Disney Aspire Graduate Celebrates Career Milestones for National Career Development Month

Robyn Sheckler

by , External Communications Manager, Disney Institute and National Geographic Live

A passion for Disney and lifelong learning runs in cast member Maria Carranza’s bones. Maria grew up going to the parks with her family after her father, Fernando Carranza, emigrated to the United States from Mexico. After her grandmother saw a newspaper ad, Fernando landed his first Disney job as a cashier in the Cantina at EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion in 1983.

During his 15-year career at the company, with access to an unprecedented amount of personal and professional development resources, Maria’s father moved across many positions and industries including restaurant operations and cost analysis, and ultimately retired as a sales manager at Disney Vacation Club in Anaheim. Witnessing her father grow in his professional career as a cast member inspired her to want to embark on her own Disney journey.

November is National Career Development Month and Maria is celebrating by reflecting on the limitless opportunities she has been presented with since becoming a cast member in 2016. Today Maria is living her dream of furthering her career as a marketing strategy associate for Disney Institute and National Geographic Live.

“My family’s history with Disney is such an important part of my story,” she recalls. “My dad started his career with the company and from a young age, I recall him saying that the people were the best of the best, and the culture is irreplaceable. Seeing him grow with Disney as an immigrant showed me that I could do it, too. I knew that I wanted that magic to be a part of my life after graduation.”

After serendipitously landing a role as ticketing vacation planner in EPCOT with the College Program, Maria was able to turn her post-graduate dream into a reality. Graduating with a bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus in Latin American History and Communication, and a bachelors in Psychology from the University of Florida, Maria transitioned to a client services coordinator professional intern role in 2018 with Disney Institute.

“I found a segment within the company – Disney Institute – that brought my love of creativity, communication, professional development and learning together in one place.” After only six months on the job, her internship transformed into a full-time role with the team, and she knew she wanted more. In 2018, when the Disney Aspire program launched, Maria immediately made it known to her leaders that she wanted to participate.

Disney Aspire is the most comprehensive education investment program of its kind, offering 150+ programs at a network of educational institutions nationwide with 100% tuition paid up front.

“I wanted to study industrial organizational psychology, which is basically the science of making people and employees happy, and that’s what Disney Institute is all about.” She recalls saying to herself that she couldn’t pass this opportunity up because it gave her access to tuition-free education– while learning at her own pace. “To not have to navigate financial difficulties and burdens as a first generation American while working full-time was more than I could have asked for and it wouldn’t have been possible without Disney Aspire.”

Maria received her Master of Science from Purdue University Global in Educational Psychology and has been able to apply what she learned in the classroom to the workplace. “Being able to focus on adults and how they learn and develop in their careers is so cool, and I get to still do this at work in a marketing capacity now! Aspire gave me a career coach and counselor, and someone who was with me every step of the way making sure that I had a comfortable workload and balanced mental health state. Just like I have a mentor at work encouraging me and developing me, I had that for schooling as well – it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

So what makes a great leader to Maria and what does she hope to teach others? “My leaders at Disney have incredibly impacted my own growth. You lead by example, and they have given me the example I want to lead by. Ashley, Sean and Becky – three of my greatest mentors in our business – encourage and celebrate me to reach for more.”

While every day presents itself as a new opportunity to grow and learn, Maria noted this month has been incredibly transformational. “Disney invests in us – in me. I just got to go to an in-person Leadership Learning Event. There has never been a moment where someone told me not to do something if it is going to develop me professionally. I’m allowed to aspire higher and it’s because of Disney’s culture, emphasis on collaboration and a great team.”

“My dad came to the United States with only $600 in his pocket and created this amazing life and family after meeting my mom at Disney. I couldn’t ask for a better place to start my career.” Smiling, Maria said, “The best part about my job is my team. I love who I work with every day. The people are what make a difference and the opportunities I have ahead of me are boundless.”

Ready to begin your own journey with Disney Aspire? Explore roles at the heart of the magic in our parks and resorts!