Summer Reflection Series: Living the Disney Dream

By Zach Zeller — Fencing '20

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at one of the largest entertainment companies in the world — The Walt Disney Company. My adventure started last fall when I met with James Biddick, Student-Athlete Career Development Program Manager in Notre Dame’s Meruelo Family Center for Career Development. He helped me narrow down my passions and focus, and potential companies I could pursue internships with. 

In October, one of my business courses hosted an alumni guest speaker from Disney and I immediately took the opportunity to make that connection. Over several months we kept in touch and I continued expanding my network within the company. One of those new connections reached out to me with an internship position opening in their department in mid-February, and luckily I landed the role. I had risked it all and turned down other offers for that chance.

I spent my summer in Burbank, California, working on the Corporate Brand Development and Franchise Management teams at Disney. The two most important components I was looking for in an internship were improving my analytical skills and contributing to real work that would have an impact. This role had the best of both worlds and was a perfect fit for me. Not only did I have the opportunity to improve my skills in various software such as SPSS Statistics, but I was highly engaged in multiple projects.

Most of my work was with the Brand Development team, where I worked on various analyses of global survey results and helped form questionnaires for different parts of the company, including this year’s D23 Expo (the Disney version of Comic-Con). It was a great opportunity to see not only the full process of survey creation and execution but also understand the important conclusions we were able to draw from the data. 

When working with the Franchise Management team, I primarily helped with organic social media analytic reports for franchises like Mickey Mouse & Friends, Minnie Mouse and the Disney Princesses. Additionally, I joined at an exciting time, as Disney recently acquired 21st Century Fox. The company is working on integrating those franchises into the Disney umbrella, and I have been lucky enough to have a role in this process through conducting research that will ultimately help determine how one of the franchises is incorporated into The Walt Disney Company. 

Like many other kids, I grew up on Disney movies, TV shows and theme parks. This summer I experienced all those nostalgic feelings again in a whole new way. We had private screenings for new releases such as Toy Story 4 and Aladdin in the same theater Walt Disney himself oversaw the editing of movie scores for classics such as Fantasia. Walking through the Disney lot included passing by soundstages where ABC’s black-ish was filming and running into celebrities such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  Meeting other interns was easy, as we had unlimited passes to Disneyland, which was a great way to hang out, network and explore the theme parks in a new way.

Additionally, thanks to the LA Club of Notre Dame, I met many current Domers that became awesome friends I probably never would have met otherwise. It was great to connect with other students while exploring Santa Monica, hiking to the Hollywood sign and finding hidden gems all around the city. 

I am excited to get back to Notre Dame to continue one final year of academics, fencing and fostering both new and old relationships before leaving the Dome after graduation. Having this internship experience not only reaffirmed my aspirations to be in the entertainment industry, but also to continue at The Walt Disney Company. It truly is amazing to be part of the magic!

Zach Zeller is a senior epeeist on the Notre Dame fencing team.