The happiest place to work

Disney intern

When UTSA alumnus Daniel McTyer, 24, first visited Disney World in 2010, he expected long lines and high prices. Instead, he found himself on a fast-moving roller coaster of self-discovery.

“I figured it would be an average theme park experience,” McTyer said, “but I was surprised at how much attention to detail there was to everything – how beautiful the experience was.”

Shortly after McTyer returned from his trip, he learned about the Disney College Program from a recruiting session at UTSA and was inspired to apply. After a web and phone interview, McTyer was one of about 4,000 college students chosen to intern for Disney during the Fall 2011 semester.

McTyer chose to attend the Disney World program in Orlando, Fla., rather than the Disneyland program in California, because it was cheaper and participants were not required to take classes.

However, McTyer, who took two classes, advised that everyone in the program take them all “because you will end up learning a lot about yourself and the world around you.”

The classes met once a week and lasted three hours each. McTyer was enrolled in “Leadership and Innovation,” taught by an inspiring Air Force Academy instructor, and “Creativity and Innovation,” where the students were “actually encouraged to play with Legos.”

All of the Disney classes are ACE (American Council on Education) accredited, so with the help of an academic adviser, they can count toward a degree plan. While McTyer, a senior economics major, doesn’t know exactly how the courses he took are being used for his degree, he certainly doesn’t regret taking what he refers to as “two of the best classes I’ve ever taken.”

The Disney College Program does not focus on a specific person’s major, McTyer explained, but on work experience and enthusiasm for the company.

McTyer, who worked at Six Flags Fiesta Texas from 2007 to 2013 and at SeaWorld San Antonio for the past two summers, had no problem meeting those two qualifications.

“I really like the whole environment,” McTyer said of working at theme parks. “Most of the people are really happy and excited to be there, so you get a good opportunity to show off a more creative side of how to make the guests’ day even better.”

McTyer, who was assigned to parking, loved being able to brighten the guests’ days. “My favorite memories were doing really crazy parody spiels on the trams,” he said. “I would sing a parody of ‘It’s a Small World’ that went, ‘It’s a short ride to your car. It’s a short ride to your car.’”

McTyer’s job, or ‘role’ as they call it at Disney, was one of 20 positions that are available for college students. The positions are divided into six categories: operations, lodging, food and beverage, retail/sales, recreation and entertainment. During the application process, applicants may express interest in a role, but the positions are not guaranteed.

“When they first told me what my exact role was going to be, I was a bit nervous because now I’m responsible for people’s 1,000-pound missiles,” McTyer said. “But, it actually ended up being more fun than I thought it would be.”

McTyer worked about 35-60 hours a week, but he explained that the hours depended on the role and whether it was a busy season or not. However, he said his hours were always arranged so that he had enough money for rent and then some.

The dorm rooms were small, McTyer admitted. He had three roommates, one of whom he shared a bedroom and bathroom with.

The Disney interns are also expected to meet some strict requirements concerning image. All tattoos must be covered in a tasteful manner, and only earlobe piercings are allowed for female employees. No outside brands should be worn as part of the Disney uniform – this includes eyeglasses and sunglasses. In addition to these requirements, males and females also have separate lists regarding hair, fingernails and makeup. They get as specific as appropriate fingernail length and types of facial hair that are permitted.

McTyer said that getting to work with people from all around the world was the biggest eye-opener. “What I’ve learned most is how to interact with people from all over—how, on the one hand, there are a lot of differences,” he said, “but at the same time, I’ve also realized how similar the human experience is.”

“The program gives you a sense of perspective,” he continued. “It’s the happiest place on Earth but also one of the most demanding places because you’re serving people from all across the world.”

The Disney College Program also helped McTyer decide on a career.

“Before, I was on the fence about what I wanted to do, but the Disney program gave me a clearer vision,” he said. “It pushed me harder to do something in management and in theme parks full time, especially for Disney World.”

Currently, McTyer is applying for the Disney College Program for the Spring 2015 semester, which he hopes will lead to a full-time position.