Students help to make magic

Susie Skowronek

At the wonderful world of Disney, where employees are known as cast members who perform roles rather than work jobs, college students have worked behind the scenes for the past 30 years.

Disney campus representative Sarah Parsons, a senior Hospitality and Tourism Management major, originally joined the Disney College Program because the experience cost much less than a study abroad trip.

The Disney College Program offers a combination of working and living at either Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and Disney Land in Anaheim, Calif.

And, like a study abroad, the experience at Disney broadened Parsons’ world-view through the people she met.

“You work with people from all over the world, so I have best friends from all over the world,” she said. “There are people from all over the world coming to the park, so you get to hear all of their stories, too.”

During her first stint with the college program, Parsons worked in merchandise at the Animal Kingdom.

“When I worked in my first location, I worked with a lot of college program people – a lot of people my age. Whereas when I did it this summer, housekeeping, there was one other person my age, and everyone else was older,” Parsons said. “It kind of changes the atmosphere, like it feels more like an actual job, versus when I worked in the park with people my age. (Merchandise) was more like a fun, and ‘you’re in the park’ situation.”

This summer, Parsons returned to Walt Disney World for housekeeping at the Contemporary Resort, one of the original resorts in the theme parks.

“Everybody who is down there loves Disney, so for the most part, everybody is pretty happy and upbeat about everything,” she added.

Ashley Khoury, a senior and communication studies major, also participated in the college program and now serves as a campus representative.

At Disney World, Khoury worked between 30 and 50 hours each week, but she worked most often during peak times – Easter and the summer months, during her February through August stay.

During the day, Khoury worked at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. She started at the front desk, where she checked guests in and out of the resort and provided other forms of customer service.

However, Khoury’s supervisors soon promoted her through the ranks to curbside concierge. She welcomed VIPs to the resort.

By working at Disney World, Khoury said she was able to learn not only about work as a concierge, but also work in other areas at the theme parks and resorts. She appreciated the opportunities to network with managers of the company to expand opportunities for the future.

Khoury also received credit for her work in the college program – the Disney experience counted as an internship.

“We really encourage (students) to work with their department and their adviser to see how this could benefit them,” she added.

After her extended program at Disney, Khoury’s supervisors offered her a seasonal position. If she ever returned to the area during summers or breaks in school, she could take up her position as a concierge. However, students in the college program receive seasonal status on a case-by-case basis.

For graduates, the company offers professional and management internships, and the company reserves some positions for Disney college program alumni. Applications for these internships open next week, Parsons said.

Khoury said she wants to return to Disney World for one of the graduate internships, although when she first applied to the college program, she did not expect to find a possible profession.

“At the time I didn’t think it would turn into a possible long-term career,” she said. “I was looking to get some kind of direction as far as where my schooling was going to take me.”

However, the college program accepts students of all majors, and representatives now seek students for the fall only and the summer and fall semesters.

Besides living and working in the sunny states of the U.S., participants of the college program also receive six free passes to Disney theme parks, and each pass grants admission for up to three people. College program students can enter the parks free of charge at any time during their stay at Disney.

To apply to the Disney College Program, students first either attend an on-campus presentation or view an online presentation to receive a presentation completion code. A Florida executive recruiter will give presentations on campus at 5 p.m. on March 23 and 1 p.m. on March 24 in Room 2270 of Kirkhof Center.

Students also complete an online application and role checklist. Certain roles, such as character performers, require additional auditions.

Then, students use the presentation access code to carry out a web-based interview, and based on the results, a telephone interview. At the end of this process, applicants to the Disney College Program will be notified three to four weeks of their status.

For more information on the Disney College Program, students can visit

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