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Disney interns get real-world experience in a fantasyland

Jeremiah Hughes

Jeremiah Hughes.

Next time you go to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, that “cast member” serving your meal or ringing up those Mickey ears in the gift store could be an Illinois State University student.

About 15 to 20 students take part every semester in the Disney College Program, a paid internship that immerses participants in “the Disney way” of doing business.

The Disney program opened a lot of doors for Brad Nagel ’07, a business administration major who is now manager of fan services for the Chicago Cubs. He worked for some of the resort hotels and the Blizzard Beach water park during his 2006 stint in Orlando. He said it was valuable experience and a “great resume-builder” because the Disney brand resonates well with other organizations.

“It just showed the importance, for me, of working in a corporate culture where both the employees and the guests—or customers or fans—both enjoyed being there,” Nagel said.

Senior human resources management major Jeremiah Hughes completed the program last semester. In addition to his jobs selling merchandise in the Magic Kingdom and doing package pickup and delivery, the Bloomington native took two Disney education courses in people management and guest services.

“It’s a great way to enhance my own personal skill set, and it’s just a fun place to work,” Hughes said.

Depending on the major, a student can get up to 12 hours of course credit, said senior Jenny Ewan, who completed the program in 2011 and later recruited others as a Disney on-campus representative.

Ewan worked primarily in food and beverage, but her most valuable takeaway was learning time-management and personal organization skills—a glimpse of the real world while working in a fantasyland.

“I definitely feel like I gained a lot of independence while I was there,” she said.