Where Dreams Come True: Disney Leadership Retreat Sets Students Up for Success
Leaning back into the Daisy Duck-embroidered pillow on her desk chair as she looked out at the Disney posters that adorn her office walls at Broward College, Stephanie Repaci imagined what it would take to create a program in which students could develop the teamwork and leadership skills that employers now demand. It didn’t take very long for the Director of Central Campus Student Life to identify the perfect setting where dreams come true.
For the past five years, Repaci has led a group of students to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” where they apply problem-solving, and decision-making skills learned in the classroom to the behind-the-scenes workings of Disney World. The trip to the Orlando theme park and resort is the final piece of a Student Life development program designed to set participants up for success, whether they are transferring to a four-year university or moving into the workforce immediately after completion of their degrees or certificates at Broward College.
“We’re still hearing from employers across the United States that there’s a significant skills gap with students who are graduating from college,” said Repaci, a self-proclaimed “Disney nut” who grew up watching the films, singing the songs and visiting the parks that spawned the American icon. “Students, in the eyes of employers, are ill-prepared or don’t have the workplace competencies that companies want them to have at the point of graduation.”
Repaci said students were in the past able to develop these “soft skills” on the job, but now companies expect an accelerated workforce-readiness that includes, at the very least, strong communication and time management tools, positive attitudes and robust work ethics before being hired. Using the Walt Disney World Resort as a backdrop, students receive eye-opening insight into how these principles are applied in the operation of the park.
Broward College was one of the first higher education institutions to take advantage of the College-edition of Disney’s Youth Education Series, said Repaci, who received the 2019 Student Development Commission Exemplary Practice Award from the Association of Florida Colleges for her presentation on the annual “Student Life Leadership Retreat” at the AFC Student Development Commission Spring Conference, in Ocala. The AFC also awarded $500 toward the Broward College Foundation’s first-generation scholarship program, which the State of Florida matched with another $1,000.
“The Student Life Leadership Retreat” is structured similar to a 6-8-week college course. Before leaving for Disney World, approximately 20 students complete individual and group assignments that include textbook readings, essays, and presentations. The curriculum is based on “Creating Magic” by Lee Cockerell, a former executive vice president of Walt Disney World Operations who, Repaci says, has greatly influenced her leadership style. The six-day experience in Orlando also involves a community service module, where Broward College participants volunteer at Give Kids the World Village, an 84-acre resort in Central Florida that caters to children with critical illnesses and their families.
The remaining four days are spent inside the theme park. A Disney cast member facilitates each training session in key areas of the park where students translate concepts of leadership, teamwork and creating a culture of excellence that can be applied to their academic goals as well as their on-campus leadership role.
Once training ends in the early afternoon, students get the rest of the day to spend in the park. Repaci said this time helps reinforce a stronger connection to the campuses, Student Life and Broward College, as a whole.
“This is critical because what we are trying to do is build relationships,” said Repaci. “We recognize from a nationwide perspective that students who are engaged or active in their college campuses have a much higher likelihood to complete their coursework and succeed.”
For participating in the program, students receive a letter grade and three elective credits, in addition to the soft skills they develop during the experience. To her credit, Repaci continues to receive accolades from student affairs professionals across the nation who want to adopt her program to their campuses.
“Student development is our bread and butter,” said Repaci. “So, this program fits in perfectly with Student Life’s mission, while simultaneously, driving a sense of belonging to Broward College.”
Watch a recap of the Student Life Retreat here –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYW_b_gBjXY&feature=youtu.be
If you are excited about growing as an individual and enhancing your overall perspective of the world, Student Life can elevate your Broward College experience beyond studying or listening to lectures.