The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

A Semester in the Magic Kingdom


Kelly Barry, a senior from Voorhees, N.J., loves Walt Disney World in Florida. She and her family have vacationed there every year for as long as she can remember.

During one of those trips, Barry noticed the cast members’ (Disney’s term for employees) name tags. “Most of them had name tags with the city and state or country where they are from. But some had the name of a college instead. So I asked why,” says Barry.

And that’s when she learned about the Disney College Program, and set her sights on one day participating in it.

Barry, a politics major and business management minor, says that CUA’s Washington, D.C., location was one of the many factors that drew her to the University. And even when she learned she could participate in Disney program but not for CUA credit, she was undeterred.

As early as her freshman year, she worked with the assistant dean in the School of Arts and Sciences to develop a strategy that would allow her to graduate on time while still taking an uncredited semester for the Disney program.

“I took two summer courses before my sophomore year and extra credits during my early semesters. I didn’t want to be overextended my junior and senior years,” explains Barry.

The strategy was in place even before she was accepted into the competitive paid internship program.

“I had a solid interview,” says Barry. “I was so prepared. I wrote down all of my talking points on why I wanted to participate in this program. In addition to the preparation I believe my passion came through. I was so confidant I was the right fit and talked about all the great experiences I’ve had at Disney World, and how I associate it with great family memories.”

Barry was accepted and spent the spring of her sophomore year as a cast member at Walt Disney World. The internship has three components, she explains.

Living: “We lived in apartment buildings just for the college program participants. I met students from all over the country and all over the world.”

Learning: “Classes are part of the program. I took some great seminars that helped me develop skills such as networking and event management that I can use in any career.”

Earning: “I was a cast member in merchandise at the Emporium on Main Street. We took part in Disney leadership training and learned about the company culture, which is all about an excellent guest (Disney’s term for customer) experience.”

The college students work a 40-hour week with at least one day a week off to enjoy the Disney parks. But Barry says the best perks came just from being a cast member.

“As a longtime Disney fan, I knew there was a tunnel system, or first floor, under the Magic Kingdom. As a cast member, I was in those tunnels every day. Those ‘backstage’ experiences were a lot of fun. But really the best part was bringing the Disney magic to our guests. There’s nothing like making someone’s day.”

While a Disney cast member, Barry received two guest letters — unsolicited letters written to the Disney company to commend her service.

One of them came from a couple whose granddaughter lost her Pluto plush toy. Barry encountered them in the Emporium and asked them to wait while she went “backstage.” She came back with a new Pluto and told the little girl that she ran into Mickey Mouse, who was very sad to hear she lost Pluto and wanted her to have a new one.

It turned out the grandparents were friends of Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in the U.S. and France. They sent her the letter, which then made its way to George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. He read the letter, and Barry was invited to join him on a walk-through of the Magic Kingdom.

Barry says her participation in the Disney College Program exceeded her expectations. “I learned so much about the business world that will benefit in any profession I choose. And I’ve made lasting friends and professional contacts.”

Barry returned to CUA her junior year determined to spread the word about the program and to advocate for credit for the internship. She made a presentation to the School of Business and Economics that was positively received. Brian Engelland, associate dean and professor in the business school, worked to create a trial program for the 2014 – 2015 academic year.

“Because of accreditation issues, CUA is not permitted to accept credits for courses taught by Disney employees. So we worked out a trial program comprised of additional internship credit hours plus a directed independent study experience to support the Disney College Program student,” he explains.

Matthew Wagner, a politics major and management minor, was the first CUA student to participate in the program for credit. Last fall semester he had an experience equally positive to Barry’s, and the two students have conducted an information session this semester for other students interested in the program.

Kelly, who is a Cardinal Ambassador (“I love telling people about CUA.”) and was an orientation advisor for two years, is serving as mission chair this year for the annual student Relay for Life. In that role she is organizing the survivors’ dinner with, not surprisingly, a Disney theme.

For her immediate post-graduation plans, Barry says she is hoping to be accepted into Disney’s Professional Internship Program, a managerial training program for college graduates. Her long-term plans include law school, and who knows, maybe she’ll find her way back to Disney.

“I like to tell the story of how Walt Disney lost the rights to his first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, because of a contract dispute. So even Walt Disney needed a good lawyer,” says Barry. “But it didn’t turn out all bad. He went back to the drawing board and came up with Mickey Mouse.”


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Kelly Barry

Favorite Disney character: Tinker Bell. "She has a lot of spunk and attitude."

Favorite Disney memory:
"Just being with my family. We always have to get the Mickey ice cream bar. It's the simple things that you remember most."

Favorite courses: Constitutional Law with Dennis Coyle and Power in American Politics with Matthew Green. Both are associate professors in the Department of Politics.

Favorite place in D.C.: "I love the monuments. The Jefferson Memorial is probably my favorite. It's so beautiful." 

Siblings: Andrew, 19, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut, is currently in the Disney program as a cast member at the Animal Kingdom. Chrissy, 16, is already talking about her application.