College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Making Magic at Disney: Industrial Engineering Internship

Zach Ungerleider, sophomore in industrial engineering, began his internship at Walt Disney World in January and will finish in August. His work as an entertainment project analyst has given him the chance to get hands-on experience using engineering skills he’s learned as a Cyclone Engineering student – and to learn new ones that will be valuable in his future.


How did you hear about the internship opportunity?

Towards the end of last summer, a high school friend mentioned that he was applying for an internship at Walt Disney World. Before that point, I hadn’t even thought of Disney as somewhere I could work!

After looking at their careers website and watching a few YouTube videos about the different roles industrial engineers play in the company, I realized it was exactly the kind of opportunity I was looking for.

And your experience has been great?

It’s been incredible! Working as an Entertainment Metrics intern in the Disney Parks Live Entertainment organization at Walt Disney World allows me to use strategic problem-solving skills in an environment that thrives on creativity and the arts, which is definitely something I love. It’s incredibly fulfilling to know that my work is helping to create fantastic experiences that thousands of guests enjoy every day.

Honestly, it’s still surreal that families from all over the world have created lifelong memories with the projects I work on. It really feels like I’m helping to make magic. (And to top it all off, I get to escape the Iowa weather!)

What is your typical work day like?

Every day is different! My role in the company as an Entertainment Project Analyst is to provide support for live entertainment in and around Walt Disney World, whether that’s researching and presenting analytics on past projects, building comprehensive metrics summaries of existing offerings, or helping create cost estimates for future proposals.

I’ve been given a lot of responsibility as an intern, and juggling all the projects I work on is a blast!

I use Excel and PowerPoint a lot, and occasionally go into the theme parks to run studies and collect data on different aspects of day-to-day operations. Even though I’m usually at my computer, I still interact with other people constantly, from project managers to front-line operations staff.

How are you putting your coursework into play as an intern?

Surprisingly, learning VBA programming in Excel has been very applicable—I never knew Macros would be so helpful! Also, the structure of the courses I’ve taken have prepared me well for the professional world. Knowing how to set and meet realistic deadlines, do research and present my findings, and work in diverse teams has been incredibly valuable.

I’ve also needed to absorb a lot of new information during my internship, and knowing how to effectively take notes and recall information has been really helpful.

What lessons learned from your internship do you think you’ll use most in the future?

I’ve definitely learned some helpful tools and techniques for data analysis, and what “big data” actually looks like in an industry setting.

I’m also learning how to effectively, concisely and professionally communicate ideas. Finding trends and creating sleek graphs isn’t very helpful if I can’t explain what they mean, and that especially applies when my audience is trained in theater or hospitality, not calculus.

If anything, I’ve learned that engineering doesn’t have to be cold and methodical: I might be doing data analysis, but my job is to make people happier, not to drive sales. That mindset is absolutely going to impact how I think about my career in the future.