Some of the most sought-after internships in the United States are with the Walt Disney Company; luckily for Auburn students, we have a long history of involvement with the company. The Disney College Program is an amazing resume opportunity for full time students that have completed at least one semester of college. While in this program, students have the opportunity to “live, learn, and earn,” in the most magical place on earth. I am a mechanical engineering major, and one day I want to work for Disney as an Imagineer. I applied for the program because it is my first step into what will hopefully be a long term position with the company. Program participants are given a role and become official cast members, but they also have the opportunity to take classes taught by Disney professionals and partake in other activities exclusive to participants in and around the parks. Many Auburn students have participated in the program, with about twenty-five students from the University being accepted each semester.
While preparing to apply, I was fortunate enough to have a few friends just returning from their sessions to encourage me and answer my questions. Auburn junior, Russell Beck, spent his spring working as a lifeguard at Disney. He misses many things about his time in the program, including the parks, the food, and the work. I had trepidations about missing a whole semester, but Russell assured me that it is absolutely worth it. He does advise that “the DCP is more of a stepping stone into the company; I really intend on going back but this time I’ve got my sights set on a professional internship.” As far as the experience is concerned, some things he learned while participating in the program are that you need to be open to everything; learning how Disney works, meeting new people and working with people, especially those you might not get along with, are major aspects of the job. The most important thing Russell realized while in Disney was that, “who you are on paper will only get you so far, who you are in action – the day in, day out ‘you’ -- is what will really get you going places.”
Russell’s favorite memory of the program was the day he had a shift until 10pm with practice for the rowing team the next morning. They rowed around the rivers of America, and then went to celebrate May the Fourth in Hollywood Studios. They ended up taking a thirty-minute nap in the Star Wars launch bay. A Storm Trooper woke them and demanded to see identification, because you aren’t supposed to sleep there, so they flashed their blue IDs and he said, ‘carry on’. After hearing this story and all of his advice, I am very excited to see what the program has in store for me.
Mikayla Burns was a Photopass photographer on the same program. She is now a member of the Plainsman staff. She remarks that her experience was amazing mostly because of her role. She says that you should go into the program with a positive attitude and treat all guests as if it is their only day at the parks. “You are not going to thrive in the program if you do not have a good outlook on your time in the program. Take your job seriously. It is okay to have bad days or be upset after a negative guest interaction, but just remember that cute princess that deserves all of the pixie dust you have to offer that will be your next guest to help.”
Mikayla was a photographer in the Magic Kingdom. She was thankful for her amazing leaders and coworkers; they were the biggest thing that kept her there. After switching roommates, living there became just as enjoyable as working there. Her new roommates were genuinely wonderful women to be around. Every day, she would get to work between 2 and 5 p.m. and work about eight hours, getting off between 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. She was regularly exhausted, but she says it was still one of the best experiences of her life. “I was able to make magic and create lasting memories for families and friends every day. Working with characters was the best. Tiger and Pooh became my best friends, and Drizella, Anastasia, and the Fairy Godmother were my favorites when I needed a good laugh at work.”
When reminiscing about her time, there were so many moments working on Main Street or around the lands that she felt were particularly wonderful, however, one family will always be close to her heart. One evening, she was taking pictures near Casey's Corner when a young man asked if she could take his family's picture, but his mother and a few others were trailing behind, and they couldn't see them. So, she and the young man began a loud song and dance number, singing his mother's name to help her find them in the crowd. The mother was laughing so hard she was crying. They were all laughing as she took the picture and they wanted a picture of Mikayla and the mother. After that, the young man told her that she had just made their trip. The mother had just found out that she was cancer free right before they met Mikayla, and that magical moment was going to stay with her forever. He put that picture on Twitter for a #CastCompliment, a hashtag used to publicly acknowledge Disney employees. It has since become her favorite picture.
She says that another memorable part of the program was the little tokens of gratitude from princesses, princes, and their families. Her favorite is a handmade castle key chain from some little girls. She had an awful interaction with a guest 30 minutes before, and the little girls made her cry because they just wanted her to be their photographer as she roved around the castle. One father gave her pins of her favorite Disney character, Marie from Aristocats, after she bonded with his daughter over a cute magic shot and their love for the movie. “My favorite princess was named Manu, and her family would come see me every visit they made - they were passholders. She would hug me tight every time, and her parents always kiss me hello. They were from Brazil and spoke little English, so Manu would translate, or they would speak Portuguese and I would speak Spanish.” These special experiences are what make the program so unique. The program never leaves you. Mikayla says, “There is nothing better than having a family come back to find you every time they visit.” The the experiences you have in the Disney College Program will increase your skill set and the connections made will last a lifetime.