How one Concordia student is making magic for herself at Disney World

Concordia College junior Hannah Maki will participate in the Disney College Program in January. Maki holds Minnie Mouse ears from her first trip to Disney World as a child. David Samson / The Forum

MOORHEAD — They say a dream is a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep, but what about a dream that's been years in the making?

For Concordia College junior Hannah Maki, life just got a little more magical, thanks to a little company with a mouse for a mascot.

For Maki, getting into the Disney College Program (DCP) all started years ago with an internet search, Christmas break and a blog.

"The first time I heard about (the program), I was in sixth grade," Maki says. "My mom found this blog, and I remember her name was Jess and she got into the DCP and was working at the concierge desk at one of the resorts."

Over the course of her 10-day break from school, Maki read Jess' blog, first post to last post, and her dream began.


"I was obsessed," she says. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this is so cool. She is working in Disney World, she gets to live there, she gets to play in the parks when she's not at work, she gets to make magic for other guests... I have to do that!'"

Maki says from that point on, she and her cousins began dreaming of their roles at Disney, a dream that got pushed aside a bit when life got in the way. An art education major, Maki was worried she wouldn't be able to make her dream a reality with her class load.

"I was kind of crushed by it," she says.

But she kept moving forward. On a family trip to the historic theme park, Maki noticed the workers and started to think about her dream again.

"I came home (from Disney World) in March and that week I was home, I sat down with the financial aid office, I sat down with my adviser, I sat down with the career center and I talked to every single person and thought, 'How can I make this work?'" Maki says. "It was like this big puzzle I had to put together. Once I sat down and figured all of that out, I was like, 'OK, we are going to apply.'"

Getting in

Hannah Maki has hand painted flasks with favorite Disney characters. David Samson / The Forum

Disney's program is an opportunity for college students to gain valuable on-the-job experience working in Disney parks and resorts and participating in college coursework, as well as meeting and living with people from across the country (and sometimes even from around the world), in a paid internship. DCP members participate in various jobs, or "roles," within the company to help bring to life the magic everyone knows and loves


Once she decided to apply, the real process began.

"I studied from March to August, watching YouTube videos about how people apply, what the application is like, what the phone interview is like, what the web-based interview is like, what they look for in an applicant — all of these things, and that's how these all came together," Maki says. "It's a lot."

Applicants fill out general applications that include basic information, as well as roles they would find intriguing and interest levels within those roles. Maki says the only part of the application that took some effort was the box provided for work experience.

She took it like a champ, though, creating a three-page summation of her experience, writing down anything she could think of that would make her shine — even taking time to research and phrase her experience in a way that helped her stand out against the competition.

"The (applications) dropped on Aug. 22," Maki says. "They came out at 9 in the morning and I was so nervous. I couldn't sleep the night before. The next morning, I had my mom look over my application again and sent it in a half an hour after they were open."

The next step in the process was a web-based interview, which helps Disney figure out whether or not applicants have the right personality for the program. As soon as that interview concludes, they learn if they will advance to the phone interview.

"It's terrifying," Maki says. "You're just sitting there clicking and are like, 'I don't know what's going to happen next.'"

A screen appeared congratulating Maki on her phone interview, which she completed in roughly 20 minutes just a few days later.


Then came the waiting game. Three weeks went by with no response from Disney.

"I was sitting in my education class and I got the email on my watch," she says. "I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe. The first thing I did was call my mom. I never call her, so when I do call her, she knows something is up. I was so excited. She said, 'You got in, didn't you?' And I was screaming in the middle of the education building."

A family affair

In mid-January, Maki will travel down to a place she is no stranger to — Maki's family has visited the happiest place on Earth almost every year she's been alive.

Hannah Maki points out displayed photos from family trips to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. David Samson / The Forum

"My family has been going to Disney World for years," she says. "My mom has been probably over 25 times now, and my grandparents close to that. My parents were married there. It started deep in my roots here."

Maki's parents, Becky and Curt, were married in the Magic Kingdom, too. They were instrumental in fostering Maki's love of Disney.

"My first trip was in 1989," says Becky, Maki's mother. "I was a freshman in high school. It was my first time on a plane, and we loved it. We fell in love with it. It was my parents and my two sisters. So we decided to go back the next year, in 1990. And we've gone every year, almost, since."


The whole crew, which consists of 17 people, has been to Disney almost annually since then. Maki's first trip was at just under a year old, and her family has only missed four years.

"We all took them when they were babies," Becky says. "A lot of people say you should wait until they're older, but nope. I took them. It didn't scare me away. (Hannah's brother) was 9 months old when he went for the first time."

The Maki family is looking forward to visiting their daughter in her role at Disney World in Florida at the end of February.

"We are all really proud of her," Becky says. "They only take 10 or 15 percent of the people who apply. We are super proud of her for that, very excited for her. Of course we're going to miss her because it's her first time being away (from home), so I will have to get over that."

For now, Maki is patiently waiting to step into her role in the merchandise department of Disney World, where she will be working until May 2020.

"They always ask, 'What is Disney to you?'" Maki says. "That's a hard question. They asked me it during my interview. But to me, that's our family. That's our home. Yes, we live in Minnesota, we live two blocks away from each other. But when we are in Disney, it's something different. You forget the outside world, it doesn't exist. You are in this Disney bubble, where everything is perfect, everything is magical. Some of my best memories happened in those parks. It's home."

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