Disney College Program Helps Prepare Students for Future Roles

Courtney O’Neal

A bus greeter at Disney World wouldn’t seem like the optimum preparation for a future school psychologist, but surprisingly it is.

“The Disney experience helps a lot,” said Courtney O’Neal, a junior psychology major with plans to get a master’s degree in school psychology.

“I was kind of nervous at first because I didn’t think this was really going to help me in the education field, because I’m not planning on working for Disney in the long run. But it really is helping me.”

O’Neal is part of the Disney College Program, a prestigious program seeing thousands of student applications. The program is an opportunity for students to participate in a paid internship and in some cases, depending on their major, receive college credit. O’Neal is receiving credit towards her Georgia Southern degree.

“I work with guest interactions and guest relations every day. You see a lot of different cultures from around the world. You learn how to interact with them differently, how to manage upset guests and how to handle different situations.”

O’Neal added she could see herself changing the longer she has worked at Disney. Changes that will definitely help her as a school psychologist.

“When I first got here I didn’t really know how to handle upset guests or a person screaming at you. Now I know how to evaluate a situation and calm it down.”

Taking a full load of courses online, O’Neal has learned to manage her time between her bus greeter job, her online classes and her free time. Cast members, as she and her teammates are called, also get free entry into the park in their down-time.

“It’s hard but it’s doable. You learn how to be independent, but you still have a back bone, where if you mess up, you still have people there that you can fall back on.”

O’Neal has enjoyed interning at Disney. And Disney likes her too, extending her stay from a single semester to a full year.

“I love every second of it. You really can’t experience anything like it anywhere else but at a place like Disney World. If you have a chance to do it. Definitely do it, because you will not get this kind of experience again.”

Aaron Clay (’11)

The Disney College Program has helped numerous students turn their internships into full-time jobs, including two in Imagineering. Walt Disney Imagineering is the part of Disney that imagines, designs and builds Disney attractions and properties around the world.

Aaron Clay is one of those Imagineers. A mechanical engineering graduate, Clay began his career at Disney as an intern in the program.

He eventually landed a professional engineering internship with Engineering Services at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He later transferred to the Quality Engineering Department, where he worked full time as an associate quality engineer on projects such as the Frozen and Pandora attractions at the park. When the Pandora project was completed, Clay was recognized by Disney Imagineering for his use of 3D modeling software, and was asked if he was interested in working as a product manager for them.

“Since Imagineering was always a dream of mine, I happily accepted,” he said. “I manage the 3D models for all of Walt Disney Imagineering projects in the domestic portfolio.”

The View from Georgia Southern

“I think it’s excellent,” said Caitlyn Cofer, assistant director of experiential learning in Georgia Southern’s Office of Career  and Professional Development, describing her view of the Disney College Program. “The biggest thing that the program gives our students is, of course, job experience. But more specifically, customer service experience, regardless of what role they’re put in.”

Two recruiters from Disney work with Cofer on the program. The Disney recruiters have an established relationship with the Office, sending professional internships directly to Georgia Southern.

“Disney reaches out to me regularly when they have a need,” said Cofer. “For example, they might say they’re looking for an entomology student for some insect research. They know we have a good biology program, so they ask me to refer those students.”

This semester, at least eight students enrolled in the Disney College Program, the most in University history. There have been more than 30 enrolled in the program since 2016. The University has partnered with Disney on the program since  2000.