By Bonnie Meibers, Senior Staff Writer

It’s the most “magical place on earth,” and it recruits college students to join the ranks of characters like Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell.

The Disney College Program recruits college students and recent college graduates to work at Walt Disney World for an entire semester.

Disney College Program students are able to take up to two classes at Disney for free, said senior Sarah Chapman, who has been in the Disney College Program and is now heading toward a full-time job with Disney after graduation in May.

Each student goes through training to learn Disney’s four tenets: safety, courtesy, show and capacity (or, efficiency).

The biggest and perhaps most emphasized of these tenets is safety.

“Walt Disney had the vision of making a park where families felt safe, like they were in a different world,” said sophomore Wyatt Butcher.

Butcher is currently in the process of applying for the Disney College Program. He went through the online application, the personality test and the phone interview. Now he has to wait until the end of the month to hear back from Disney.

Butcher said he was feeling a mix of emotions after the interview, but mostly nervous and excited.

“I want to find a company that I’m proud to work for and where I am going to grow,” he said. “Because it’s then that I’m going to find where I belong.”

Chapman will have held three professional internships with Disney after she graduates.

Disney plucks new full-time employees from its pool of professional interns, and she is a prime candidate. Chapman is an engineering major who has worked on multiple projects for the parks, including the lion enclosure in Animal Kingdom as well as planning and fixing minor issues with the “It’s a Small World” ride in four days.

“We solved a lot of little problems and fixed things that had never been solved before,” she said. “Being able to just jump in head first was exciting.”

Chapman was the Disney College Program Representative at Miami for three semesters and often worked with Debbie Coleman, Miami’s academic curriculum coordinator for the Disney College Program, to send students to Disney World. Coleman participated in the Disney College Program in 1983.

The Disney College Program accepts around 7,000 students out of more than 20,000 applicants that apply from across the globe. Miami University sends around 50 interns to Disney each year, according to Chapman.  

Coleman herself teaches a Disney services marketing course during Miami’s winter term.

Students in her class go to Disney World in the last week of the course to see first-hand how Disney runs its business.

However, the program is not all magic and pixie dust.

Alexa Del Riesgo is currently now a park greeter at Magic Kingdom, but her original job was to be a character in the parks.

The physical demands of “being friends” with Stitch, as the cast members who play the characters are contracted to say, were very high.

“They work you to the bone,” Del Riesgo said.

The shifts were 12 hours long. Cast members spend 30 minutes in the park in the costume and then 30 minutes backstage with the costume off. The heat and weight of Mickey Mouse is sometimes too much for people to handle. Del Riesgo lost 10 pounds during training.

Del Riesgo said she feels fortunate to still be a part of the program as a park greeter. And because she is the first and last person families see when they are at the park, she is still able to be a part of the Disney magic.

“Making those magical moments for families is something I love,” she said. “But magical moments were not worth the suffocation.”