A semester in the Magic Kingdom

A semester in the Magic Kingdom
Kelly Barry

Kelly Barry

When Kelly Barry was visiting Disney World, she noticed the cast members’ (Disney’s term for employees) name tags. “Most of them had name tags with the city and state or country where they are from. But some had the name of a college instead. So I asked why,” says Barry.

And that’s when she learned about the Disney College Program and set her sights on one day participating in it.

Barry is a member of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro and recent graduate of The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., where she studied politics and business management.

When she learned she could participate in Disney program but not for CUA credit, she was undeterred.

As early as her freshman year, she worked with the assistant dean in the School of Arts and Sciences to develop a strategy that would allow her to graduate on time while still taking an uncredited semester for the Disney program.

“I took two summer courses before my sophomore year and extra credits during my early semesters. I didn’t want to be overextended my junior and senior years,” explains Barry.

The strategy was in place even before she was accepted into the competitive paid internship program.

Barry was accepted and spent the spring of her sophomore year as a cast member at Walt Disney World. The internship has three components, she explains.

Living: “We lived in apartment buildings just for the college program participants. I met students from all over the country and all over the world.”

Learning: “Classes are part of the program. I took some great seminars that helped me develop skills such as networking and event management that I can use in any career.”

Earning: “I was a cast member in merchandise at the Emporium on Main Street. We took part in Disney leadership training and learned about the company culture, which is all about an excellent guest (Disney’s term for customer) experience.”

The college students work a 40-hour week with at least one day a week off to enjoy the Disney parks. While a Disney cast member, Barry received two guest letters — unsolicited letters written to the Disney company to commend her service.

One of them came from a couple whose granddaughter lost her Pluto plush toy. Barry encountered them in the Emporium and asked them to wait while she went “backstage.” She came back with a new Pluto and told the little girl that she ran into Mickey Mouse, who was very sad to hear she lost Pluto and wanted her to have a new one.

It turned out the grandparents were friends of Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in the U.S. and France. They sent her the letter, which then made its way to George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. He read the letter, and Barry was invited to join him on a walk-through of the Magic Kingdom.

Barry returned to CUA her junior year determined to spread the word about the program and to advocate for credit for the internship. She made a presentation to the School of Business and Economics that was positively received. Brian Engelland, associate dean and professor in the business school, worked to create a trial program for the 2014-15 academic year.

“Because of accreditation issues, CUA is not permitted to accept credits for courses taught by Disney employees. So we worked out a trial program comprised of additional internship credit hours plus a directed independent study experience to support the Disney College Program student,” he explains.

For her immediate post-graduation plans, Barry says she is hoping to be accepted into Disney’s Professional Internship Program, a managerial training program for college graduates. Her long-term plans include law school.

“I like to tell the story of how Walt Disney lost the rights to his first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, because of a contract dispute. So even Walt Disney needed a good lawyer,” says Barry. “But it didn’t turn out all bad. He went back to the drawing board and came up with Mickey Mouse.”

Categories: Catholic School News

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