Learning With Disney

Learning With Disney

Learning With Disney

It began three decades ago as a travel course to Florida. Buena Vista University business students learned about business strategies from retired executives. It has since evolved into a dual-department exploration of how business and communication strategies used by the Walt Disney organization can extend to the boardroom and the classroom.

According to Henry Hardt, professor of business, the idea of offering travel courses during BVU’s January interim goes back to 1972. Dr. Paul Russell, emeritus professor of economics and former dean of the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business, believed there was educational value in off-campus experiences. William Cairnes, former treasurer of the BVU Board of Trustees, was a member of the Bird Key Yacht Club in Sarasota, Fla. He mentioned to Russell that he knew a number of retired business executives who would be happy to share their expertise with students. For decades, business students traveled to Florida to active businesses of all sizes to learn and network.

As travel courses became more popular and varied at BVU, the Florida trip lost a bit of its allure due to competition from other outstanding academic travel options. A few years ago, Hardt, who took over as leader of the trip in 1987, decided it was time to reinvent the trip yet again. A Sunday after-church discussion with Jerry Johnson, Class of 1985, assistant professor of digital media, opened the door to reinvigorating the program using Disney as a central focus.

Hardt and Johnson created a course called “Storytelling with Walt Disney” and began to shape a trip that would enable students from the two academic disciplines to jointly explore the Disney theme parks in a way that would be educational. They started with what they call the “Disney Single,” which focused on Walt Disney World in Orlando. After a successful run, they decided to try the “Disney Double,” in which the students explore Disneyland in California as well as the Orlando park. January 2013 will mark the third year of the “Disney Double.”

“The greatest outcome has been students discovering that Disney principles don’t just apply to business and media but can be used in other career settings as well,” says Hardt. “Our students are seeing that they can be applied to finance, accounting and even education.”

Brianna Funte, a junior digital media major from Osage was one of four students from the 2012 Disney course who incorporated their newfound knowledge and experiences into BVU Scholars Day presentations. Brianna teamed up with Mary Jane Ferguson, a sophomore philosophy major from Surrey, British Columbia, for a presentation titled, “Discover Your Inner Disney: How to Apply Walt Disney’s Storytelling Strategies to Everyday Life.” 

“It was amazing to see how many different ways the storytelling strategies can be used. Yes, Disney used them to create wonderful theme parks, but we use the same sorts of strategies to tell our own stories,” says Brianna. “I will be able to further use these strategies as I write media stories. Everyone can and does use the strategies in everyday life.”

Kayla Hartgers, a junior elementary education major from Colfax, and Amanda Swanson, a junior elementary education major from Aurelia, presented “Disney in the Elementary Classroom,” which illustrated their use of two of the eight Disney principles in a first grade classroom. Their research revealed that video presentations made lessons more memorable for young students. To test this theory, they used Disney’s The Lion King to help students learn about and discuss the food chain.

At some point in the future, Hardt would like to see an international component added to the trip, in which the students would visit Tokyo Disneyland in Japan and EuroDisney in Paris.

While nothing is on the immediate horizon for the international component, the Disney adventures and learning will continue. Johnson and Hardt have enjoyed the partnership created by this trip. They even identify a bit with the famous Disney brothers – Walt and Roy.

“I’m the Walt and he’s the Roy,” Johnson said. “I deal with the storytelling side of it all, and Henry handles the business details. Just like Walt and Roy.”