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York College Hospitality Management Program Marks 10 Years of Disney Magic

Hospitality Management Student in Disney Program
Elizabeth Helmick '23

The Walt Disney World College Program is a paid internship program where students get the opportunity to live and work at either Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, or Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Chair of the Hospitality Management Department, Frederick Becker, Ph.D., explains that the Disney College Program is extremely selective and requires students to go through a rigorous interview process.

Dr. Becker said, “the Disney College Program has a lasting impact on those who go through it. Disney is one of the most recognizable names in hospitality and entertainment, so it is great for student résumés. Additionally, Disney has one of the best service cultures in the industry. Students gain a great deal of professionalism through service training that they receive at Disney.”

The perfect opportunity

This year will be the 10-year anniversary of York College of Pennsylvania students participating in the Disney College Program. The Hospitality Management Department is proud of the fact that students who have applied typically are accepted.

Rylee Winkelspecht ’21 worked in the program as a seater at Cinderella’s Royal Table after her graduation from July to December 2021, and Elizabeth Helmick ’23 worked in outdoor food vending at the Magic Kingdom from August 2021 to February 2022.

Rylee loved being able to create “magic” at Disney. She says one of her most memorable moments happened two weeks into her job. She helped a mother and son celebrate the young boy being released from the hospital after having open-heart surgery. She create a magical moment for the family; however, her own grandfather had that same surgery and passed away earlier in the year. When she reflects on that moment she says, “I knew it was a sign from my grandfather that I was right where I was supposed to be.”

Elizabeth credits her love for Disney and knowledge that it is one of the biggest hospitality companies in the world with why she applied to the program. “While I was hesitant about my role at first, I love the interactions with guests,” she says. “This is why I am in hospitality to begin with, so it is usually my favorite aspect of any job.”

Learning from challenges

Elizabeth believes interactions with fellow employees can present challenges. “The biggest challenge is working with other people. I am working with a number of people who speak English as a second language, so accents have proven to be a challenge that I haven’t always had to deal with.”

Even with the challenges, she sees the value in her work and says, “You will get out of the program what you put into it. The role may not always be what you expect, but it is a learning opportunity, nonetheless.”

For Rylee, working in the program made her realize that she wanted to work at a more hands-on  career and be a part of a company with a close-knit atmosphere. She also credits the Strategic Career Planning class in the Hospitality Management Department as one of the most influential parts of her time at York College. It helped her really understand the industry she wanted to work in and enabled her to create the materials required for applying to these jobs. 

Program designed for success

Rylee and Elizabeth both mention Dr. Becker and Dr. Scarcelli, Associate Professor of Hospitality Management, as professors who had an important impact on them as students and also on their careers after college. 

As an alumna, Rylee says, “Dr. Becker and Dr. Scarcelli work one-on-one with all of their students to help them prepare for their future, and I think that is why a lot of our alumni from the program have extraordinary careers now.”

Elizabeth has a similar sentiment, saying, “I have learned a lot from my two hospitality professors, Dr. Becker and Dr. Scarcelli. I feel very comfortable talking with both of these professors when I have any questions or concerns.”

Giving advice to other students who might want to apply to the Disney College Program, Rylee says, “My advice would be to get out of your bubble if you have one and do things on your own. Go to the parks alone, go to dinners alone, create these experiences for yourself. The six to eight months you are there fly by superfast, so create a bucket list and try to do something once or twice a week. Have fun!”