AIME-ing For the Future: Disneyland Resort Cast Members Mentor Anaheim Students

Dani Decena

by , External Communications Specialist, Disneyland Resort

Disney mentors assembled with a special group of students this summer and together, aimed towards a brighter future. Students throughout the Anaheim Union School District had an opportunity to connect with a network of 20 organizations across Anaheim and Orange County through a program called AIME (Anaheim’s Innovative Mentoring Experience). Through this collaborative effort, the students enacted professional skills within a live working environment and built lasting relationships with industry leaders who can help propel them forward. As part of an ongoing workforce development initiative, Disneyland Resort has been a key supporter of the program since 2019, providing funding and mentorship including a behind-the-scenes look at how business is conducted with a bit of Disney magic.

Ten students participated in a six-week program that culminated in a final project, in which they developed a hypothetical after-hours event at Disney California Adventure park.

Jimmy Che, rising senior from Savanna High School was interested in exploring the inner workings of a business such as the Disneyland Resort, and after seeing it firsthand, was surprised to learn of its complexities. He was paired with Director of Workforce Management Arland Van Horn as his mentor. During their mentoring experience, Jimmy learned how critical proper staffing is to an operation and how workforce management collaborates with other departments to address labor needs. Jimmy felt empowered by these new insights to pursue this type of work as a potential career. “There’s a lot of work behind the stage to make sure this large machine is oiled up and running,” Jimmy reflects. “It’s interesting learning about the functions of the department in the workplace.

AIME students Jimmy and Sarah celebrate their graduation from the program with their Disneyland Resort mentors (left to right: Jimmy Che, Arland Van Horn, Sarah Li and Caroline Wilcox)
AIME students Jimmy and Sarah celebrate their graduation from the program with their Disneyland Resort mentors (left to right: Jimmy Che, Arland Van Horn, Sarah Li and Caroline Wilcox)

As a mentor with a background in education, Arland enjoyed being able to support students like Jimmy in a meaningful and tangible way.

“I believe that being engaged with the community as a leader at the Disneyland Resort is so important,” Arland expresses. “I still have mentors that I trust to help me grow and expand my way of thinking and leading within the organization. Whether you’re mentoring someone else, or being mentored, it’s so valuable for own growth and development.”

Sarah Li, rising senior from Oxford Academy, had a particular interest in computer science but was open to learning something new. She was paired with Character Operations Manager Caroline Wilcox, who brought an energetic perspective to their dynamic that helped Sarah to understand different career opportunities.

Sarah reflected on her tremendous growth through the program as it has shown her the breadth of possibilities and to not feel pressured to choose a certain path.

“I’ve definitely grown a lot more confident in this program,” Sarah recounts. “Normally I don’t talk to as many adults that are in working positions other than my teachers, and it’s been interesting to talk to these leaders to see where they started, and how they got to where they are now… It has been nice to hear that I don’t have to figure it all out right now.”

Caroline encouraged Sarah to focus on her strengths that will help her make those important decisions later on.

“What I see in Sarah is curiosity,” Caroline shares. “She’s looking forward to learning what else is out there. With the group, she’s not afraid to be one of the first people to raise her hand and that confidence in her is great to see.”

While the experience was mostly virtual, the students had the opportunity to shadow duty managers at the Disneyland Resort to see how the operation runs from a cast member perspective. For both Jimmy and Sarah, this was one of their favorite aspects of the program, as they applied what they learned to their final project.

Duty Manager Mary Cobb challenges Jimmy, Sarah, and other AIME students to look at Disneyland park in a new way
Duty Manager Mary Cobb challenges Jimmy, Sarah, and other AIME students to look at Disneyland park in a new way.

“I learned a lot about the importance of atmosphere,” Jimmy reflected on the attention to immersive details around the resort. “There are a lot of things you can change and modify to fit a certain mold of an event.”

Overall, the AIME program was inspiring for both mentors and mentees as both groups learned from each other.

“The future is pretty bright,” Arland shared. “If these students are representative of future leaders in business and the community, then we’ve got some pretty good ones coming.”

With new leadership skills in their arsenal, the students have much to “AIME” for in their careers and beyond.

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