Grab a pair of Mickey Mouse ears and purchase some Dole Whip! College at Disney World is available to all Montclair State University students. It’s an experience of a lifetime.
Reilly O’Connell, a Montclair State student, has taken a pause on her incoming senior year as a hospitality management major to partake in the Disney College Program (DCP) for the second time. While she spent her first year in the program as a quick service and food and beverage cast member in the Grand Floridian resort, she has been assigned as a character performer this time around.
The DCP, originally known as the Magic Kingdom College Program, is an internship program operated by The Walt Disney Company located in the Walt Disney Resort and the Disneyland Resort. The internship is open to any college student enrolled and taking classes.
The program consists of different types of roles such as entertainment, quick service food and beverage, merchandise, housekeeping, attractions, etc. With a wide variety of positions for students to participate in, the program allows students to gain valuable job experience working in parks and resorts.
The application process consists of three parts: the application, a web based interview personality test and a phone conference. If a student has what Disney is looking for, the participant will move through each step of the application process.
“I came back because it was always my dream role to be a character performer, and I love working here,” said O’Connell. She enjoyed working with her great team of cast members and had many memorable guest interactions.
O’Connell receives credit for doing the program as a co-op, something each Montclair State student interested in the program should discuss with their advisor. However, another great source for information is Dr. Jack Samuels.
Dr. Samuels, a marketing professor, is an honorary citizen of Walt Disney and the coordinator of the DCP. He has guided many students over the years who have partaken in this program.
Before Dr. Samuels helped students from Montclair State live out their fairy-tale dreams, he first did it at Farleigh Dickinson University (FDU). At the time, he was still an adjunct professor.
“I had a couple of students at FDU who said they might be interested in working for Disney as an internship, so I called them up and it just so happens this guy Kent Phillips was starting [the DCP] program with a guy named Dockin Dickson,” said Dr. Samuels.
Phillips started working at Disney on the opening day of the Magic Kingdom, Oct.1, 1971, as a jungle cruise skipper. Today, he is an educator relation’s specialist and is involved in the development of the program.
“In 1981, Disney Human Resources was asked to look at creative recruiting methods [in order to] successfully staff the Magic Kingdom and [the] two resorts.” said Phillips. “[Plus to help plan the] expansion on our property at Walt Disney World. The result was a program called Magic Kingdom College Program.”
As Dr. Samuel remembers it, “I literally begged him to let me [enroll a] couple of students into the program because they already had enough [universities enrolled for their first year], but I begged him and they did take two of our students.”
From then on, Samuel continued to be a part of Disney throughout the years. For a few years, he served on the advisory board. He was named Honorary Citizen in 1987, two weeks after Michael Jackson had received his. This decoration is no longer given out at Disney. He was also the first Disney faculty scholar and emeritus board member.
“There isn’t a lot of campus life here [at Montclair State], so going to Disney is a chance to go live away from home,” said Samuels. “Mr. Phillips told me recently that he thinks [Montclair State students] are one of the largest participants in the U.S. program now.”
Emma Wagner, a Montclair State graduate who majored in acting, currently works at Walt Disney World in entertainment.
“You have to be prepared to be fully immersed in this adventure for several months and to be working all the time, but it’s worth it if you’re doing something you love,” said Wagner. “My job down here is to bring joy and magic to people’s vacations and to give them permission to forget about the outside world for a bit.”
When the program originally started in 1981, it had just 248 students from 43 colleges. Today, the program has over 30,000 applicants and 4,000 students from all around the world.
“There [are] lots of ups and downs, it’s not perfect, but you get to meet people from all over and have an experience of a lifetime,” said Dr. Samuels.