Wright State students make magic with Disney

Tiffany Fridley poses with Pluto and another student intern at Walt Disney World.

Tiffany Fridley, at left, poses with Pluto.

Wright State students looking for a good job after graduation are getting there with the help of Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Jiminy Cricket.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland have become training grounds for Wright State students interning with the Disney College Program. These students work in every position, from character performers to waterslide operators.

A Disney internship is far more than just magic and fun. Debra Wilburn, assistant director of Career Services and campus liaison for the Disney College Program, says it can make a huge difference in a student’s employability post-graduation.

“The College Program is a good stepping stone,” she says. “A successful work term with an internationally recognized employer, in a different city and living situation of multicultural character, speaks to a variety of attributes and skills that employers everywhere value in job candidates.”

Wilburn adds that Disney is a business with rigorous standards—interns must adhere to the “Disney look,” and exhibit appropriate behavior not only at their worksite but also in company-sponsored housing.

It is often because of these standards that future employers are intrigued by applicants who boast a Disney internship. Wilburn says, “They know that if a student succeeded at Disney, then that student can follow through on commitments.”

While the career benefits of the Disney College Program are not to be scoffed at, neither are the personal benefits, nor the fun interns have while working for Disney.

“Disney was the most amazing company to work for,” says Courtney Malone, a junior marketing major. Since eighth grade, Malone has aspired to work for Disney, a company she praises as a personal and caring employer. “Even though they have thousands and thousands of employees,” she says, “they still make an effort to reach every single one.”

A Bug's Life movie character poses for a picture along a fence at Walt Disney World.

"Flik" from "A Bug's Life" poses at Disney's Animal Kingdom. "Flick" is a "friend of" Wright State student Tiffany Fridley.

Malone worked as a character performer, making it possible for thousands of children to meet their favorite Disney characters, including Mickey and Minnie, Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket and Piglet.

“This was the best job I have had and will ever have,” she says. “I had the opportunity to make people’s dreams come true.”

She was also able to partake of the special educational opportunities offered to Disney interns. Malone took a class called “Marketing You” that she says helped her create a professional image.

Malone plans to return to Walt Disney World in June 2012 to take part in a professional internship with Disney’s marketing department.

While Malone worked out front, other students busily fulfilled their functions behind the scenes, working in food service and recreation.

Jourdan Shanks, a junior English major, worked as a waterslide operator in Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, Walt Disney World’s two themed water parks. Shanks made sure that guests went down the slides safely and correctly.

While she wasn’t at the top of the slides, Shanks was taking advantage of the opportunities offered by Disney.

Photo of Cinderella's Castle lit purple with yellow fireworks.

Student interns get to watch "Wishes" the nighttime fireworks spectacular just before park closing every night.

“I learned great communication skills, and how to get along with people different from me,” Shanks says. Her roommate was Puerto Rican, and Shanks said that adjusting to their cultural differences was challenging but rewarding.

Shanks also met students from Australia, New Zealand and England. “I grew so much as a person,” she says, “and met amazing people that I still keep in contact with.”

Breona Troutman, a senior psychology student who worked in food service, agrees that the Disney program is incredibly diverse. “I met a lot of different people,” she says, “even people from China.”

Troutman encourages new interns at Walt Disney World to stick with the program, even if they arrive with misgivings.

“Although you may not see through the homesickness at the time,” she says, the program “is filled with life lessons.”

Tiffany Fridley, who is working on a double major in English Education and Fine Arts, as well as a certificate in sign language, says working for Disney is an endlessly positive experience. “There’s nothing more exciting than having some little girl come up to you with the biggest smile on her face,” she says. “It changes your whole day.”

Fridley was a character performer in parades and in the parks. She was also a stilt walker and a butterfly in the SpectroMagic parade, and she helped children from all over the world meet their favorite Disney characters.

Photo of Tiffany Fridely and her friend back-to-back standing on stilts.

While an intern at Walt Disney World, Fridley learned to walk on stilts.

Taking advantage of Disney’s seasonal worker policies, Fridley returns to Walt Disney World at least once a year to continue her employment. By working one day a year, she retains all her benefits as a Disney employee, including free admission to the parks.

But Fridley doesn’t just come back for the perks. She comes back because she loves her job and the happiness she inspires in the park’s millions of visitors.

“You feel that the kids truly believe that Pluto’s Pluto,” Fridley says about her experience as a “friend of” Pluto the dog. “That’s a puppy dog to them. You can just see it.”

For more information on the Disney College Program, visit http://disney.go.com/disneycareers/disneycollegeprogram/.

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