Disney Partnerships Create Career Magic Feature Story

May 17, 2024

Everyone knows about Disney’s legendary commitment to imagination and innovation and the impact it has had on culture around the world. But did you know Disney’s magic is sparking innovations in education, too?

In Orange County, Disney has partnered with Fullerton College and Saddleback College to not only advance the career goals of students, but also the educational goals of its employees.

Fullerton College is the first and only California community college to join Disney Aspire, the company’s educational investment program. The company provides 100% of tuition, fees, and book expenses for Disney “cast members” (aka employees) participating in the program.

Saddleback College has developed the new “Preparing for Tomorrow’s Employment” leadership series that includes four professional workshops and a trip to Disney’s Imagination Campus Leadership Academy at the Disney Resort in Anaheim.

Saddleback Students Attend Disney Imagination Campus

Saddleback College’s new “Preparing for Tomorrow’s Employment” leadership series was established in the School of Business and Industry to help students develop their career goals and prepare them for job searches.

“In this series, students meet many different professionals from businesses and companies that they might want to apply to, but also, they gain skills and information that will better prepare them and make it more likely for them to have a successful interview,” said Casey Cooper, the Student Success Coach for the department’s Success Team. She developed the program in collaboration with Dean Anthony Teng.

Launched in January, the series began with an “Industry Expert Panel” featuring regional professionals, including a representative from Disney, who discussed in-demand jobs.

Three additional workshops, each building on the content of the previous one, included “Making a Solid Impression” in February, “The Power of Networking” in March, and “Interviewing Do’s and Don’ts” with a recruiting expert in April. Each workshop content builds on the next one.

Students who participate in all four events are eligible to attend Disney’s Imagination Campus Leadership Academy in May at the Disney Resort in Anaheim. Up to 50 students can participate in the Leadership Academy, which is designed to help students develop critical thinking skills and explore careers.

Students begin by attending hands-on sessions that explore new leadership ideas and concepts and see them applied in examples at the park. Then, the students use these concepts, along with their curiosity and imagination, to solve problems and address challenges.

Some of the key benefits of the program are giving Saddleback College students access to professionals beyond the campus community, which allows them to network, learn what companies are looking for in job candidates, and get valuable guidance.

“On the expert panel, a vice president at Disney said, ‘It doesn’t matter what school name is on your resume. It’s more important that you started and completed something somewhere and that you are seeking out leadership opportunities in your community. College is what you make of it’,” recounted Cooper. “That is a great piece of advice from someone at one of our county’s largest employers. It is really valuable for the students to hear.”

Nicole Karraa, a business student, said the series has helped clarify her career goals.

“I now have a lot of insight into the career I want,” said Karraa while at the “Power of Networking” workshop in March. “I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to interact with professionals. In this series, I was able to do that. I was also able to learn a lot of insider information about companies you usually don’t get as a student in school.”

Karraa especially enjoyed the networking workshop where she received tips on building professional relationships. “The relationships you make are what will help you the most in your job search,” she said. 

For Logan LaBrie, a marketing student, the networking workshop gave her a chance to learn about elevator pitches and how to create one. Students also practiced delivering their pitches to each other at the workshop.

“I always had this fear of talking to professionals, but I’ve been able to practice in this series,” LaBrie said. “It’s easier to talk to people in leadership positions than you think it is.”

The series raised her awareness of the career opportunities at Disneyland Resort which she plans to pursue. “It’s great to put on your resume that you’ve been to the Disney Imagination Campus Leadership Academy.”

Fullerton College Joins Disney Aspire

In 2022, Fullerton College and California State University Fullerton joined Disney Aspire, an educational investment program that supports Disney employees.

“For the college, this partnership is broadening our accessibility and serving our community, which is what community college is all about,” said Ericka S. Adakai, the director of the Fullerton College Educational Partnerships and Programs Department, which oversees the Disney Aspire partnership. “When we can respond to a huge community partner like Disneyland and provide a seamless pathway to education and training, it is so rewarding.”

Since the program launched in Fall 2022, Fullerton College has assisted 830 Disney-eligible employees, who have taken nearly 2,300 courses, totaling 7,000 units and equating to at least $322,000 in student savings. Adakai expects about 300 Disney employees to enroll in Fall 2024.

Fullerton College is a perfect fit for the program because like its traditional students, Disney employees come from all walks of life. Many have varied career paths and educational goals. Some hold degrees and are taking courses to develop specific skills, and for others, this is their first opportunity to attend college.

Popular programs for this group are Fullerton’s Pre-Nursing Associate Degree, Business Administration Associate Degree for Transfer, Communication Studies Associate Degree for Transfer, Cyber Security Associate Degree, and the Theme Park Technician Certificate, to name a few.

Prior to Disney Aspire, Fullerton College’s Technology and Engineering Division partnered with Disney and their union for years to provide training for cast members. Disney is also a regular at Fullerton events such as career fairs.This long-standing relationship with Disney paved the way for the magic to continue with this new collaboration.

“We’ve also had a great opportunity to market Disney jobs to our students, who, if they are hired, will have this benefit to continue their education,” Adakai said.

Fullerton College is now moving into a new phase of its program development. The college anticipates that more programs will be included in Disney Aspire. As the college welcomes more cast members, additional wrap-around services and support are necessary to enhance their experience.  Some students have approached Adakai with the idea to start a Disney cast member student club. 

Adakai was invited to visit the park and learn about Disney educational programs. “It was an eye-opening experience to see how much they do for our community that I was not aware of,” she said. “They have been great partners. They understand what we represent and they are willing to meet us where we are. It’s been a great experience.”

Adakai hopes Fullerton can become a model community college for these types of partnerships and welcomes other employers who are willing to partner and provide educational programs to their employees.

“This is our first very large employer-sponsored benefit partnership at the college,” she said. “It is paving the way for us to explore having these partnerships with other employers.”

If Disney is the Magic Kingdom, then Orange County’s community colleges are the wizards and fairies who bring that magic to life. By collaborating with employers like Disney, community colleges like Saddleback and Fullerton don’t just encourage learners and businesses to dream, but provide the practical magic that turns those dreams into bigger salaries, better careers, and brighter futures. 

As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”