Disneyland College Program: Part One

by Shoshana Lewin, staff writer
“Everybody neat and pretty? Then on with the show.” — Mickey Mouse

Hi all you past, present and future Disney cast members! I'm Shoshana, your MousePlanet hostess, and I want to welcome you back to Cast Placethe destination for the inside scoop on what happens when you work for The Mouse. Wherever you work (or worked) on the Disney map — from Downtown Disney in Anaheim or the Disney Store in Ohio, to Space Mountain in Tokyo or the Disney Studios in Burbank — we want to hear from you: the good, the bad and the ugly. E-mail us your stories, your pictures, your jokes, interview tips — any memories that you have from your time as a cast member. Hope to see you (or hear from you) real soon!

While it's difficult to squeeze three months of the best summer of my life into four articles, I'm going to try. Although my story is one of hundreds, I don't think anyone has had an experience quite like it. So close your eyes as we go back in time to the year of The New Tomorrowland: The Summer of 1998. Shoshana

Like most Disney fans, I've had dreams of working for the mouse. I think I've wanted to work at Disneyland my entire life. I always thought it would be so great to earn money making people happy. But working at Disneyland was going to be harder for me than for almost everyone else who applies to be a cast member (CM). Hundreds of people apply to work at the Happiest Place on Earth every week, so why was it such a big deal? Had I lived in Orange County at the time — or even in Southern California — I probably would have walked into the big yellow and green building off of Ball and Ox roads, filled out an application, had my interview and been cast. But I was applying to work at Disneyland from my college — 2,000 miles from Anaheim, California.

While walking through campus in the spring of 1997, during my freshman year at the University of Missouri, I began to see little Mickey heads sprout up on signs, table decorations and in classrooms. Once I realized I wasn't having Disney withdrawal, I looked closer and saw that a representative from Walt Disney World (WDW) would be coming to campus to hire for its college program.

At the time, I had no idea that Disney operated a college program, which gives students the opportunity to work at the park, live with fellow cast members, earn money (and sometimes class credit) and — best of all — learn some of the inner workings of the park.

The week before the representative came, some previous college program participants had set up a table in the student union. I had thrown a Disney pin on my shirt so it would at least show them that I meant business. I introduced myself to Erica, a young woman who was a senior at Missouri who had participated in the college program for the last three years. She began as an in-park CM and had moved up to an internship position.

I looked through the photos of happy 20-somethings playing volleyball, swimming in a pool, sitting in seminars and working as CMs in various positions around WDW. She told me that in order to schedule an interview, I would have to attend the informational session. I shook her hand, wrote down my name on the sign-up sheet (one of the few times I was grateful to have been given an unusual first name), took an information packet and told her I would see her the following night.

I didn't know what to expect when I went to the session, but I knew I had nothing to worry about when I could hear the Disney music grow louder as I walked down the hall to the auditorium. I walked in, and saw a room full of CM-wannabes (at least some of them were) all watching what resembled some of the WDW programs shown every so often on The Travel Channel.

To start the presentation, the representative introduced herself and asked us, the audience, trivia questions about WDW. The first question was meant for the amateurs, something about how many water parks were at the resort — and only handful of hands went up.

The next question: “Where is WDW located?”
Correct answer: Lake Buena Vista.

Number of hands up: 10.
Number of people who didn't answer “Orlando”: 1 (me).

Then we moved on to the information portion of the evening and were shown a video explaining the three aspects of the WDW: the living, learning, and earning. This was also the part where we were told that our chances were better if we applied for fall or winter semester rather than summer. From looking at the faces around the room, you could tell this turned off a lot of people who had their hearts set on finishing college in four years. Also, there were to be no visible tattoos, women were to have natural-length nicely manicured nails, and men could not have any facial hair. This caused a few people to get up and walk out of the room. [Note: this was before Disney changed its policy.]

Then, all of the College Program alumni were invited to the front of the room. Fifteen people made their way down from what had become a smaller crowd since the program began. Their stories were very interesting and I just knew one day I would be among them — each had done something they were sure they were going to like, but ended up loving — but my mind kept wandering. Did I really want to go to Florida? My kingdom and my grandparents were on the West Coast. Could I really afford to miss a semester? Plus, if I wanted to get residency for Missouri this summer and be eligible for in-state tuition, there was no way I could go to Florida.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, it hit me: What if Disneyland had a college program, too?

