Sean McElaney, a senior business administration and dance major, rehearses for and performs in the Disneyland parades on top of being a full-time student. Photo by Phillipe Villarubia, courtesy of Sean McElaney.


When you were looking at Chapman University as a potential college, you probably knew one of the perks was being a quick 15-minute Uber ride from Disneyland. That happiest place on earth you have heard about your whole life.

Disney’s relationship with Chapman goes beyond the students getting annual passes.

Chapman moved its campus to the city of Orange in 1954. Disneyland opened less than ten miles away in Anaheim just 11 months later.

When longtime president James Doti received his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago in the 1970s, he had good job offers on both coasts. But he chose Southern California. Reason? Disneyland was the tie-breaker. Not because of an urge to go there as an adult. But as a boy in the Midwest, his parents had taken him on a trip to Disneyland. It left him with such warm feelings about the area he later gave up all thoughts of an East Coast career.

If there are any doubts about the school’s ties to the resort park, Disney courses are taught at Chapman. And at its Leatherby Libraries, you can find a collection of memorabilia from Disneyland’s longtime president, the late Jack Lindquist, along with his wife, Belle. And, you could almost guess it, Lindquist was on Chapman’s Board of Trustees.

Chapman was a natural home for Lindquist’s collection.

“It has to do with proximity,” said Annie Tang, an archivist at the Leatherby Libraries. “He wanted to have his memorabilia set somewhere close to Disneyland.

Lindquist was also a major financial contributor to Chapman and told officials that because the university’s library is an archive, it would be the best place preserve his memorabilia.

The Disneyland connection runs to the core of Chapman’s vision for its students and faculty. It is called the Chapman Experience, which incorporates the standards the university holds for its community. Where did it gets these standards? It partnered with the Disney Institute, which has a 30-year tradition of working with major universities across the country.

Chapman says of the Disney Institute on its own website: “We’re learning from its best practices and years of experience in leadership, service, and employee engagement.”

Then there is the student connection. Which is major.

Disney’s annual passes are listed from $399 to $1,399 per year, with day passes listed at $112.50 for two days to $68 for five days. The lowest annual pass holder price gets you admission to one or both theme parks but with blockout dates and up to 10% off merchandise and dining, while the most expensive gets you admission to both parks any day of the year, free parking, and up to 15% off of dining and 20% off merchandise.

Many items were donated for display at the Leatherby Libraries, including the Lindquist’s Disney Legend Award and a replica of the window dedicated in his honor on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland park. Photo by Jasmine Liu.

Yes, it costs a lot, but more Chapman students have Disneyland season passes than tickets for all other area attractions combined. Also, traditionally, more Chapman students work at Disneyland than any other off-campus employment.

Then there is the faculty connection. The university also prides itself on having animators from Disney teach numerous courses at the school over the years. A course taught now is the History of Disney: From Animation to Empire. It looks at how a small animation studio became such a big global entertainment company.

The course instructor, Dawn Fratini, explained that it was her idea to create this course. She usually teaches film history but drew inspiration from the history she knew from the company.

“I know there’s a lot of students interested in Disney whether its fans or cast members who work there. Even people who want to be part of the creative side can learn from the course,” Fratini said.

Fratini explained that the closeness of Chapman to Disneyland is everything. She mentioned that California Institute of the Arts also has a good relationship with Disney, especially because of its animation program.

Senior strategic and corporate communications major Karen Sieu, pictured second to the right, works almost 35 hours per week at Disneyland as a host at Blue Bayou. This was taken in Walt Disney’s apartment on Main Street, U.S.A. in the park for a special cast member event for Disneyland’s birthday in 2018. Photo courtesy of Karen Sieu.

It is no secret that many students would love to end up working for The Walt Disney Company full time. Working a minimum-wage job at the resort is often the first step.

Karen Sieu, a senior strategic and corporate communications major, said that working at Disney has provided her with more than just a part-time job. She has worked there since freshman year and feels the growth through the positions she has held at the park.

“The thing about Disney is that even though I get paid the same amount as someone who, let’s say works at a retail store, you get that kind of mix between working for a corporate company, a low-key job, but also a one of a kind work environment. The mix helps you learn on many levels,” Sieu said.

Students work at Disneyland, strive to end up in the corporate office, or even learn from their very own animators. Numerous Disney animators teach at Chapman, including William Kroyer and Jim Schenkler.

Not all students find working there a thrilling experience. The resort requires non-disclosure agreements for most employees, and S.T., who did not want her name used because of potential repercussions, said image always comes first at Disneyland; workers are there to polish and make things pleasant.

“I’ve missed countless holidays because of my work schedule and Disney really expects workers to be able to be there on holidays, which makes sense because those are peak times,” S.T. said.

Disneyland refused a request for comment.

Then there is Chapman student J.T.: “It honestly just gets tiring when it’s a hot day and I’m in a thick costume while dancing and looking super happy.”

But others find the experience extraordinary.

Sean McElaney, a senior business administration and dance major, knows the extra effort Disney puts in their shows. He is a performer at Disneyland and dedicates a large amount of time to dancing at the parades and entertaining the eager fans.

“I’ve opened up new opportunities for myself by dedicating my time and craft to Disney,” McElaney said. “I don’t know where I stand with the future but I know doing this has brought me new experiences, hence, shaping my Chapman career in an immense way.”

Most students who love Disneyland do not work there — they just love its rides.

Trysten Acasio, a senior strategic and corporate communications and public relations double major, is an annual pass holder.

“Disneyland would be very much less special if it weren’t such a super clean park with magical fireworks,” Acasio said.

Disneyland limits its workers on what they can say about their jobs. Chapman senior Natalie Benson can only say that she works in entertainment. But it is hard to find anyone more enthusiastic about Disneyland as an employer than Benson, a former pageant winner for her piano playing.

“I think the best part about working at Disneyland is the amount of surprises I have every day,” Benson said. “Without fail, I always have a story I can’t wait to tell.”

Jasmine Liu
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