Most people go to Disney to relax and have fun. For the past three years, David Zanolla, a communication instructor at Western Illinois University, has taken students in his Disney World Communication Culture course to see the principles they learn about in class in action. "The people who needed the most convincing were the parents," he says, adding that the spring break timeframe is usually thought of as party time. But with a daily schedule of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., students have a full plate.
When Zanolla heard the WIU Honors College was accepting proposals for a special topic seminar, he expanded a well-received supplemental lecture about Disney Culture he'd been presenting to his freshman class into a one-credit course. The idea turned into a full-semester course with the Orlando trip about mid-way through.
The course also goes through the study abroad office to coordinate travel. Students pay normal tuition and an extra fee to cover travel expenses. Once at Disney, they experience a mix of tours and guidance from Zanolla. Disney staff customize the tours and provide other learning opportunities.
To keep students from getting too wrapped up in the Disney magic, he reminds them to look at the park through the eyes of a communication major and see how the "We create happiness" mission statement is supported by everything. Students can't just say they were happy. "They have to say why and give examples of how it was created," he explains.
The class this coming spring is being offered through the communication department. It will be a good test of how viable it is, says Zanolla, who is willing to run it based on demand. "Even when they are on vacation at a place 'for kids' they can see there is something going on." —A.M.