within their field of study.
Both Hunt and Kibler plan to apply for a Disney professional internship. "The Disney College Program helps you discover who you are and who you can become with a little bit of hard work," says Kibler. "Coming out of this program, I feel much more confident and prepared for my future."