Disney Dream Job: Q & A with Instructional Systems Technology Alum

Walt Disney World
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

UNC Charlotte alumnus Daniel Staten (’10,’18 M.Ed.) is an Instructional Designer for Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. In that role, he provides learning strategy solutions for travel partners that sell Disney vacation destinations, like Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  A learning strategy solution can be anything from a 15-minute online course to help people learn about what’s new at a park, to a multi-week course for new team members at Disney. We caught up with Daniel to learn more about the path to his dream job, and how our Instructional Systems Technology program (soon to be called Learning, Design and Technology) helped him get there.

could you explain your career path?

It all started at The Apple Store at SouthPark Mall. I was a part-time salesperson while completing my undergraduate program. One day, one of the facilitators was absent, and I was asked to present a workshop for customers who had just purchased a Mac. That sparked my interest in training. I had some wonderful experiences at Apple, including being selected for their Global Guest Trainer program, where I traveled to their headquarters. There, I had the ability to facilitate training for new Apple Store locations and influence future training content for Apple Retail.

After spending nearly 10 years at Apple, I took an incredible opportunity to join Lyft. There, I worked with their Customer Experience and Trust team, as well as their People team to design training for employees at the fast-growing startup.

Those experiences led me to Disney, a company that I have been fascinated with since I was young. Not to sound cliche, but it’s truly a dream job.

Why did you pursue the UNC Charlotte IST/LDT program?

Apple had a unique approach to training their employees, and that sparked my interest in instructional design. As it turns out, I met an Instructional Systems Technology student at The Apple Store, and she was looking for recommendations about what type of computer she should buy. At the same time, I was researching options for my post-grad education.

In the instructional design industry, you will often find people who stumble into the role and are incredibly successful. I wanted to pursue the IST program because I knew that it would make me more valuable in the job market and it would fill in gaps that my professional experience had not provided. Meeting the IST student and hearing her glowing recommendation of the program made my mind up for me. I applied the next day.

Describe your time at UNC Charlotte.

I was fortunate enough to be a 49er for both my undergrad and graduate work. For a majority of my time as a graduate student, I was remote, living in Nashville for Lyft and Central Florida for Disney. Our IST faculty do a fantastic job of keeping us connected, even though we may not all be in Charlotte. I remember flying in for one of the winter social events they hosted, and immediately being able to connect with my peers in the program. Even though we had never met in person before, we had learned so much about each other and our careers that our conversations went on for hours! I think that speaks to the quality of the IST program participants and professors.

I also remember presenting my portfolio to a panel towards the end of my time in the program. Receiving feedback and validation from the faculty was so rewarding. Seeing the culmination of a few years of work is an experience I will not forget.

Do you feel the program prepared you well for your career?

One of the key strengths of the IST program at UNC Charlotte is the focus on theory and practical application. When I speak to people looking to land their first job as an instructional designer, so many are focused on one particular piece of software that they learned in school. That is not the value differentiator. The IST program prepared me by pairing theory with practical application. For prospective students, the opportunity to create a portfolio that shows a breadth of instructional design work will be incredibly valuable.

One thing I have learned during my time at UNC Charlotte and through my career so far is that there is no “magic wand” that leads you to your ideal job. Rather, your collective experiences teach you what you do and do not value in the work that you do. Throughout my time at UNC Charlotte, I was fortunate to have professors and peers that challenged my thinking and helped me learn what I value from a career.