Evelyn Cates Journey
Evelyn Cates grew up in Disney World’s backyard, so it was a no-brainer that she applied to become a Disney Cast Member. Being the tour guide in her family, when the opportunity came to work for the happiest place on earth, there was no hesitation. Cates’s Disney journey started 12 years ago in Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. From there, she has never looked back, working as a character attendant, hotel concierge, statistical associate, guest researcher, traditions facilitator and workforce analyst.
Now, Cates is a Consumer Insights Senior Analyst for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products (DPEP), where she performs many data-driven tasks like market research. Before starting this dream role, she had no idea that there was a profession in data analytics.
“I applied for a job called statistical associate, and it was just a very unique role because it was just Saturdays and Sundays,” Cates said. “At the time, I was taking a stats class in college, and I [thought] okay, I can figure this out.”
Discovering the Disney Aspire Program
This job was Cates’s introduction to the field of analytics. Once she attended the Disney Data Analytics Conference and learned about how the other departments use data and its significance within the company, she knew that this career was the one for her. While working as a traditions facilitator, she discovered the Disney Aspire program.
“They were telling us all the details so we could talk about when we were facilitating classes, and I realized ‘I meet all of the requirements,’” Cates said.
Disney Aspire, in partnership with Guild, is a program that works with over 10 learning providers to offer over 180 programs to hourly cast members and employees to achieve their academic goals. Disney Aspire covers 100% of tuition and other costs like books to eligible employees. Within a few months, Cates worked on her master’s in Data Science at no cost.
Something that Cates enjoyed about the program was the flexibility of it all. With her online program, she could continue working and experiencing life, all while completing her degree.
“My daughter was born in September 2020, and I graduated in November 2021. It was awesome. I could start one of my classes when I was on maternity leave because I didn’t want to go back to work and go to school at the same time,” Cates said. “Now, having a baby in the picture, I wanted to be done, and I wanted to keep my original timeline.”
There are currently over 14,000 students enrolled in Disney Aspire. In the program, over 50% of participants identify as a person of color, and over 60% identify as women.
“As a first-generation student, getting my master’s degree without student loans was something I thought would never happen. I feel fortunate to work for a company that has provided me with opportunities to help me grow,” Evelyn said. “I feel so proud to have made my way into this field. I didn’t realize women, especially Latinas, in tech were so few.”
Programs like Disney Aspire help students like Evelyn turn their dream education into a reality. Take Evelyn’s story as inspiration; when the opportunity comes, take those first steps to make those dreams a reality.