Earningland and Learningland

by Shoshana Lewin, staff writer

Earningland and Learningland: The Disneyland College Program


To some young people, working at the Happiest Place on Earth would be a dream come true. "It's a lovely job manufacturing happiness" as Danny Kaye says in the "Disneyland 25th Anniversary" special. But what if someone could work at Disneyland, get networking experience, and a chance to turn a summer job into a career?

Enter the Disneyland College Program (DLCP), which welcomed its first participants in 1989. [Point of disclosure: I was one of the lucky group who worked in the program in the summer of 1998. You can read more about that here.]

The program has evolved since its inception (and even since I was a member); the opportunities have changed as has the leadership.

John Van Winkle, who has been with the resort for 19 years in a variety of roles—from custodial to human resources—took the team leader position because it "matched what I valued: getting people excited about working here," he said. "I've always appreciated and enjoyed that."

Students from all majors can find roles within the Disneyland College Program. Photo copyright Disney.

The program lets students 18 and older have a one-of-a-kind experience.

Van Winkle knows all about that—he met his wife when she was a greeter at "it's a small world" and he was in the custodial department.

"I swept her off her feet," he said. "They would knock over drinks to get me to come over.

At its heart, the DLCP and the CareerStart program—for high school graduates who aren't necessarily on the college track—seek out eager individuals who can work in a team and have a desire to make magic. One more thing—you need to be an Southern Californian—at least for a few months.

When it began, the DCLP, like its larger Walt Disney World counterpart, had three components: Living, Learning, and Earning.

The Learning part offers participants the chance to network, take career-development classes and learn all about problem solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication.

SCollege Program roles include working at the Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel -- where hotel staff is sometimes the first smiling face a guest sees. Photo copyright Disney.

The Earning section means everyone works throughout Disneyland Resort, including stores, attractions, food and beverage, lodging and entertainment ("We partner with entertainment to make some of the character and character host roles available," Van Winkle said).

After Septtember 11, 2001, the college program was put on hold for about two years. When it returned, Disneyland reconfigured the program based on the needs of the resort (the addition of Disney's California Adventure, Downtown Disney District and the Grand Californian made for a plethora of new roles), and the Living part—where students would stay at local apartments and the rent money would come out of their paychecks—was gone.

So today, the DCLP is, according to its Web site, "designed for those students who can commute to and from the Anaheim, California area." However, the program's three recruiters do visit colleges from San Diego to Bakersfield, as well as some Arizona schools. Those in other locations around the country shouldn't feel put off... if they can find a place to live for the summer, and watch the virtual e-presentation, they can apply for the program.

Plus, Van Winkle told MousePlanet, the DLCP hasn't given up on one day bringing back the Living component.

The revamped DLCP has also, for the time being, eliminated the single summer session. Now participants have an entire semester to learn about the resort and company (just like the students at WDW's program). Sessions run from February to September and from July to January.

Since the largest part of the DCLP is the Earning, one of the questions applicants often ask is how does the DCLP differ from just working at Disneyland as a regular cast member? Or on the flipside, "how can selling ice cream help me later in life?"

"Where the participant might have an advantage is you get a broader experience," Van Winkle said.

Students also have the opportunity to custom design an Individualized Learning Plan based on major and interests. For example, the Leadership Speaker Series lets students meet with men and women around the resort. There are also courses in marketing yourself and organizational leadership.

"It gives participants the chance to get exposure to different parts of our business," he added. "Such as our diversity team coming and talking to them about diversity resources."

The other benefit is for those who see themselves beyond in-park roles.

The Disneyland College Program gives participants the opportunity to network and take classes in leadership. Photo copyright Disney.

"The parks and resorts segment has quite a few internships [which can be found at DisneyInterns.com]," Van Winkle said. "Some that require DLCP completion... if someone has that, it is going to set you apart from someone who doesn't. You understand service expectations and expectations guests have."

The benefits work both ways, as Van Winkle noted the postive feedback the program receives.

"What we see and hear that 'we are getting a quality CM in there,'" he said. "Leaders appreciate those that are coming through."

Another change is the focus on community service with Disney Volunteers: "[We] let people know that being a good neighbor is giving back to the community—rather than just portfolio work," Van Winkle said

The best part is that there is no limit on the number of DLCP participants, which opens it up to a diverse group of students—from a variety of majors.

"We try to work with specific schools and programs to make sure their students are getting the type of program they need. We also have great partnerships with culinary programs," Van Winkle said. "There is opportunity for us during the interview process to understand where this CM will be the best fit for us."

For those who absolutely fall in love with the role they are given, Van Winkle said that there is an opportunity to extend a stay.

At that point, students can also decide if they want to look into an internship, or transfer to another department.

A job that makes its workers want to stay on? Sounds like a fairy tale. But it is true, as the alumni who speak at the campus presentations (and this writer) will attest to.

"I do honestly believe that we're giving people an opportunity to change their life and to be part of the magic of being a cast member," Van Winkle said. "It is a great experience regardless of the role. Every CM believes they work in the best role. I know the resort have given me friends, wife and growth with the company. I'm thankful for it."

Having fun and making friends are two of the Disneyland College Program's perks. Photo copyright Disney.

When students come out of the DCLP, they leave with more than just the knowledge of where all the restrooms are, the importance of a two-fingered point and how to make the perfect candy apple. They have a chance to make memories at the and do things that could change their lives.

"One man had a dream and that dream continues to pay dividends for me and the newest Cast Member." Van Winkle said. "I had 19 'best summers ever.'"

To find out more about the College Program and CareerStart program, visit the Disney College Program Web site. All interested students will need to attend an on-campus presentation or watch the 30-minute virtual one in order to apply. There will be a College Program presentation at the Team Disney Anaheim auditorium on January 16 from 6-9 p.m. If you are interested in signing up for the program, this is a great way to learn about it.

For more information on what it is like to work at Disneyland, read the many articles in the MousePlanet Cast Place section.