Students Extend Their Classroom to the Most Magical Place on Earth


Students taking the theme park and attractions management course visited Walt Disney World in Feb. to use their knowledge in a hands-on environment. Photo courtesy of Savannah Berardi.

Gracie Burgess, Staff Writer

Throughout the semester, students in the Lutgert College of Business have been learning the fundamentals of theme park management and operations. 

During the week of Feb. 1, students in the theme park and attractions management course had the opportunity to attend a field trip to Walt Disney World. With the immersive field trip to the ‘most magical place on earth,’ the students were able to put what they have been learning in the classroom to a visual representation and gain hands-on experience.

“The field trip was an amazing experience,” Dr. Gebriela Lelo de Larrera, assistant professor in Lutgert’s School of Resort & Hospitality Management, said. “Overall, everything went great during the field trip, and I am glad all the planning paid off. Disney has an amazing product.”

While the class was highly publicized for the spring 2023 semester, this is not the first time the class has been offered. It is an upper-level class restricted to juniors and seniors in Lutgert College of Business before being opened to upperclassmen of all majors at FGCU.

“I hope to learn the psychology behind theme parks,” senior Kaitlyn Chase said. “Why are people drawn to the immersion and escapism of it all?”

Chase is a psychology major with a concentration in neuroscience and cognition. She needed a free elective and saw a poster for the class in Sugden Hall. As soon as she had a free moment, she looked up the class to learn more about it before registering. 

“I’ve always loved going to theme parks and watching videos on their histories, so this class seemed perfect,” Chase said. “Additionally, I needed an elective to reach full-time, and what better way to finish my time here at FGCU with a field trip to Disney?”

Dr. Larrea is a new professor to the university as of fall 2022. She has worked at Walt Disney World on three separate occasions with it being her first job out of high school. She credits both Dr. Scott Lee – the prior professor at FGCU who taught HFT 4755, Dr. Michael Collins – a current Lutgert College of Business professor, and the cast members she still has connections with for the successful field trip experience.

“I lived in Orlando for over seven years, so I had some of the best theme parks in the world right around the corner,” Dr. Larrera said. “I am glad I get to share with my students everything that I have learned over the years about this exciting industry from professional and personal experiences.”

Other students such as senior Savannah Berardi have found this class to be a great introduction to what she hopes to be a future career working at Walt Disney World. Berardi is majoring in resort and hospitality administration. 

“After I graduate in May, I plan on beginning my career at Walt Disney World,” Berardi said. “This class has allowed me to increase my knowledge about the theme park industry and network with cast members, which will be a great benefit for my future.”

Both Berardi and Chase expressed how enjoyable the class and visiting Walt Disney World have been. 

“After the field trip, there is more camaraderie in the classroom,” Dr. Larrera said. “It has been very cool to illustrate or relate class topics to our field trip experiences, things we learned during the Disney workshops, or things we observed while visiting the parks.”

While on the field trip, students got to see the inner workings of Walt Disney World. They also got to experience and relate what they had been learning in the classroom to everyday life in the theme parks. 

“This is one of my favorite classes that I have taken at FGCU,” Berardi said. “I think that it is a great class for resort and hospitality administration majors as well as any other majors looking for an elective. It is so much fun, educational, and Professor Larrea is very helpful and passionate about the subject!”

While it is such an enjoyable class and students get to participate in a field trip to Walt Disney World, it is still a class. There are still readings, lectures, research projects to help build research skills, and exams.

“I encourage students who are passionate about the theme park industry, have a strong desire to build business acumen, and want to learn how a world-class organization is run directly from them, to join me next year,” Dr. Larrera said.

Students interested in taking this course next semester can do so by searching for HFT 4755.