One year ago, hospitality and tourism management senior Caroline Vitanza decided to apply to the Disney College Program.
Though Vitanza was unsure of what her experience would be like, or if she had the skills to make it through the program, the Texas native took a leap of faith and applied.
Little did she know that working at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort as a quick-service food and beverage worker would change her life.
“I didn’t realize how much I would learn during my time there,” Vitanza said. “I’m more confident in my abilities to get a job in this field and it totally changed the way I think about the industry."
Hospitality students are more likely to receive job offers and be prepared for the intense workload these jobs entail if they have previous experience with a rigorous internship like the Disney College Program. Selected students are exposed to all aspects of the parks and resorts, while participating in leadership and career development classes and getting a behind-the-scenes look at guest services. Being a part of the 20% of applicants who are accepted into this program is an advantage for students and the expertise they develop will impact the future employees of the hospitality industry.
According to the NACE Center for Career Development, graduates with internships were able to find jobs within six months after graduating because of the experience gained through their internship.
Students in the program develop communication and teamwork skills that are valued by all companies, not just Disney, which gives them a potential advantage over other students who have not had this experience. According to the Journal of Employment Counseling, internships that develop these skills can prepare students for their future jobs.
Disney’s goals of creating a fun and magical world for its customers is what resonated with Vitanza and moved her to apply to their college program.
“Employees at Disney have very labor-intensive jobs, but they are doing that job with a smile on their faces because they love the values the company stands for and love making the guests happy," Vitanza said. "That is something that is so important to me."
Students in the program leave with communication and leadership skills because Disney makes it a priority to teach their employees about their values and give the students the hands on experience that will prepare them for their future careers.
Adrianna Santiago, another student going through the program, has seen how her communication skills with guests and co-workers has developed based on the training for the interns.
“One of the first things we learned in our training is something they call “next-level courtesy,” Santiago said. “Our supervisors taught us to go to the next level for guests to set ourselves apart from other vacation destinations, part of this being able to have conversations with the guests and make them feel welcomed. I am so much more confident in talking to people now that I see how it changes a person’s experience in hospitality.”
The students in the program learn how to bring a magical effect into their work by working with customers and learning how effective a positive attitude in the workplace can influence a family’s experience at Disney World.
“The ultimate goal there is to make magic and happiness for the guests,” Vitanza said. “These people are here for vacation so that they can enjoy themselves and be happy and the employees are a big part of that, even if we didn’t realize it.”
Dr. Pamela Roush from the University of Central Florida describes the objective of having this hands-on experience as a valuable lesson for the students.
“The work experience component of the program exposes interns to Disney’s business and entertainment philosophy in a real world context,” Rouch said. “The students are exposed to a variety of the operations of the Walt Disney World Resort including food, merchandise, attractions, custodial, hospitality, recreation, tickets and transportation.”
Working in these positions and learning how to apply the values of the company will prepare these students for the duties they will have to fulfill in their future career on a daily basis.
Bailey Payne, an international business major at Oklahoma State University, has seen the influence these values have on a student’s work ethic.
“A lot of people in my courses are really successful and have jobs set up because of the values they learned at the program inspired them to do their best in their courses and work,” Payne said. “I guess a lot of companies really notice the difference in those students.”
The Disney College Program prepares the future employees of this industry by giving them a real-world experience that can not be found in a textbook.
Before she applied to the program, Vitanza had little experience in her major.
The Florida-based Disney College Program taught her managerial and leadership skills by not only letting her work in their facilities but also offering classes that discuss subjects such as career evaluation and the theory of hospitality to provide a well-rounded learning opportunity for students to use in their future careers.
Lam Hing Kok, a human resources management major from Hong Kong Baptist University, found that the Disney College Program curriculum was beneficial for the students and encouraged them throughout the process.
“The educational resources provided were perceived as helpful and positively correlated to job satisfaction and affective commitment,” Kok said.
Disney merchandise cast member and trainer Cheyenne Robertson works closely with the students in the program and sees first hand how the benefits of having work experience and access to specialized courses prepares them for the service they will be providing.
“These learning opportunities benefit the students because they are put in real situations they would have to deal with on a daily basis,” Robertson said. “In their courses they are given scenarios and learn the skills on how to handle these situations like a manager would. Having this type of curriculum helps the students because they are actively learning instead of just reading from a textbook.”
Working at a company that prioritizes education and providing a quality guest experience through their values for four months improved Vitanza’s confidence.
“It’s a lot of hard and tedious work, but I absolutely loved my experience," Vitanza said. "I want to work there so badly after graduation. I connect so well with its values and the work they put into to make Disney a magical place I can’t imagine myself working anywhere else."