JAMS student interns in the Happiest Place on Earth

Regan Rayl at Disney World

When Regan Rayl was growing up, her family’s favorite vacation spot was Disney World in Orlando, Florida. With every trip they took, Rayl explored the theme parks and fell more in love with Disney magic.

Now, thanks to the Disney College program, Rayl is able to make that same magic for a new generation of children – and gain internship credit and valuable networking connections that could one day help her get a full-time job with The Mouse.

Rayl is a senior at UWM who spent this past semester living and working at Walt Disney World through the Disney College Program (DCP). The program allows current college students and recent graduates to work at the theme park (Disney refers to these workers as “cast members”) while also giving them opportunities to learn from and connect with professionals across the corporation.

“I’ve always known about the Disney College Program. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years,” Rayl said. “The more that I learned about it during my college career from UWM alums who did DCP, the more I wanted to do it. So I began, when I was a freshman, working that into my four-year plan.”

In addition to working full-time in the park, she’s also taking a full load of UWM courses remotely. It can be tough to balance working, school, and a social life, but luckily, she added, Epcot is a surprisingly good place to do her homework.

“They have a giant Starbucks. It was so nice. I was able to get my Starbucks and look at the Epcot ball while doing homework,” she joked.

Making magic

Students in the DCP are assigned tasks all over the theme park, working in its restaurants, merchandise shops, custodial facilities, and ride operations. Rayl is stationed in the Storybook Circus area of Magic Kingdom, where she is a ride operator for the Dumbo ride and Goofy’s Barnstormer roller coaster.

“One of my favorite things about my two rides (is) a lot of little children’s first experience going on a roller coaster is the Barnstormer,” Rayl said. “That’s fun, having little kids be excited for their first roller coaster. I see that every day.”

Being a ride operator may not sound like a job with transferrable skills, but Rayl says her internship has given her experience that she can use in any profession. The pace is quick, so she has to think on her feet and be ready to solve any problems. Sometimes guests are upset and Rayl has to practice her customer service skills, representing Disney with a smile. Her managers stress that cast members must be in constant contact with each other, and Rayl has learned the value of strong communication.

But perhaps her biggest takeaway has been learning to be a storyteller.

As a double-major in journalism, advertising, and media studies (JAMS) and in digital arts and culture (DAC), Rayl has long understood the importance of being able to tell a story. At Disney World she has an especially tough audience to sell to: skeptical kids.

“In the Barnstormer queue, there are tons of props like cannons and trampolines that are supposed to be apart of ‘The Great Goofini’s’ stunt show,” Rayl said. “Many children, and adults, point them out and I always say, ‘Isn’t Goofy so funny? He left all of his props out for us to clean up! If you see him today, please tell him to help us out.’”

Being part of the magic of Disney World is one of the best aspects of Rayl’s internship.

“I can create the magic. … I can see people’s face light up. It’s just little things, but it’s part of the giant story that is Disney World,” she said.

Making connections

Part of the Disney College Program is seeing the magic behind the scenes and learning the business of Disney.

When they weren’t working in the park, students in DCP were invited to attend seminars and panels with different teams under the Disney umbrella. Rayl attended a Zoom meeting with some of the executives from Hulu, for instance, and met Walt Disney World ambassadors and historians.

But her favorite was when she was able to meet Disney’s social media teams, responsible for the company’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok accounts. She was able to learn from and ask questions of the social media managers, photographers, and graphic designers – all jobs that align with her academic studies.

“I also got to show my graphic design portfolio to a few people. I made connections,” Rayl said. “It was one of the coolest experiences here outside of doing my job, because I got to see a lot of people who are just like me. “A lot of them did the DCP. To see myself doing what they used to do, and seeing where they are now, is very inspiring.”

Rayl has long been drawn to media. JAMS was the perfect major, and a big reason why she chose to attend UWM. Adding a digital arts and culture major is helping her round out any gaps in her education.

“JAMS is teaching me why I should be artistic in my career; DAC is teaching me how to be artistic. That’s where I’m learning photo editing and design skills,” Rayl said.

She’s used those skills in a previous internship as a social media manager for the DAC program. She’d like to eventually use those same skills in her career.

“My experience with the DCP, and having that on my resume, that will open some doors for me to get an internship with Disney World, whether it be with their advertising team or social media team,” she said. “I would like to use my education and my skills that I learned at UWM in a career with Disney.”

Rayl will return to Milwaukee in mid-January. Until then, you’ll find her in Storybook Circus, making Disney magic.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science