Informatics student’s dream of Imagineering at Disney comes true
September 21, 2022
IU School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC) at IUPUI student, Emma Parker has turned a childhood goal into reality through the Disney College Program (DCP) and the Disney Professional Internship. She is working towards her major in Informatics with a focus in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), currently in her last semester, and will graduate in December 2022.
Parker chose SoIC because she felt like she would thrive in an environment with smaller class sizes and lots of hands-on experiences. “I felt like being in Indianapolis would open doors for internship and professional growth and expand my options for what I could do after graduation,” she says. After taking all the Computer Science classes her high school had to offer, Parker decided she wanted to continue studying technology. Her teacher pointed out that she worked well with people as well as computers, so he introduced her to Informatics. “The idea of taking my interests in technology and my people-skills and melding the two together to transform information into knowledge seemed like a perfect fit for me. I appreciate how broad a field Informatics is and how many different careers it can apply to,” Parker says.
She is currently interning with Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development as an Advanced Development Immersive Experiences Intern where she helps in assisting R&D project teams by prototyping software to be used in mockups, visualizations, concept development, playtests, and communication of new experience concepts and technologies for Disney theme parks, resorts, and experiential entertainment worldwide. She says Walt Disney Imagineering is known for making the impossible possible through innovative storytelling, and she works with an incredible team that is focused on creative directing, writing, and producing. Parker assists them by listening to their ideas and then figures out how to make it possible. Whether it be through researching the best way to make an application, creating project blueprints and feature lists, or designing project mock-ups, her job is to take her knowledge in HCI and do the research and organization to help take her team’s big ideas on to the next steps.
Parker’s internship has also been filled with lots of networking opportunities, exploring Disney Parks and resorts, and other fun activities. She primarily works in Orlando, FL while most of her team is based in Glendale, CA. This has allowed her the chance to travel to the WDI Campus in California as well as travel to other places in the US to meet and connect with Walt Disney Imagineers in all sorts of roles.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes”
“It has been my dream since third grade to work for Walt Disney Imagineering,” Parker says. As she got older, she learned about the Disney College Program. The Disney College Program is an internship where college students get to work for Parks and Resorts in The Walt Disney Company. The DCP allows students to gain on-the-job experience, learn professional development skills, and network while working for one of the world’s most admired companies. Parker aspired to be a part of the DCP because she believed it would be a good way to get her foot in the door with the company.
Parker applied her freshman year and was denied, but she reapplied her sophomore year for a program in Spring 2022 and was accepted into the program. She took a semester off school and moved down to Orlando, but her program was cancelled only six weeks after it started due to the pandemic. Parker came back to school and caught back up on her degree, so she decided to take another semester off and reapply as soon as they opened the program back up in 2021. She was back in Orlando in August 2021, and was working in Magic Kingdom at the Main Street Bakery Starbucks. She enjoyed her time so much that she decided to extend her program and ended up staying in the College Program until June 2022.
While on her program, Parker took part in an event called “Tech Behind the Dreams.” This event was a full day of networking and learning about how Walt Disney Imagineering implements the latest technology throughout Walt Disney World. Since she attended this event, she was able to provide Walt Disney Imagineering her contact information for future hiring reference within the company. As her DCP was nearing its end, a Disney recruiter reached out and said that after looking at her background, they would like to invite her to apply for this specific internship. Parker applied as soon as she got this message and after a few rounds of screenings and interviews, she was offered the position. For this specific internship, her team was looking for someone who had experience working as a cast member in a Disney Park and because of her time in the Disney College Program, as well as her attendance at the Tech Behind the Dreams event, she was able to apply to this internship.
Internships are learning experiences that build confidence
“This experience has helped me tremendously career-wise,” Parker says. “One major take-away for me is my networking skills. Disney makes a huge emphasis on networking within the company. I have met so many people and I have made notes on who they are and what they do. I have been able to reach out to people that I have met through work when I can’t find an answer to my question, or I need help with something I know they are an expert at. It is nice to know that everyone has each other’s backs, and everyone wants to stay connected.”
Something else that has helped Parker career-wise is she has learned to share all her ideas, big or small. “I have learned to speak up because that is how innovation happens. My supervisors have also been great about creating a supportive environment for me and constantly remind me to speak my mind and that I earned this position. Those constant reminders have helped me build confidence that I will take with me forever,” she says.
After graduating Parker is hoping to continue working with Walt Disney Imagineering. She would love to continue working with this same group working on immersive experiences, but would be happy anywhere within the company.
To anyone seeking an internship, her biggest pieces of advice would be to remember that first impressions are important and remember that internships are learning experiences. “Even if you don’t feel like your skills are perfect or feel like you don’t know some things, make it clear that you are excited and willing to learn, Parker says. “No one expects interns to know everything. Internships are a learning experience. Letting your personality shine through in interviews and sharing your passions and excitement will get you where you need to be.”