A crash course in customer service: Taylor ‘DeeDee’ Effinger experiences Disney magic in semester-long program

by | Jul 10, 2018

The mathematics major spent five months working in and exploring the Walt Disney World Resort.
DeeDee Effinger

Mathematics major Taylor “DeeDee” Effinger spent the spring semester in Orlando, Florida, as a student in the Disney College Program. Through the program’s “Live, Learn, Earn” model, she spent five months working in the Walt Disney World Resort, living with other students in a nearby housing complex, exploring the parks and taking Disney-led seminars. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The first time Taylor “DeeDee” Effinger saw Cinderella, it was through tear-filled eyes.

She wasn’t a child watching the classic animated film or even a teenager viewing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical adaptation when the emotion struck. Instead, she was a University of Missouri–St. Louis student watching an actress waltz through Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

“I’m a crier,” Effinger admitted. “I cried at every little, happy thing. When I saw all these little kids following Cinderella and Prince Charming around for the first time, I freaked out. I was like, ‘That’s Cinderella! I’m actually here.’”

The sentimental moment in the Walt Disney World Resort was just the orientation. Effinger, and her tear ducts, would have five more months of happy crying ahead.

From January through May, the UMSL mathematics major was one of the select students from around the country participating in the Disney College Program. The company’s “Live, Learn, Earn” model allowed Effinger to work in Disney World for the spring semester while living in a nearby housing complex and taking Disney-led courses and seminars.

Taylor “DeeDee” Effinger’s job placement for the spring semester was at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, a quick service restaurant in the Tomorrowland area of Magic Kingdom Park. She could often be seen greeting cafe guests with a plush hand inspired by “Lilo & Stitch.” (Photo courtesy of DeeDee Effinger)

During her time in Orlando, Florida, Effinger worked at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, a Disney restaurant that’s considered to be one of the busiest eateries in the world based on its number of transactions.

On a given workday, she could receive a variety of tasks from greeter to drink server, or her personal favorite: “magic maker.”

While she’s not a magician in the traditional sense, Effinger helped spread Disney charm by passing out Mickey Mouse straws to guests, giving away slushies and leading the restaurant patrons through birthday song renditions.

“At work, some of my favorite moments were just talking to little kids, kneeling down, helping the parents by distracting the kids,” Effinger said. “Then they would bring me over to their parents and be like, ‘This is my new friend DeeDee.’ They would hug me, and I felt like I was Cinderella.”

Through the program, Effinger deepened her understanding of the influence of customer service, learned tips on how to value time with each guest and became increasingly self-assured. But the confident, effervescent leader who can call a bustling restaurant to attention is a far cry from the person who first arrived at UMSL in 2015.

Effinger, who was homeschooled for many years, graduated from high school a year early. Insecure about her youth and unsure if she wanted to continue her education, she decided it was best to work through her fears before enrolling in college.

“I was younger and I had anxiety about people looking at me,” Effinger recalled. “I thought there would be these big, scary people saying, ‘Oh what is this young, little girl doing here?’ I took a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do.”

She finally gained the courage to start at UMSL after getting a job at a Michaels craft store during her year off from school. The time in retail helped assure her that she was ready for college and piqued her interest in business management, which she’s now minoring in at UMSL.

In the years since, she’s delved into various aspects of campus life by becoming an orientation leader, lifeguard at the Recreation and Wellness Center and residential adviser for Oak Hall.

She even grew so close with her Oak Hall residents that she debated not going to Orlando for the spring semester.

“Through my campus experiences, I’ve definitely learned how to have self-confidence and how to trust myself,” Effinger said. “I’ve also learned some of the inner workings of the university and how to network and cooperate with different organizations and offices on campus.”

It was even her training as an orientation leader that put the Disney College Program on her radar.

Taylor “DeeDee” Effinger (center) met many beloved characters, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, during her five months in the Disney College Program. Upon graduation, she hopes to continue working for Disney. (Photo courtesy of DeeDee Effinger)

Miriam Roccia, UMSL’s former assistant dean of students, delivered a presentation to orientation leaders on the Disney experience and how to provide a similar service to incoming students.

“I’m a big customer service kind of person, especially coming from retail,” Effinger said. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to go to Disney, and I’m going to learn what makes them so effective and how they are a top leader in the world.’

“Then being there made me even more of a Disney fan. I loved how Disney makes the magic for guests and seeing that every story is important to each and every guest. That’s kind of what got it for me, and I’m now a huge Disney fan.”

Effinger’s fandom has evolved enough that she plans to apply for the Disney Professional Internship program following graduation.

“When I began college in 2015, I would have never imagined where I am now and how much confidence I have gained,” Effinger said. “Now, I am excited to soon get my tassel and get back to the castle.”

Sara Bell

Sara Bell

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