Today, the international entertainment giant and the comprehensive regional university with a global outlook continue to share mutual interests, none the least of which is the Titan “cast member” experience at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Cal State Fullerton featured Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Michael Eisner in 1997 as the annual gala’s keynote speaker. Jack Lindquist, retired president of Disneyland, was named an honorary CSUF alumnus in 1999, and alumnus Bill Ross ’75 (B.S. physical education) and ’80 (M.S. physical education), former senior vice president of industry relations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, has served on several university boards. The university’s Entertainment and Tourism Center counts Disneyland Resort as one of its prominent founding members. And Disneyland is one of the key annual sponsors of the College of Business & Economics’ Deans Golf Tournament. Disneyland is a gold sponsor of one of Fullerton’s premiere events, Front & Center.
It is fitting that Disneyland give back to the university that provides some of the park’s top employees. “Cal State Disneyland” is the moniker often associated with Fullerton, thanks to the many students who work at the Magic Kingdom while pursuing their degrees. Though there are no official numbers, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers through the decades have called both CSUF and Disneyland their second and third home.
As a job — while pursuing a degree — it is hard to beat. Students can attend classes Monday through Friday and work at Disneyland on weekends. The availability of thousands of collegians during summers and other major holidays coincide with the theme park’s need for additional personnel to fill expanded hours of operation.
“The Disneyland Resort has regularly recruited from Cal State Fullerton over the years, hiring students for both seasonal and part-time positions,” says Nancy Schellhase, manager, recruitment programs, Disneyland Resort. “Some students have chosen to work brief periods during school breaks, while others have worked throughout the year as the part-time scheduling requirements conformed to their class schedules.”
Perhaps the biggest perk is the chance to work for one of the world’s premier entertainment companies alongside a variety of people the same age from all over. Many made, and continue to make lifelong friends, in addition to meeting their spouses and mates, and learning those famous “people skills” that serve them well outside the park.
“I worked weekends during the school year at Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House,” recalls Sandra Lucio Mann ’72 (B.A. biological science) of Portage, MI. “I remember taking my school books with me to work, and on my breaks and lunch, I would fix myself a huge order of apple cinnamon pancakes with lots of hot apples and ice cream and sit in the employee’s lounge and study.”
In the early 1970s, Larry Van Der Kolk ’76 (B.A. business administration) worked in operations on Main Street and the parking lot. “It was a great job to have, since the hours were very flexible. I received a great education at CSUF and at the same time, picked up a lot of people skills at Disneyland that have come in very handy over the years.
“I had the chance to meet Henry Fonda, John Denver, Brooke Shields and several others while driving the Main Street vehicles. I met my wife while working at Disneyland. My daughter is attending CSUF now. Of course, she is working at Disneyland just like mom and dad. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?”
And, like her parents, liberal studies junior Leah Van Der Kolk enjoys the flexibility and camaraderie that Disneyland is known for. “I’ve got my friends here,” says the Pizza Port employee. “Or, if they don’t work here, they go to school with me. It’s a safe, happy place to work at, a good team atmosphere and a good positive environment. It gives you a really broad perspective of life in general.”
In addition to working face-to-face with guests, attorney Scott Eaton ’95 (B.A. business administration) of Las Vegas gathered some behind-the-scenes insights working in a variety of positions in Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown.
“It was good to have the experience of being on the front lines at a big company and getting to see some of the management theories being taught and discussed in the classroom actually play out at work, and also getting to try to apply what I learned in class,” Eaton says.
“The two experiences actually wound up complimenting one another. Today, I use that experience to advise clients in the sports, entertainment and leisure industries in Las Vegas.”
For some, what started as a part-time or summer job, evolved into a career with the company.
Dennis Ciolli ’76 (B.A. business administration) started at Disneyland in the employee cafeteria during his freshman year at Fullerton. “In my junior year,” says the Dove Canyon resident, “I got a part-time job in accounting on the weekends. We reconciled main gate tickets and the old A/B ticket booths. One day, it finally clicked — credits and debits. Then it all made sense! Instead of problems in my text books, I had practical experience.”
Like many soon-to-be graduates, Ciolli figured he’d “get a job in the real world” after commencement. But, in a timing-is-everything scenario, a salaried opening in the accounting department was offered to him. Over the years, he has served the company in variety of jobs, including in his current position as director of compensation.
Ciolli has maintained his ties to CSUF, including chairing for the past nine years the College of Business and Economics’ annual Dean’s Summer Golf Classic to benefit student scholarships.
Like Ciolli, Bruce Healey ’72 (B.M.), music director and producer for Disneyland Resort since 1986, didn’t fore-see a career with the Magic Kingdom when he performed as a musician during his college days. Following graduation, Healey continued to work on a casual/seasonal basis and as a freelancer — “getting to do some writing and arranging for Disneyland’s atmosphere groups.” The Sherman Oaks resident also pursued and maintained his musical interests outside the park.
In 1978, Healey was hired full time in the Disneyland Band, and through the years, found that “the opportunities along the way to develop my skills just kind of kept rolling in, and I jumped on when I could.” Among those opportunities were shows and projects for Tokyo Disneyland, EPCOT Center, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops.
Mickie Feicht ’89 (B.S. physical education), of Westminster, also began her Disney career “on stage,” first in outdoor vending and later, as she describes it, “as a pirate wench, mansion maid and Becky Thatcher. It was a great job. A smile on a child’s face could change your day.”
After graduating, Feicht entered the company’s management training program in the Facilities, Engineering and Construction department, and in 1998, transferred to Walt Disney Imagineering, where she is a senior systems planner for Global Ride Enhancement.
“Most folks have a job in college to get by, but Disneyland served as a basis for a career for me,” she says.
Whether or not Titans past and present ever did or will find their futures with Disney, working at The Happiest Place on Earth while pursuing a degree at Cal State Fullerton creates experiences unmatched by any other.
Says Tom Slayton ’96 (kinesiology) and ’85 (B.S. physical education), who works for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, “My wife, who went away for her undergraduate degree, asked me once if I regretted going to a ‘commuter school.’ I just laughed,” says the North Tustin resident. “Nothing will ever compare to my days at CSUF and Disneyland.”