Two MC recent grads land competitive Disney internships

Two MC recent grads land competitive Disney internships

May 28, 2020

During her freshman year at Maryville College, Paula Guenther ’20 told one of her biology professors that she was “into plants.”

Four years later, after a series of hands-on experiences in and out of the classroom, she has graduated from MC with a bachelor’s degree in biology and received an impressive – and highly competitive – plant science internship offer through the Disney Professional Internship program.

As a plant intern working at Living with the Land, an agricultural attraction at Epcot in Orlando, Fla., Guenther will gain hands-on work experience in the unique growing areas that are part of the attraction.

Her responsibilities will include maintaining a high-quality greenhouse show of over 150 hydroponically-grown food crops from all over the globe (including propagating transplanting, irrigating, pruning and harvesting a wide variety of plants); leading daily informative and interactive guest tours through the greenhouses, labs and aquaculture facility; and staffing the “Behind the Seeds Tour” desk at Epcot to promote the tour, sign guests up for the tour, sell plant-related merchandise and answer guest questions.

“I saw the job description, and I knew I had to apply!” said Guenther, who is from Sevierville, Tenn. “I knew going into this that Disney Professional Internships are highly competitive, but I had to take a chance. For my internship position, they hire 12 positions, since they have so many greenhouses. I'm very lucky to be one of those 12 interns.”

The internship was originally scheduled to take place June 10 through Jan. 23, 2021, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start date has been delayed until at least the fall.

Guenther’s love of plants was nurtured throughout her time at Maryville College. During her freshman year, she took a Wildlife Photography course with MC Professor of Biology Dr. Drew Crain. Guenther expressed an interest in sustainable agriculture, and Crain asked her if she would be interested in taking care of an aquaponic system that was used for a graduating senior’s Senior Study. The aquaponic system was located at Special Growers, which specializes in the commercial production of fresh herbs for local restaurants and has a mission of providing job training and employment opportunities to disabled young adults in Blount County.

“The next semester, I took care of the aquaponic system while working at Special Growers during the weekend,” Guenther said. “I was introduced to aquaponics and hydroponics at the same time, and this is where my passion for growing food began.”

In spring 2018, Crain and Guenther moved the aquaponics to Rocky Park Farm, an organic farm in Friendsville, Tenn., and she would regularly check the aquaponic system and start seeds. As an intern for the farm in fall 2019, she assisted the farm owners with starting seeds, watering, transplanting seeds, harvesting, cleaning and other tasks.

“I grew a close connection to the owners of Rocky Park Farm,” said Guenther, whose experience at the farm also helped her get a job as a camp counselor at Hawthorne Valley Farm (a biodynamic farm in Ghent, N.Y.) in summer 2018 and an internship at Beardsley Community Farm (an urban demonstration farm in Knoxville, Tenn.) in fall 2018. “They said I was welcome anytime, and free to use anything at the farm. I've been going to/working at the farm for two years now. Working at this farm really allowed me to get more experience growing food.”

Her Senior Study, conducted in a greenhouse at Rocky Park Farm, focused on determining which growing medium is best for seed germination. Using basil and cilantro seeds, she compared their growth in potting soil, coconut coir, peat moss, and potting soil mixed with coconut coir.

One of the distinctive features of a Maryville College education, the Senior Study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is supervised by a faculty member. Students choose a research topic informed by their major and often one that is closely related to their career choice.

“For my Senior Study, I wanted to choose growing mediums that are easily accessible to beginner gardeners,” Guenther said. “I wanted to see what growing medium had seeds that germinated fastest, then I compared the height of the seedlings. I also wanted to see what seeds formed true leaves. When a seed forms true leaves, it's usually a good sign that it's ready to transplant the seedlings. Seed starting is an important part of agriculture, and there are so many growing mediums to choose from.”

