Spending a Summer in the Magic Kingdom

Two Stern College Graduates Work at Walt Disney World as Part of the Disney College Program

Last year, two alumnae of Stern College for Women, Ariela Greengart ’17S and Miriam Rosenblum ’17S, spent their summers working at Walt Disney World in Florida as part of the Disney College Program.

For both women, being Stern College students gave them the confidence and drive to take the risk and apply to the Program. For Greengart, when she came to Stern, “I loved it right away” because it brought her into a wide circle of friends and “a ton of extracurricular activities,” especially those connected to writing and theater. She was active in the Stern College Dramatic Society (SCDS), performing in four productions, wrote for the Observer and other publications, and initiated an effort to bring people from SCDS and the Yeshiva College Dramatic Society together to share a common love of theater.

By the time Rosenblum finished her year in seminary at Midreshet HaRova in Israel, she had already decided she was going to go to Stern. (It also didn’t hurt that her mother, Lee Rosenblum [née Borck] graduated from Stern College in 1983.) “I wanted to go to Stern because I could practice my faith openly and freely,” adding that “I also liked how small and intimate it is.” Being an art major at Stern also meant being part of “a small community of artists within the small community of Stern College,” a collaboration that she enjoyed immensely.

After going through an online application, viewing a webinar and having a phone interview, the two women were accepted into the Program.

The Disney Program offers college students professional internship opportunities for “living, learning and earning” within the Disney organization.  It runs for four months, with options to extend that timeframe, as Rosenblum chose to do. Participants are housed on Disney property, work in some capacity within the park and earn a small salary. They can also take Disney education classes in subjects such as communications, leadership, hospitality and show production; some of the classes carry college credit.

Ariela Greengart in the Seven Dwarfs Mine

Greengart, who graduated from Stern College with a degree in creative writing, teamed up with Rosenblum, who majored in graphic design, when they applied so that they could be sure of having Jewish roommates and getting the dispensation of early Fridays and full Saturdays off.

Both saw working at Walt Disney World as a continuation of a childhood love affair with Disney. “I grew up watching Disney movies with my family,” said Greengart. “My parents have always loved Disney, and when I think of Disney, I think of my family.” Rosenblum described herself as “a Disney princess from birth. I wore tiaras all the time. I grew up knowing the Disney princesses, the Disney movies and being around the Disney culture.”

Miriam Rosenblum in Pirates of the Caribbean

For these two artists, though, this was more than an opportunity to fulfill childhood dreams. Rosenblum aspires to become an accomplished animator, and Disney was the perfect place to bring that ambition. (Samples of her work can be seen at vimeo.com/miriamrosenblum.) For her, animation blends her childhood love of Disney, her love of art and her desire to do something in life that “impacts others in a positive way. I just love drawing and creating things and making something meaningful.”

As a writer, Greengart always has the desire to understand “how we can have similar brains and yet can be so different.” Through her poems, screenplays and stories, as well as her work in the theater, she investigates the human condition, and what better place to do that than “where people can come together and just feel like a child again.”

Greengart was assigned to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom, which, according to her, is “the busiest ride in the park.” For the four months she was there, “I did everything that went along with running the ride, from greeting guests to actually pressing the button to move the train to watching the security cameras to sorting people into their roles — we all did all of that in rotation.”

Rosenblum, who is still in the program, having chosen to extend her stay, is an “attractions cast member” at Pirates of the Caribbean, on the opposite side of Fantasyland from where Greengart was stationed. “I get to wear a sword and wear a costume that looks like it was made in the ’70s. I’m fully trained there: audience control, running the rides, fireworks show, stroller management — a very large problem at Disney World, especially at Fantasyland.” During the course of a day, she too can rotate through operating one of the four consoles, greeting people, running the kiosk, entertaining the crowd, keeping the guests happy and getting them on and off the ride safely.

As both can attest, they have seen the full range of human behavior on display at the park. Greengart tells of one mother who she saw screaming at her 3-year-old son because he wouldn’t sit still for a picture, “and it hit me that there are these parents out there making these Excel worksheets with day plans for Disney, feeling that everything has to be perfect, the entire trip has to be perfect, and then they’re not even noticing that their kids are having a miserable time, and they’re the ones causing their kids to have a miserable time.  They miss the entire point of Disney, of family coming together. And it’s sad.”

On the other hand, she has seen the magic of Disney in action. “Many times, when our lines get backed up, we make spiels, and one of them is that a poison apple got stuck in the train and the trains had to stop — it’s not ‘real,’ but it’s something we do to keep the magic alive while we’re telling you that it’s going to be a long wait.” One time, as she gave this speech, one of the children in the line tapped her on the leg. She bent down to hear him, and he said, “Were the trains okay when the apples got on the track?”

“I had to stop myself from laughing,” she explained, “because we don’t always realize that these kids believe you when you make up these fantastical stories. I told him the trains were okay. He pointed to a janitor’s closet and asked, ‘Do you keep your tools in there?’ And I told him, ‘Of course, that’s where we keep all our hoes and other tools.’ You don’t realize that they believe everything, and that is the magic that Disney can bring not only into the life of a child but into all our lives.”

After her four months ended, Greengart moved back to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where her family lives, and has been working on building a career as a casting director in movies and television, extending the love of dramatic narrative and theatrical production she pursued as an undergraduate.

Though Rosenblum loves what she’s doing, “I don’t want to stay on with the parks aspect, but I definitely want to stay with the company, so I am applying for multiple positions, especially in graphics and animation.  I hope I can stay within the Disney kingdom.”

Disney culture has certainly shaped American and world culture since the first Disney cartoon in 1928, but what does Disney mean to the people who have loved it for so long? For Greengart, “I think that at Disney World you can just feel young again and feel loved by your family.”

For Rosenblum, “Disney is filled with magic and pixie dust, but even more importantly, it’s a place that fosters creativity and happiness, not just in its parks but also in its movies and its innovations, and it is such a privilege to be a part of that.”

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