How I Learn by Doing

Behind the Scenes at Disney

By Ciera Dixon


I am a liberal arts and engineering studies (LAES) major with concentrations in industrial engineering, system design and interactive communications, and media. Yeah, the name is weird and long. I prefer to call it “media engineering,” because it’s shorter and doesn’t take up two lines on my resume. The only problem is that it doesn’t say much about what I do — which is actually great, because I can let my experience show what I can do instead.

Throughout my four years at Cal Poly, I have been a project manager for an international escape room, a projection designer for the Theatre and Dance Department, a content creator for a virtual reality experience, an international intern in Australia and most recently, a professional intern in the technology and operations department at Disney ABC Television Group (DATG) in Burbank, California.

The department picks projects for its interns that fit their interests and background, and then gives them full responsibility to execute the project. They give us the idea, and it’s up to us to figure out how to make it work. Interestingly enough, this is also how LAES assigns student projects, so right away, I felt at home. At Disney, I was never treated as a stereotypical intern; the projects I worked on were important and actually helped make the company more efficient.

I was assigned two projects during my internship. The first was an individual project in which I wrote, produced and directed a proof-of-concept 360-degree video. Over the past year, I have been researching 360 video. I am dedicating my senior project to creating a guide to help others make content in this emerging format, so this project connected directly to everything I’ve been working on in my studies.

The second project I worked on was a group project with one of my fellow interns, Anya. We created a guide and workbook, called “Vision Decision,” to help teams within DATG identify opportunities for improvement. The project used concepts from my industrial engineering background and Anya’s business background.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that I was never unprepared, even though I was the only undergraduate intern among a team full of grad students. My time as an LAES major at Cal Poly provided me with the necessary experience to handle anything that was thrown at me. If I didn’t know how to do something, I could figure out how to make it work.

The most validating aspect of my internship was the realization that all the work that I have put into my major is actually going to pay off. A professor telling you that Learn by Doing is the best way to learn is one thing, but actually seeing it help you in an industry setting is really rewarding.