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The Disney College Program and Becoming a Cast Member – One Student’s Experience

August 2, 2018

ORLANDO, FL–Earlier this summer we had a blast reporting from Florida at the opening of Toy Story Land and along the way met some cool Cast Members. We recently circled back with a Cast Member and recent graduate of the Disney College Program about her experiences being part of the opening of Toy Story Land. Mary Kathryn Phillips earned a Bachelors degree in Television and Film at The University of Alabama before entering the Disney College Program.

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Mary Kathryn Phillips in Toy Story Land

OneDublin: What attracted you to apply to the Disney College Program?

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “I found out about the Disney College Program during my last Spring Break in college. My best friend and I celebrated Spring Break at Walt Disney World during our last year in college. We ended up speaking to many Cast Members who thought we were Cast Members enjoying a day off because of our energy and personality. Because of how we presented ourselves and our enjoyment of life, we had Cast Members recommending we apply to the Disney College Program.

“We also heard from Cast Members how much they loved the Disney College Program. Because of the timing I ended up applying on one of the very last days before applications closed and found out within a week that I’d been accepted, despite being really sick during my phone interview. I was relieved, I was honored, I sat down crying!”

OneDublin.org: What are the skills you got from the Disney College Program that will carry you forward in your career?

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “Two things come to mind: leadership and being able to handle tough situations. We have leaders, managers and coordinators who are role models for us, but it really takes people in the ranks to inspire each other to make those magic moments for our guests. It was difficult for me at first, to figure out where I belonged and to get my footing. I learned so much about communication in the Disney College Program, despite majoring in communication; college taught me the theory but working at Disney made it real. I learned how to talk to people from all around the world.”

OneDublin.org: What is the most challenge aspect of a job at Walt Disney World which, on the surface, sounds like such a cool job? What do you feel students should know going in?

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “People come to Walt Disney World because it’s their vacation time. People have an idea of what Disney should be and that it’s a place where you can feel safe and let go of your surroundings. Guests feel that Disney has their backs. That’s a lot of pressure knowing guests are putting their faith in you to take care of their safety, their enjoyment, their entertainment and their kids. I’ve seen parents tell their kids if they get lost to find a Cast Member who has a name tag. That’s a lot of responsibility.

“One of the hardest things is keeping your cool when people get angry, when the weather prevents us from running an attraction, and to offer support to guests. Mastering the ability to communicate and understand people is so critical to doing this job well.

“Disney provides so much more than entertainment: it creates a sense of escape from the harsh realities of the world. Sometimes I forget that I’m at a job because of the environment Disney has created.”

OneDublin.org: Walk through the roles you’ve had since you started in the Disney College Program.

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “I started in the attraction Dinosaur, and thought that Attractions, where I’d have a lot of interaction with people, would be the best fit for my personality. When I received the email that I’d been placed in DinoLand U.S.A. I wasn’t sure it was a place I’d love, but as it turned out it was a terrific place to start. Dinosaur is a complex attraction and with the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar we dealt with a lot of guests. The people that I worked with, the managers and my peers, were very supportive.

“In May of this year I applied for a part-time position after the Disney College Program ended so that I could to stay on and see where this journey would take me, and ultimately applied for a position at Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios.”

OneDublin.org: What was it like working in Toy Story Land on the very first day the land opened?

DSC09910Mary Kathryn Phillips: “It’s impossible to describe how I felt that morning. I was so excited to be there I couldn’t eat on my breaks; I had all these meals planned because I knew I’d need lots of energy but I couldn’t eat anything. I would just sit in the break room shaking with excitement, listening to Toy Story music. I spoke with my parents afterwards about feeling the emotional response from guests, how the guests were completely in awe of this place.

“I work at Slinky Dog Dash and guests assume it is going to be a kiddie ride and afterward tell me how incredible the ride is, and not what they expected. It’s hard to imagine anything that will feel quite as spectacular as those opening days at Toy Story Land. I even had a guest come back weeks later who said he remembered me from opening day because of how excited I was. “

OneDublin.org: What was it like riding Slinky Dog Dash for the first time, which I’m assuming you were able to do before the land opened to guests?

DSC09914Mary Kathryn Phillips: “During my very first day at Hollywood Studios we had a pep rally to get us psyched up for the land. They surprised us with a walk-through of Toy Story Land and a ride on Slinky Dog Dash. We were not expecting that! I was blown away by the level of detail: Andy’s shoe prints in the ground, the lights strung up around you, Woody and Jesse talking to you, Slinky Dog riding around; I felt like a little kid again. I felt like I was five years old carrying my Woody doll around.

“When I first rode Slinky Dog Dash I was very nervous because I’m not a roller coaster person. It turned out to be not as intense as I worried, nothing like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but just enough to surprise you. It’s so beautiful being able to see all of Andy’s backyard from the ride. I was laughing and smiling the entire time.”

OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for students who are thinking of applying to the Disney College Program?

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “I received a lot of helpful advice from people who had been through the program. The phone interview is critical and it’s hard to put your personality across over the phone. You need to make your voice sound like you are smiling – it sounds crazy but it really does help. Even if things don’t go as planned find a way to show your personality. As I mentioned before I was sick the day of my interview, my voice was shot, so I joked that ‘Ursula stole my voice, just like Ariel, so I’m hoarse today’. I wanted to show my interviewer my personality and my love for Disney. I was calm and honest, and treated the interview like a conversation where the person I was speaking to was trying to get to know me. It’s important to be relaxed and to be yourself.

“You also need to know what you are getting into: it’s hot in Florida, it rains, there are long hours but if you keep a happy state of mind you will be happy here. A lot of people come here thinking this place will make them happy; rather you have to put your best foot forward in anything you do because happiness is a state of mind.”

OneDublin.org: Finally, do you have a routine or mantra that you follow backstage in that moment before you go on stage?

Mary Kathryn Phillips: “After I’ve changed out of my street clothes and before I head out on stage I listen to music, breath deeply, and stay calm so that the moment I step out on stage I’m ready. As I head on stage I start smiling and am in my Disney mind so that the very first guest I see, even if it’s right by the break room, gets the best experience I can give them. The first guest I meet doesn’t know that I just walked out of the break room and how I interact with that guest could be the highlight of their day. Stepping on stage with a smile helps propel me through the rest of the day!”

Interested in more Disney magic? We’ve previously featured Dublin High School alum Emily Edlund’s Disney College Program experienceshared how to prepare for and succeed in a Walt Disney Company internship and profiled a Disney Imagineer.

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