Ethan Collins has consistently been making trips to Disney World since he was 9 years old.
So when the self-described “Disney fanatic” learned that he had been accepted into the highly competitive Disney College Program, he was ecstatic, to say the least.
“Initially, I was like, ‘Holy cow. I actually got in,’” the Russell County native said.
The story behind how Collins got accepted is both a long and winding road and, at the same time, a quick and thrilling adventure.
‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’
The Disney College Program is open to students after their first year in college through the first 16 months after they graduate.
While Collins had heard about the program before, it wasn’t until his good friend, Clay Ackerman, participated in 2018 that he really became intrigued about possibly applying in the future.
“He loved it,” Collins said. “I said, ‘OK. Well, that’s it. I think I’ll need to apply one day when I’m able.’ … I don’t say this to be arrogant or anything, but it’s a competitive program. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was to get in until Clay.”
In December 2019, Ackerman passed away at the age of 21.
Collins said he knew when that happened that he had to apply for the program.
He began the lengthy application process in early 2020, which includes Disney evaluating an applicant’s work experience, degree, and puts them through personality and values tests, with several interviews along the way.
Collins got “about halfway” through the process when the program got shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program started back in June 2021 but Collins didn’t reapply until a timely email dropped in his inbox in April 2022.
‘It’ll turn out alright in the end; you’ll see’
“Flash forward: I’m graduating college from [Lindsey Wilson College], and I have no idea what to do next,” Collins said. “I’m really burnt out on school because the pandemic era of school wore on students so bad, including me.”
Collins was set to graduate with a degree in Communications and Christian Ministries in May 2022.
He knew he wanted to go to Asbury Theological Seminary and get a master’s degree eventually, but he didn’t want to “go straight into that” after graduating.
On Friday, April 8, he received an email from the Disney College Program.
It was the last day of applications for the Fall 2022 term.
He debated on whether to apply or not.
“I knew I probably should just go ahead and start working towards a master’s, but I was just burnt out,” Collins said. “When I got that email that day, I thought, ‘What else have I got? I might as well just try it.’”
He submitted his application, and what came next was a whirlwind.
Collins heard back that night. They had fast tracked him through to where he was in the process before the pandemic interrupted his submission in 2020.
They wanted to interview him the next morning at 8 a.m.
“I thought, ‘Oh, dear goodness,’” Collins said about how rapidly everything happened.
Collins knew he was accepted by the next Tuesday, April 12.
“It was so quick, and that’s how I know it was the Lord,” Collins said. “I was so hesitant on it. I was praying and praying what to do next. I didn’t really know what to do, but look at this plan that was already there from God.
“Within a week, my whole trajectory changed.”
‘Adventure is out there’
What made Collins even more excited for the timing of his acceptance into the program is that he had an eight-day Disney World trip already planned for July.
He just returned from the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but while he was there, he took advantage of finding out as much as he could about the program.
“I met several people still working there that said, ‘I did [the Disney College Program] 30 years ago,’” Collins said. “It’s really cool how kind people were, and they always wanted to talk about it. There was no bad input and so many employees that said, ‘That’s how I started, and now I’ve been here all my life.’ I’m optimistic about the company to see that kind of morale.”
Collins begins his internship on Aug. 1, and it will run through Jan. 26.
He learned during his vacation that his general role would be in the food service sector, which allowed him to pay extra attention to some of the workers while in Disney World.
“I walked around and maybe looked at the people in food service a little bit closer,” he said with a chuckle.
On Monday, Collins learned his specific role would be working at Connections Eatery in EPCOT. Already excited for his internship, finding out the location was just an added bonus, as it has long been his park of choice.
“Finding out I am working in my favorite park is a dream come true,” he said. “EPCOT has been my favorite since I was very young because it inspires me to see the world. Now I get to be in a place of inspiration all the time. Working at Connections Eatery is surreal and makes me all the more excited for the program.”
Collins is heading down this week to prepare for his move.
He said he’s “very excited” for the opportunity and already has plans to take trips and even signed up for a surfing group during his stay in Florida.
“It’s a definite change of pace from Russell Springs,” Collins said. “Everyday life is going to be way different. I’m extremely extroverted, so I’m going to love the people aspect the most.”
Collins added that he’ll be taking advantage of some of the résumé-building opportunities the program provides as well.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do during your program,” he said. “Disney pours into you a lot while you’re there about customer service. I can do different classes and earn certificates for completion of professional learning, from workshops … I’ll be learning a lot about the parks and customer service in general.”
And when his internship ends in January, Collins will have the opportunity to extend his time with the program, go to a professional internship, or start working in the company.
Collins said he is going into his new adventure “completely open-minded” and doesn’t have any set expectations on what he plans to do next.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I’m just following the lamp at my feet.”
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