A Dream Come True: USC Aiken graduate Olivia Carver channels love for Disney into a magical career

When Augusta native Olivia Carver enrolled at the University of South Carolina Aiken in 2018, following in her family's footsteps as an education major seemed like the most natural choice. However, when she learned about the Disney College Program during her freshman year, a new dream began to take shape.

The Disney College Program is an internship experience eligible for U.S. college students. Accepted students work in Walt Disney World parks and resorts in Orlando, while also participating in classroom learning and networking opportunities with Disney leaders.

Disney World held a special place in Carver's heart, and she couldn't wait to apply. "My love for Disney began with my grandfather, who was employed by a third party that worked around the parks. When we visited, he always took us to Disney World. The college program seemed like such a special opportunity for me," she says.

Carver was accepted into the program in 2019, which was scheduled to be an eight-month internship in "quick service" food and beverage. The internship ended early due to Covid-19, but it had already opened her eyes to new ideas for her future. Once back on campus, she changed her major to communication with a minor in educational studies.

"The internship was an incredible learning opportunity, and I knew it couldn't be the end of my Disney journey," Carver says. "While communication seemed more in line with my Disney goals, education is a huge part of our training programs and things we do as leaders throughout the day."

From the beginning, Carver's communication professors were supportive of her goals. "Being welcomed into the communications department was such a humbling experience," she says. "Dr. Jason Munsell, Prof. Jeffrey Wallace, and so many others were in my corner, and I truly appreciate everything they did. They are a special group of people who care about their students."

Munsell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Emerging Media, recalls that Carver was heavily engaged in many activities of the department. During her tenure as a student, she participated in undergraduate research and co-authored a paper on public relations and Disney, which was selected for presentation at an academic conference.

"We engage in a lot of high-impact practices to help our students succeed, and Olivia availed herself to the opportunities we offer students in our department," Munsell says. "For all her work, she was inducted into Lambda Pi Eta, our communication honor society."

When the Disney College Program reopened following Covid closures, Carver applied as part of her senior year Capstone internship. She returned to Disney in the summer of 2021, and while there, her leaders suggested she apply for the Disney Hospitality Leadership Program, a management internship. She began that program in January 2022 and was offered a full-time guest experience manager position the following May, coinciding with her graduation. Currently, her team oversees the day-to-day operation of all outdoor vending in the Magic Kingdom, such as popcorn and ice cream stands.

"I've been in the Magic Kingdom ever since," she says. "My new goal is to just learn as much as I can every single day."

Carver is living out her dream in the Magic Kingdom, though she admits the road to get there was scary at times. She encourages students and other young professionals to not be afraid of saying "yes" to new opportunities, recalling her favorite quote from Walt Disney himself: "While you're curious, you'll find interesting things to do. And one thing it takes to accomplish something is courage." 

For more information, contact Leigh Thomas, Thomas29229@yahoo.com