Senior Ariana Esparza’s world just got a little more magical.
Esparza recently learned that she will be moving to Walt Disney World for six months, beginning in August, as part of a “live, learn and work” experience with the Disney College Internship Program.
Esparza is a communication major with a minor in business communication, but her involvement on campus does not stop at academics.
She is president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), the arts and entertainment editor for the Vantage, Newman's student-run newspaper, and the arts and letters senator for the Student Government Association (SGA). She is also a member of the LGBTQ+ club known as Kaleidoscope and has spent all four years at Newman completing service as an ASC Community Leadership Scholar.
Professor of Communication Audrey Hane, Ph.D., said she is “consistently impressed by Ariana’s reflective nature.”
“Ariana’s experience as an ASC scholar has helped her refine her personal mission statement and leadership philosophy," said Hane, "allowing her to be intentional and purposeful in her academic pursuits, campus leadership and community service. Her pursuit of this highly competitive opportunity is the culmination of her professional development journey.
“In this capacity, she will have the opportunity to witness how a highly successful organization functions. I am confident that she will make the most of this opportunity just as she has made the most of the opportunities afforded her as a Newman University student.”
Esparza first heard about the Disney College Internship Program when she was at her grandmother’s house for a scrapbooking weekend. Her grandmother’s friend, Amber, was working on a scrapbook page when Esparza noticed that she had some “Disney-themed things going on.”
Amber explained that she completed a Disney program in college — a program that Esparza did not know existed. After hearing about Amber’s experience, Esparza realized this was something she wanted to do.
Esparza progressed in her schooling and considered law school as an option in her immediate plans after graduation, but the Disney program was always something she had in the back of her mind, she said.
“Last summer, we went on a family trip to Naples, Florida, and I convinced my family to go to Disney World,” Esparza said. “There was a girl in a uniform who was working as a cast member there, and the first thing I noticed was that she looked like me. Her name tag said she was from Mexico City and I instantly felt a connection.
“I thought, ‘I feel like I am a part of this and that I am represented here. This is something that is possible for me — and why wouldn’t I try?’"
She added, “Our entire day was spectacular. The experience of spending the whole day at the park and then crying during the fireworks made me realize, ‘I want to be here. I want to be here more times than just this day.’ That’s when I started thinking seriously about applying.”
Esparza began researching the program in depth while comparing the costs with the benefits. After reading articles and watching vlogs from individuals who had been part of the program, she decided to take a chance and apply — a process which is very intense, she said.
“After I submitted my online application, I thought, ‘It’s over, I’ve sent it in, that’s all I can do, don’t worry about it.’ Within 30 minutes I got a message saying, ‘Congratulations, you have been moved forward to the next step, (which is) the web-based interview.’ I was freaking out.”
Esparza said she was in a hotel room at a Hispanic leadership conference in Chicago when she completed her phone interview for the position. The event featured a surprise guest visit by a Grammy-nominated teenage mariachi band as well as Dolores Huerta, an American labor leader and civil rights activist, who is one of Esparza’s personal icons.
“Dolores Huerta came on stage and gave a speech and I was just fired up,” Esparza said. “I felt like everything was falling into place. Seeing someone I admire so much speak and talk about the power of Hispanic people put me in such a great mindset, so going from that to an interview made me feel very prepared.”
“During the interview process, I wanted to be intentional about presenting, ‘This is who I am,’” Esparza said. “I wanted them to decide if they thought I would enjoy this program. I was open to the possibility that if it didn’t happen, I wasn’t going to be crushed. I had other plans of what I could do as well. I reminded myself, ‘If this wasn’t where God was leading me, that is perfectly fine. Whatever God has in store for me, that is going to be okay with me.’”
Next came the waiting game. Esparza made a separate email for her Disney application process, which could only be accessed on her phone.
On February 21, she accidentally left her phone at home.
“All day I kept thinking, ‘Man, I wish I had my phone so I could just check,’ and I thought, ‘It doesn’t really matter, they told me they’d let me know by April 18.’ When I got home, I had this feeling that I should go look at my phone, but I put it off and went outside to shovel some ice. But then I had this feeling of, ‘No, you need to go look at your phone. Right now.’
“I dropped the shovel, went upstairs to my room and saw the email from Disney on my screen. I thought, ‘This could be it,’ and I ran downstairs to my mom and she said, ‘You have to open it!’ So I took a deep breath and opened it ... and I started freaking out. I’m not sure it has really hit me yet that this is happening,” Esparza said. “But I’m going to Disney!”
As part of the Disney College Internship Program, Esparza will work as a hostess in a restaurant in one of the parks. She also plans to take seminars that cover topics such as cast engagement, human resources, environmental integration, recycling and conservation, corporate citizenship and Disney communication.
“Currently, I work in a high-paced restaurant environment and I love it,” she said. “I could be stressed about my whole day, but when I get there, I am working and enjoying my time with people. Sure my feet hurt at the end of the day, but I’m serving guests, chatting with people from everywhere who are traveling in and that is so much fun for me.
“In my day-to-day life, I’m thinking of ‘How can I be of help or service to people? How can I — in this very moment — make you a little bit happier?’ That is so good for me and for my spirit, and the six months I will get to spend at Disney is going to be that kind of work."
Esparza added, “I will be working in a restaurant, greeting people as they come in ... if I can greet them with happiness and joy and give them a bright smile, then I am going to find fulfillment in that.”
Esparza said her work with Disney will tie in perfectly with her long-term career goal, which involves eventually opening a farm-to-table dining experience.
“The second element of that would be cooking classes for kids,” she said. “Specifically, to those who live in low-income areas and whose parents might not normally be able to afford that kind of cooking class or culinary program. The (Disney) program works well for me because I will get to understand these corporate and business mindsets while getting to learn about guest service, hospitality and event operations. I’m going to have firsthand experience with a business that does these things incredibly well, and I think this opportunity is going to be really valuable for me.”
Hane said Disney is fortunate to have Esparza joining its organization.
“She is the perfect ambassador for an organization that prioritizes guest experience and whose purpose is to ‘make people happy,’” Hane said. “Patrons will walk away from interactions with Ariana feeling better as a result of meeting her. Her desire to compassionately serve others is her essence. Furthermore, her deep appreciation for varied cultural experiences also positions her to help fulfill Disney’s desire to make sure that people from all cultures can identify with the Disney experience.”