Disney helps students imagine a new future as leaders

Linda Cummins

A&F Staff Writer

lcummins@unca.edu 

Students on the Alternative Spring Break Disney trip gathered enough magic from the park to create a future only they can imagine.

The classes, designed and infused with Disney’s culture of excellence, are based on the same educational materials Disney gives their own employees, said Laura Hoffman, volunteerism programming supervisor.

“The classes were super interactive and we would walk around the parks doing activities and then sit down and discuss in conference rooms about what we were learning. After our classes, we got to go around the parks,” said Julia Quigley, sophomore new media student.

Hoffman said Disney taught the students storytelling, creativity and basic leadership skills.

“Disney offers that for elementary age all the way up to college so this was just the college experience. It was a little bit more refined and a little bit more honed to the outside world.” Hoffman said. “It was how you can use this in a work setting.”

Sophomore new media student Julia Quigley explores Disney World as part of the Disney Alternative Spring Break Experience. Photo courtesy of Julia Quigley

Quigley said she went into the experience hoping to better understand teamwork and how she could apply the principles learned at Disney World  to UNC Asheville’s campus.

“With this campus I see a lot of kids kind of just going through the motions of class and graduating,” Hoffman said. “In Highsmith, we have a lot of student organizations and you see a lot of bad retention rates because people go to the first few meetings and then they drop it because they’re not interested or they don’t want to commit to it.”

Disney trip participants shared key lessons from the week, with each one taking away favorite points they learned.

“The best phrase we were told in our classes was, ‘Don’t just show up, step up.’ We heard it the entire trip and it really resonated with us,” Quigley said. “It’s something I am definitely taking back to my organization.”

But Disney did not stop there, going beyond commitment to teaching higher level interworking skills.

“A lot of times, leadership programs teach you how to lead people, but they never really teach you how to work with other leaders. The idea of compromise may seem scary, but it’s only because we don’t know how to work with it,” said Phoenicia Schwidkay, a senior classics with teacher licensure student.

Skye Lewis, a freshman psychology student, said with this trip she wanted to step outside of her comfort zone when it came to leadership.

“Disney taught us how to interact with others, but more importantly, how to promote a creative environment and workspace,” Lewis said.

Schwidkay said Disney taught her how to turn passion into a plan and that leaders need to convey their vision correctly so that people in an organization know what to do and what the end goal of a project should be.

“Disney taught me about their own culture of excellence, which obviously nobody else could have. They taught us how we can apply it to our own organizations,” Quigley said. “Since Disney is one of the most successful businesses in the world, it was something that we really took to heart.”

Disney infused the classes with not only leadership skills, but also business skills.

“We learned that there are three elements to a successful business model and we should look at these elements as a three-legged stool,”  Schwidkay said. “If you lean too heavily on one point, it not only causes stress for that one element, it causes the others to lack in support.”

Participants in the Alternative Spring Break program said they were amazed at the magic they felt in the parks.

“I actually wasn’t expecting to get to go behind the scenes,” Quigley said. “We got to go into the tunnels underneath Disney World and learn about the structure and systems. We also got to see the costuming in Epcot. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with getting a backstage pass into Disney and a wonderful surprise.”

Schwidkay said she had been to Disney World as a kid, but visiting as a college student allowed her to see things with a fresh pair of eyes.

“Being able to explore the parks and meet the characters from these stories you read and watch as a kid, you can’t help but want to live that magic,” Schwidkay said.

Both Lewis and Schwidkay said they got emotional during the fireworks show.

“I still cry during the Magic Kingdom fireworks show,” Lewis said.

Quigley, who hopes to work for Disney or Pixar someday, said Walt Disney created Disney World as a place for all ages to have fun.

“I think everyone aches for magical moments, no matter how old they may be,” Quigley said.

Hoffman said she hopes the Disney experience students learn that leadership involves committing yourself to something and then throwing yourself into it wholeheartedly. She said she saw changes already in the participants since their return.

“I see a lot of those students that went on the trip become more willing to talk to new people and kind of open up about their experience,” Hoffman said.

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