As soon as the program had ended, and those who wanted to sign up for interviews began to do so, I went up to a man sitting near the front of the room whom I figured was the representative's assistant. After telling him my situation, he informed me that yes, Disneyland did have a college program, which I discovered was only in the summer. He gave me his business card and told me to call him the following week when he could give me more information. I floated back to the dorm that night.

Fast forward to spring of 1998. I was back at the WDW College Program information meeting, only this time it was so I could sign up for an interview. I was informed that all I had to do when I was signing up was to request the main representative and tell her that I was applying for Disneyland. Then she would forward my interview results to Anaheim. When it was my turn to sign up, I put on my best CM smile, shook her hand, introduced myself and attempted to make the best first impression possible. (This is a good rule of thumb for anyone applying for any position.)

I could barely sleep that night. I had visions of Mickey floating through my head. That day I had a class in the morning and one in the afternoon, so I scheduled my interview for right after my first class. Since I was already a CM at the Disney Store (stay tuned to Cast Place for more on that) I was already familiar with the “Disney Look”: One ring per hand, one watch nice nails, hair that if colored looked natural, no hoop or dangle earrings, no jeans.

I went to the Career Resource Center for the interview and waited patiently, the butterflies growing rapidly in my stomach. The door open and the rep called my name. I tried to remember everything the career guides said about the dos and don'ts of the first interview.

She said this was the first time she'd ever interviewed someone for the Disneyland program, but that she had spoken to the people in Anaheim and the preliminary questions were the same: Why do you want to work for at the resort? What is an example of how you handled a difficult situation? What is your favorite Disney attraction? (I love Disney interviews!)

I had my invisible mouse ears on and answered her questions as best as I could. I've been told that when I start talking about Disney, my eyes light up — I guess it happened during the interview because the rep smiled almost the whole time.

Then my 15 minutes were up and she told me it was very nice meeting me, and that I should be hearing something within the next few weeks.

So you can imagine my surprise when the phone rang just a week later and it was Wendy Kriss, the Disneyland College Relations representative. I wasn't expecting a phone interview, since the WDW new hires usually only have the one. She told me about the program and said she thought I was probably the first person at a Missouri school to ever apply for the Disneyland College Program. I learned that there would be two sessions because some schools ended later than others. Our housing would be paid for out of our salary, but we were on our own for transportation. Like with the WDW program, there would be opportunities to learn about the corporation, and because the resort was not as vast (Downtown Disney and Disney's California Adventure were still under construction), they would be selecting far fewer people.

Then she asked the one question that I knew could be my downfall: Where do you want to work? I couldn't just blurt out Jungle Cruise skipper, so I explained that I would prefer to not work in stores because I could do that at The Disney Store. I told her that I love trivia, interacting with guests and seeing smiles on everyone's faces, so I would really enjoy working in Attractions or Guest Services.

She told me I should be hearing something by the middle of March, which was a good thing because if this didn't work, I would have to scramble to find another summer job.

At the same time I was applying to work at Disneyland, I was waiting to find out if I had been accepted at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism — my sole purpose for being in Missouri in the first place. Believe it or not, between the admission tests and my classes, for one of the only times in my life I had forgotten about Disneyland. And I didn't have time to worry if Disneyland had forgotten about me.

One day right after lunch, I was about to leave the dorm and head to the Journalism school to see if I was admitted, when I noticed the dorm staff had finished with the mail. I figured I would grab it and read it on the way. I pulled out a small stack: calling card bill, TV guide, Mickey Mouse, Dining Hall flier — wait! Mickey Mouse! I just stared at the envelope. It was very thin, which for anyone waiting for a college acceptance letter is not a good thing.

I ripped the envelope open and got as far as the first line before I started jumping up and down:

“Congratulations Shoshana! You have been selected to join the Disneyland College Program.”

I then read the second line, which caused me to start screaming and saying, “oh my God!” so much I'm sure the other people in the lobby thought I was praying:

“You have been selected to play a role in the Disneyland Attractions cast. You have been chosen to participate in Group I, which runs from May 15 – Aug. 7.”

I had done it! Nearly 20 years of hoping and one year of anticipating, and my wish had come true!

I floated for the remainder of the day. Incidentally, I did get accepted into the Journalism program, but my dad seemed much more excited about my going to Disneyland.

So would the reality be as wonderful as the fantasy? You'll have to read Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.