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DBS students do Disney – virtual work experience in the magic kingdom

International travel restrictions haven’t stopped Deakin Business School (DBS) students building valuable work experience with high-profile global brands.

Despite two years of travel disruption, DBS students continue to gain outstanding work-integrated learning (WIL) with high-profile global organisations.

Twenty-four DBS students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) recently completed a three-week intensive with Disney France as part of Deakin’s new Virtual Global WIL (VGW) – a program that’s been developed in response to the COVID pandemic.

Designed by Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, the consultancy-style program enables students to gain real-world experience as they act as consultants to business clients on authentic business challenges.

Global workplace experience without leaving home

As a three-week program with a single client, the Disney France VGW was a first for DBS as previous programs have typically run under a two-week model with individual clients. 

DBS academic Dr Wayne Read says the VGW provides students with important insight into the global workplace without leaving home.

‘It gives students the ability to gain international experiences while borders remain closed. COVID has highlighted that we do not necessarily need to be in the same office or country to work effectively, and this type of program lets students experience that. Through programs like the VGW, the Australian Business Consultancy program, and the Business Development Clinic, DBS provides students with the opportunity to gain experience working with real businesses, developing recommendations for real clients.’

Working with Disney – a unique opportunity

For DBS students Jessica Cuddy, Raj Tripathi, Shannon Coats, and Susie Harrison, the Disney France VGW was an outstanding opportunity to gain skills in problem-solving, leadership, and project management with one of the world’s most recognised and enduring brands.

Bachelor of Business student Jessica Cuddy says her team’s brief required definition of an approach the Disney organisation could take in adapting its current retail offerings to emerging market trends.

‘We worked together to research the key elements of our brief to form three key recommendations for how Disney could build on their strong foothold in the market to align with the changing demands of consumers. Each week we had regular team meetings and catch-ups with our mentor to direct our line of thinking. At the conclusion, we did a 20-minute presentation to explain to the client what opportunities we came across and why moving towards them would prove beneficial for Disney.’

She says one of the highlights was the opportunity to interact directly with the global giant and ask questions about how it applies traditional operations management concepts.

‘Disney is an industry pioneer and one of the most successful, unmatched entertainment entities in the world. To be given an insight into the possibilities that exist in operational logistics was such a unique opportunity.’

Corporate insight, high-level creative thinking

MBA (International Business) student Raj Tripathi says working on a business challenge for Disney helped him develop high-level creative thinking, collaboration, and teamwork skills. 

‘I was part of the business model team … we all worked well together and the group dynamics encouraged me to constantly search for ways to refine the underlying idea. I was able to polish and adapt new skills like leadership, better communications, and networking. As well as having the opportunity to gain insights into corporate working world, it made me think outside the box and I also learned to calmly manage new and uncertain situations,’ he says.

Business career confidence

A highlight for Master of Business student Susie Harrison was representing her team both in the early discussions with Disney, and in the final presentation.

‘The first time I presented, I was incredibly nervous however after I introduced myself in French, our Disney contact asked if the whole presentation was going to be in French, this lightened the mood and settled my nerves as I moved through my introduction,’ she says.

Other features, she adds, included working with a diverse team of students, gaining business insight, and building career confidence.

‘One of my key takeaways was that working in a business environment isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Having never worked in this area I was certainly nervous going into the program but I came out the other end with much more confidence that I could do this type of work.’ 

Once-in-a-lifetime experience

The Disney France internship was Shannon Coats’ fourth Deakin Abroad experience but the first she’d completed fully online. 

‘As a virtual program it obviously comes with some challenges but the highlights were more than worth it,’ she says.

A major highlight for Shannon was putting together a project (based on her team's research and ideas) that was then shared with one of the world’s most influential companies.

‘It was a once in a lifetime experience,’ she says. 

Like her DBS peers, Shannon enjoyed working in a team with like-minded students who were all striving to produce their best possible work. 

‘The biggest takeaway for me was collaborating with team members across the globe. In the future I hope to work in an international team so having this experience was extremely valuable,’ she says.

DBS academic mentor support

As the program’s academic mentors, Dr Read and DBS colleague Estherina Daniel were on-hand to meet with the students several times a week. 

Dr Read says their role was to challenge the students to think about their project’s direction, look for any gaps in ideas and arguments, and to bounce around ideas and questions.

‘Like any project moving towards a deadline, it has a time pressure that builds closer to the pitch day, things are not always smooth sailing, and sometimes we were there simply to support and check-in on students.’

DBS students generate ideas for Disney

Reflecting on the program, Dr Read says the DBS students performed to a high standard and succeeded in generating some innovative ideas and business solutions for Disney.

‘One group had a very large, overarching project that explored options for Disney broader Europe, Middle East and Africa strategy – this was challenging and required a great team effort to focus it into something that could help Disney. Other teams were able to dive into some high-tech suggestions on developing new business models and consumer relationships and explore some really amazing ideas. There were a number of students that made great impressions on Disney and now have LinkedIn contacts to show for their hard work.’ 

Ms Daniel says the DBS students delivered exciting, actionable, and relevant solutions for Disney.

‘They really came together to create their own scope allowing them to deliver targeted solutions. I was especially impressed with the students who discussed their concerns, took on the coaching and advice, and addressed challenges themselves … in all instances their outcomes were stronger with higher performing teams and better outcomes.’

Glimpsing the future

As well as being a challenging, highly-rewarding experience, Dr Read says the Disney VGW program was ‘a lot of fun’ for both students and mentors.

‘It was great to get a special glimpse into the future of Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and National Geographic. The program would not have been possible without the great support from our valued colleagues at ESSCA School of Management in France. The staff at ESSCA provided the students with some great additional masterclasses and insights into what it is like to work in France.’

More information on Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law work-integrated learning programs can be found here

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