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Spring 2008 - Disney

Destination Purdue > Spring 2008 - Disney

Disney brings out the animal in interns

By Hannah Brescher

For many people, an ideal Walt Disney World experience might include a ride on Space Mountain and a photo with Mickey Mouse, but Purdue Agriculture graduate Kristen Emsweller's internship experience meant strapping on safari boots and going to work in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Kristen Emsweller

Photo provided by Kristen Emsweller

Kristen Emsweller, a 2006 animal science graduate from Lafayette, Ind., teaches children the importance of conservation during her internship as an education presenter at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Laura Rudolf

Photo by Hannah Brescher

Laura Rudolf, a second-year veterinary technology student from Mooresville, Ind., was an intern at Epcot Center's The Living Seas.

"Meeting people from all over the world and seeing the difference I made in the kids' lives made the internship so worthwhile," explained Emsweller, who earned her bachelor's degree in animal science in 2007.

Meanwhile, Laura Rudolf made her own splash at the park behind the scenes at Epcot Center's The Living Seas. The second-year veterinary technology student from Mooresville, Ind., was an aquatic veterinary assistant intern for six months, taking home underwater experiences that will launch her into her career.

As undergraduates, Emsweller, Rudolf and many other Purdue Agriculture students participated in various six-month professional internships at Walt Disney World in Florida. The internships draw students from many majors, and allow participants to gain insights into their chosen fields. Rudolf and Emsweller participated in Disney’s animal programs internships, which offered them opportunities to study exotic animals and animal conservation.

Rudolf performed a number of tasks, including recordkeeping and examining animals such as sharks and dolphins from below the water. Her favorite aquatic species to work with was the sea turtle. "They can't see very well, but they are stoic and have lots of personality," she said. "One 400-pound male, surfacing to breathe, swam into me while I was underwater. It scared me to death."

Rudolf also worked with teams from other Disney parks. One of her most memorable moments was assisting in a surgery on a duck in Disney's Animal Kingdom. The surgery involved making a small hole in the animal and working with tiny instruments to get the job done. Through a mask, which revealed only her eyes, Rudolf's job was to hold the small camera inserted into the animal and follow the surgeon's directions. It was the first time she assisted in this type of surgery, and she had an audience of visitors watching her every move.

"I didn't know what I was doing," Rudolf said with wide eyes. "I was trying not to shake because every movement was critical. After the surgery, I had to stop and take it all in, because this was something I accomplished and was not trained to do." Rudolf said the experience allowed her to try something new and helped prepare her for future surgeries she would assist with while studying to be a veterinary technician.

While Rudolf spent most of her time out of the public eye and working with exotic species, Emsweller enjoyed her time interacting with the park guests. Emsweller was an education presenter, connecting children with the natural world at conservation stations around the park. Holding cockroaches or standing in front of a gorilla's habitat, she delivered messages to families about wildlife and animal behavior.

She also had the opportunity to design a special project for Disney, one that fit perfectly with her interest in child education. She revamped one of the conservation stations to make it more appealing, then tested the site and recorded the children's responses. "I noticed that the stations were set up for auditory and visual learners," she said. "I wanted to make it more interactive and hands-on, so it would appeal to other learning styles."

Even though the redesign couldn't be used after she left, Emsweller said the opportunity allowed her to individualize her internship experience, something not all internships can do. "It was so rewarding when kids I talked to the day before came back to my station," Emsweller said, smiling. "One time a little girl came back and proclaimed, 'I saw a spider in our hotel and I didn't kill it.' In that instance, even though it was a small one, I really felt like I was making a difference."