Up Close With Kirsten GUTOWSKI (mSU '15)
As a hospitality management major, Michigan State Evans Scholar Kirsten Gutowski knew few places could offer her more hands-on experience in her chosen field than the Walt Disney World resort, the world’s most-visited tourist destination.
In the pursuit of such an opportunity, Kirsten, a native of Canton, Mich., applied to the Disney College Program, which offers jobs at Disney theme parks and resorts to college students from across the country and around the world.
“My cousin did the program 10 years ago, had a great experience and, given that I’m a hospitality major, it quickly became apparent to me that I needed to take advantage of this program,” said Kirsten, a junior at Michigan State. “Disney is one of the world’s largest hospitality companies and playing even a small role within that company struck me as a tremendous opportunity.”
Kirsten soon found herself en route to the sprawling central Florida resort and was given a job as a seater at the Liberty Tree Tavern, a popular eatery at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park frequented by hoards of hungry diners each day.
Kirsten said the controlled chaos of working at “The Happiest Place on Earth” has helped her gain a better understanding of the hospitality industry.
“This place is unlike any other environment I’ve ever worked in,” she said. “Every day, we deal with 1,000 people with different wants and needs, which means each day is a completely different experience. This internship has given me the opportunity to develop advanced customer service skills ... It is the job of a seater to make the chaos look like business as usual.”
Kirsten said the skills she learned caddying at Meadowbrook Country Club and as an Evans Scholar at Michigan State have made her better equipped to handle the sometimes madding crowds that flood the theme park and the Liberty Tree Tavern.
“Working as a caddie really helped me open up to new people,” Kirsten said. “When I was 15 and just starting out at Meadowbrook, I did not know my members. They were all strangers to me. Over time, you get more comfortable with yourself and talking to strangers. Now, I can go up to any person at Disney and find something to talk to them about.”
Kirsten’s experience as a caddie and Evans Scholar, paired with internships at Disney and Baltimore Country Club, have helped her consider a unique career path -- she wants to work at country clubs with the hope of one day becoming a club general manager.
“It’s like bringing the Evans Scholarship full circle,” she said. “Honestly, I never thought I would have wanted a career in country clubs when I was a caddie at 15, but I just can’t seem to get away. I love the relationships you build and being better able to connect with the people you serve. It makes that ‘magical moment’ that much better.”
Kirsten’s internship at Disney World ends in mid-May.
Did you know?
A PROUD SPARTAN
Having attended football games in East Lansing since she was a toddler, sports played a major role in Kirsten deciding to attend Michigan State. “People don’t expect me to be a sports nut, but I love them,” she said. “I even had my manager at Liberty Tree Tavern update me with scores during the Sweet 16 this March because I couldn’t have my phone out on the floor.”
An opportunity to intern for one of the world’s largest hospitality companies wasn’t the only thing that drew Kirsten to her recent internship. “Disney is a huge part of my life,” she said. “My family is also really obsessed. Working for Disney has made this love even stronger now that I know what goes into making the magic.”
EYE FOR DETAIL
Kirsten prides herself on her attention to detail, both on the course, in the clubhouse and at Disney World. “I like looking at the details that can help make a job perfect,” she said. “I’m frequently looking for small, seemingly minor details to tweak in the restaurant to make a guest’s experience even better. It’s those kinds of things that help build lasting relationships.”