A Pathway to Your Own “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”

By Gabriella Orfanides

February 25, 2020

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

On January 15, 1975, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress opened at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Set to the tune of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (see lyrics above), this revolving-theater show takes guests on a magical journey showing the development of a traditional American family as technology advances. Though over 40 years have passed since this attraction first opened, the messages that Walt Disney developed are still clear: Your future is what you make of it. It can be as big or as little as you want it to be. If you have a dream, the possibilities are truly endless.

There are many ways for people to achieve their dreams if they put the effort in to do so. However, the Walt Disney Company has a way for young people to pursue their dreams (and develop important life skills) while they are still in college—the Disney College Program (DCP.) Ever since 1981, students from universities across the country (including Genesee Community College) have been participating in the Disney College Program. Students can go to Walt Disney World for a semester and get paid to work in operations, transportation, retail, food service, or vacation planning. Students could even be selected to be lifeguards or character performers. Even though some of these roles may seem small or uninteresting, the majority of alumni of the Disney College Program will tell you that their experience in the program was life changing. One DCP alumni is former Genesee Community College student Jason Erbach.

Erbach, a hospitality and tourism major, grew up visiting Disney World annually with his family. He had never really planned on participating in the Disney College Program, but toward the end of his college career, he had the opportunity to combine his education with his love for Disney.

“I didn’t decide to do the College Program, it kind of chose me,” Erbach said. “While at GCC, I kept doing all my projects on Walt Disney World and/or The Walt Disney Company. It just so happened that the DCP was my last few credits I needed to finish off my degree. I signed up, and the rest is history.”

Once accepted to the program, Erbach was assigned to a merchandise role at Pirates and Glow, a light-up souvenir cart located in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. Even though his job wasn’t the easiest, it was well worth it for Jason.

“It was long, busy hours but worth every second of it. It molded me into the Cast Member I am today and was a great stepping-stone to the future,” he said.

A close up of Jason Erbach

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Jason Erbach, GCC alumni and current Walt Disney World cast member

                              Jason Erbach, currently a full-time cast member at Walt Disney World, joined the Disney College Program at the end of his college career. He fondly calls the Disney College experience “well worth it” and “something you will remember the rest of your life.”

Students interested in participating in the Disney College Program should talk to the Career Services Department or Amy Slusser, Professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Genesee Community College. Ms. Slusser has been coordinating the Disney College Program at GCC for around 16 years, working with about five or six students per semester who participate in the program. When asked how students should approach getting involved in the Disney College Program, Ms. Slusser said that the first thing these students should do is learn about the program and apply online the semester prior to the planned semester of participation. If Disney decides they like what they see on a student’s application, they will set up a telephone interview with the student and then notify the student of his or her acceptance within 72 hours. Ms. Slusser made sure to point out that there is no one way to “win” with the telephone interview. Applicants just need to display a “Disney attitude” and seem “excited.”

Once accepted to the Disney College Program, Disney gives students a small date range in which they are expected to arrive at Walt Disney World. Once a student arrives, he or she must notify Disney of this. Students will then begin to settle into their assigned housing at Disney, as all students participating in the college program must stay at Disney housing. Most students will also want to take a trip to the Orlando Walmart:

 “Take a bus to Walmart,” Ms. Slusser said.“It’s just so much easier than transporting all your stuff from where you live.”

Some students may be nervous about the idea of having to stay in assigned housing, but Ms. Slusser confidently asserted that Disney housing is “beautiful,” “very, very safe,” and students have the opportunity to live with and interact with people from all over the world.

Another thing that happens when students arrive in Florida is they learn their role with the company. Students don’t even know what their job will be until they arrive in Florida! Some students may take orders at Flame Tree BBQ in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Other students may dance with “grim-grinning ghosts” and be ride attendants at Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion. Students could possibly even be custodial workers at Disney Springs, Disney’s shopping center.

“Just because you’re a criminal justice major doesn’t mean you’ll get a security job. You have to have certifications for that,” Slusser said.“And just because you’re a theater major doesn’t mean you’ll get to be Ariel.”

The last thing students must do before they can work their actual job is Traditions Training. All “cast members,” as Disney employees are affectionately known, must learn the “Disney way” at this training. Everyone learns a strict dress code and appearance, as well as what kind of behavior is expected of an employee. There is also a “lingo.” For example, a character performer cannot tell a child that they are Mickey Mouse. They must say that they are friends with Mickey Mouse. Once this training is complete, it is time to begin working at Walt Disney World.

As with most good things, there are some small negative aspects that do accompany the Disney College Program. First of all, participating in the program will affect a student’s graduation date; most students don’t try to balance online courses and a job at Disney World. Additionally, students work long hours, sometimes more than 40 hours a week. However, Ms. Slusser made sure to stress that the benefits of the Disney College Program heavily outweigh any negative aspects. Students receive free access to the parks, discounts on food and hotels, and free transportation. However, perhaps even more important than the material things are some of the immaterial qualities that the Disney College Program can give to a person.

“It’s all about opportunities,” Ms. Slusser said. “The Disney College Program can teach the Disney way—which will transfer to any job you ever have.”

 Slusser further pointed out that Disney looks great on any resume, as it is widely regarded as “one of the smartest companies in the world.”

Jason Erbach also holds the Disney College Program in nothing but high regard, saying that it has made him into not only a better employee but also a better adult.“There were no parts [of the Disney College Program] that I disliked or hated. Every challenge/obstacle was an opportunity to grow and learn to become better—a better person, a better Cast Member, a better young adult.”

Erbach also wants to remind students that are nervous or unsure about joining the Disney College Program that they will love the experience. They just need to go for it.“Do it and you won’t regret it. If you’re afraid of the unknown, then remember the words of Walt Disney: ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’ Get out of your comfort zone because that is where you’ll find yourself.”

Fireworks. Fairy tales. Princesses and princes. Wild roller coasters. Animals. Really good food… Most people are excited by at least one of these things. With the Disney College Program, these things are part of students’ lives every single day. Even though the Disney College Program consists of a real job with long hours and low pay, the amazing benefits of the program are priceless. Working at Disney is often regarded as one of the most fulfilling jobs there is, and the Disney College Program can provide students with this job, an enhanced resume, and memories that will last a lifetime. Students will have the opportunity to see “a whole new world,” and they may even develop new talents and interests in life. So, with the Disney College Program, tomorrow isn’t necessarily “just a dream away.” Tomorrow is now.