A native of the small Upper Peninsula town of Kingsford, Alicia Rigoni is proud to say she didn’t melt under the intense pressure of the crowds and summer heat at Main Street USA while completing a six-month internship at Walt Disney World.
A senior communication studies major who has also devised an individualized major in communicating gender, Rigoni grew up a Disney fan—reading numerous biographies about Walt Disney and making annual trips to the Florida resort—and was "ecstatic" upon learning of the company's college program.
"It was a strenuous online application with a lot of different parts, and once I passed all those parts I got a phone interview," Rigoni said. "They say to 'smile when you’re talking' on the phone interview, and that was nerve-racking. You don't find out whether you are accepted until two weeks after the interview so there is a lot of waiting, but it is a magical moment [when you receive word].
"I researched the role I wanted and really talked it up," she added. "I talked about the Magic Kingdom because that’s where I wanted to work."
A day after arriving in Florida, Rigoni was swept into testing to determine what her role would be, training for that role, and a crash course in Disney history and traditions. Her two main roles were manning the Main Street Theater, where guests meet characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse and princesses, and the Main Street Firehouse, where she taught guests how to save the Magic Kingdom in Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, an interactive game. Rigoni also worked at the main gate, scanning tickets and getting experience opening and closing the park.
"[The characters] had a very long line—the wait time to meet the princesses at peak times was three hours—so that gets stressful," Rigoni said. "It was a learning experience with hands-on guest relations."
Last summer's record-high temperatures added to the challenges of her role.
"To explain how hot it was," she said, "you have to understand what I wore. I wore dark blue pants with a dark blue vest, a red bow tie, and a button-up shirt. For summer option you got to take off the bow tie outside and unbutton the top button of your shirt. I would stand up stone straight so that my back would not touch my shirt. You literally grin and bear it because you have a character to play. Your role is to be happy and to welcome the guests. I always say I was the face of the Magic Kingdom because I was on the front line as guests entered."
While Rigoni said she was never so excited to see the Albion campus as when she returned for fall semester classes in late August, she admitted it was difficult making the transition back to a daily schedule of completing reading and writing assignments.
A more notable transition in Rigoni's life—graduation—is coming soon, and she is planning to apply for Disney's professional internship program. While she says the crisis management, public interaction, and time management skills she gained from Disney's college internship program will provide an advantage, she knows she needs the experience on the corporate side to realize her professional goals in the public relations field. She is also considering graduate school in hospital administration.
"The college program is almost an unwritten prerequisite, but the Disney internships are so competitive because everyone wants to work there," Rigoni said. "I hope my sweating paid off, but if not, I know the experience will help me get a job in my professional area of expertise."