LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 30, 2019) — Students come to the University of Kentucky to follow their passion and pursue their purpose. Marilyn West was no exception. In the fall of 2007, she was a bright-eyed freshman with high aspirations.
Similar to the late, great Walt Disney himself — her dreams started with a mouse.
"I can remember back to my very first week of class freshman year and drawing a huge Mickey Mouse icon in my 'future goals' section of a brainstorming activity," West said. "I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I was definitely going to work for The Walt Disney Company someday."
West would not only go on to work at the "most magical place on earth" — she would become one of the smiling faces that represents the resort. Last year, she was offered the role of a lifetime and named a 2019-2020 Walt Disney World Ambassador.
"It is such a huge honor to carry on the legacy of Walt Disney himself," West exclaimed. "I am thrilled to continue this wonderful tradition and share the magic of Disney every day."
Her dream job came true with dogged determination, and of course, a little bit of magic. West also knew she needed a support system to succeed. And that's exactly what she found at UK.
"I wanted to become a Wildcat because no other school felt like 'home' as much as UK," West said. "I fell in love with the beautiful campus, but the people are what made me want to stay."
The Northern Kentucky native earned two diplomas from UK — a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in business administration. Throughout her time on campus, West met fellow students who became lifelong friends and faculty members and academic advisors who became trusted mentors.
"I can remember sitting down with Diane Freeman during my very first week of freshman year and telling her that my dream was to work for Disney," she explained. "From that moment on, she provided endless resources, contacts and words of encouragement to help me achieve that goal."
West also credits College of Engineering staff members for helping her seize opportunities.
"Ilka Balk encouraged me to step out my comfort zone and study abroad for the first time — where I developed valuable communication skills while learning how to live in and adapt to a different culture," West added. "Kim Sayre helped me to broaden my professional skillset by encouraging me to pursue my MBA through the Engineering/MBA Dual Degree program. All three of these women never gave up on me, and more importantly, they never let me give up on myself."
West knew she would one day have to stand out among a sea of applicants. In an effort to build her resume, she applied for one of Disney's coveted internships. Following her sophomore year, West was accepted into the Disney College Program — a unique internship that allows participants to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes and build transferable skills.
In the summer of 2009, West worked at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, where she learned the ins and outs of daily operations and how to provide exceptional service to guests.
West later applied for an engineering internship through Disney Professional Internships. She would go on to complete three engineering internships at Walt Disney World Resort. From attraction safety to water filtration systems and everything in between, West experienced what it took to maintain the magic.
The hands-on experience and networking would pay off. Upon graduating in 2013, West became a project manager for the Worldwide Safety organization at Walt Disney World Resort.
"Studying at UK helped me to realize the importance of teamwork and communication, and those skills have helped me adapt to and succeed in every role I’ve had at Disney thus far."
Those skills — paired with her unwavering commitment and undeniable passion — didn't go unnoticed. In September 2018, West was named one of the 2019-2020 Walt Disney World ambassadors. The two-year position was started by Walt Disney himself back in 1965 at Disneyland Resort and has since expanded to many Disney sites across the world, including Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort.
As a Disney ambassador, West spends her days recognizing Walt Disney World cast members and celebrating Disney’s past, present and future.
"No two days are ever the same! I am one half of the current Walt Disney World Ambassador team, and the two of us are the official spokespeople for Walt Disney World Resort — representing over 75,000 cast members through media interviews, at community events, and at various grand openings and cast member celebrations that take place across our property."
Sounds like an exciting job. And, it is. West frequently finds herself feeling inspired by the very cast members she represents.
"Walt Disney once famously said, 'you can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make that dream a reality,'" she said. "I hope to continue to remind all of our cast members that they play such an important role in creating happiness for so many people every day."
Walt Disney also once famously said, "First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare."
The girl who sketched Mickey Mouse as her "future goal" freshman year dared to chase her dream. Now, she wants current students to have the courage to pursue theirs.
"Figure out early what your passions are and vocalize them! Tell your roommate what your dream job is or talk to your professor about steps you can take to progress toward your goal," West said. "The more people you share with, the more people can help guide you down a path toward success."
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.