Geunther’s farm internships, jobs and Senior Study research have given her the hands-on experience she needs to pursue a career, which she hopes will include working at an educational botanical garden or greenhouse where she can work in the garden and grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables, as well as teach valuable lessons to all age groups (through classes, summer programs or special programs). Her ultimate career goal is to work at an eco-friendly botanical garden where she can focus on gardening and growing food in a more sustainable way.

Guenther said she believes the internship at Disney will open many doors for her, and her professor agreed.

“For individuals interested in sustainable agriculture, there is no better place to work than Disney,” Crain said. “As a result, internships are extremely competitive, with only the most prepared receiving this opportunity. Epcot utilizes the most innovative sustainable technologies, such as aquaponics and aeroponics, and this prestigious internship will launch Paula into a career in this exciting and important area. I am so very proud of Paula, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapters hold for her.” 

Turpin to intern with Disney College Program

Amy Turpin ’20, a biology major from Charlotte, N.C., also was accepted to a competitive internship program at Disney. In the fall, Turpin will go to Orlando, Fla., to start a position with the Disney College Program. The internship program for college students and recent college graduates “allows participants to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build transferable skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication,” according to the Disney website.

Turpin was selected for a custodial/guest services role that will take place at one of the Disney parks in Florida, Disney Springs, a Disney hotel or the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

“I was drawn to it because it is one of the few roles that isn't just in one area – I'd get to walk all over the park, not just one ‘land’ or attraction, and I could easily work and trade shifts in multiple parks, not just one,” Turpin said. “It's also a role that lets students work independently without a supervisor right there. I looked into some interviews and blogs from alumni of the program, and they really liked their role because of the high guest interaction – they were able to give out free fast passes, pin trade with guests, do ‘water art,’ and even give away free ice cream. The custodial/guest services cast members answer a ton of guest questions, so a big part of the job is being familiar with the schedules and locations of everything going on in the park, and because the role is universal, being able to walk guests to whatever they're looking for.”

Turpin said she has been interested in working for Disney since she was 6 years old, when she visited Walt Disney World. One of the veterinarians at Conservation Station (a wildlife conservation center in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park) talked to her during a procedure.

“Later, I learned that one of my old basketball coaches worked as a vet at Animal Kingdom,” she recalled. “I realized that could be me, and I dreamed about being a vet at the Disney Parks. After reading Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson and becoming interested in the magic of special effects, Disney ride history, the science behind attraction design and what happens behind the scenes, I decided that I wanted to be a Disney cast member someday.”

During her time at Maryville College, Turpin learned about the Disney College Program from another MC student who interviewed for the program, and she talked to a high school friend who completed the program in 2018 and had a great experience.

“I decided doing the Disney College Program would be a cool next step for my post-grad job,” Turpin said. “Why wait to realize my dream of working for the mouse? I wanted to play a part in creating the behind-the-scenes magic that makes Disney so cool for guests.”

While Turpin is no longer pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, she is interested in conservation biology and hopes to eventually work in conservation and ecotourism.

“I'm passionate about creatively teaching the community about science, sustainability and conservation,” she said.

She said her Maryville College education and experiences helped prepare her for her next steps and beyond. A Maryville College study abroad trip to Costa Rica that focused on ecotourism played a big role in her interest in tourism and education. As a Mountain Challenge Fellow, she worked with Mountain Challenge, the on-campus outdoor adventure and teambuilding program.

“Mountain Challenge prepared me for the Disney College Program by teaching me how to work independently, think critically and keep a good work ethic in all kinds of weather,” Turpin said. “Additionally, Mountain Challenge taught me to provide ‘high quality, safe outdoor experiences’ for guests, as the mission of Mountain Challenge discusses, which directly translates to providing great guest experiences down in Florida and going above and beyond guest expectations.

 “By working at Disney with the Disney College Program, I hope to learn more about guest services and park operations,” she added. “I hope to maybe go on to work at Animal Kingdom or Epcot, teaching the public about science and conservation and helping get kids excited about science and innovation, just like Disney did for me when I was little.”

Written by Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”