Jill Knierim hugs the popular Disney character Pluto on one of her many trips to Disney World. Credit: Jeannie Knierim
Jill Knierim hugs the popular Disney character Pluto on one of her many trips to Disney World. Credit: Jeannie Knierim

By Thomas Morrison | LSU Student

Disney is not just for kids and a one-time life experience. For some current and former college students at Louisiana State University, it is a passion, as well as a major force in their lives -- something an LSU psychologist says can be healthy.

"I have been over (to Orlando's Disney World) 20 times," acknowledges Jill Knierim, a 17-year-old chemistry major from Houston. "The first time I went I was only 16 months old."

Knierim loves everything Disney. She says he owns every Disney animated movie on VHS and has multiple copies of her favorites, such as Beauty and the Beast.

"It would be fun to be a princess like Belle," Knierim said. "I've always wanted to be a princess."

Next semester she will have the chance to play one, thanks to Disney's college program. The program allows students to live and work on site with "the incredible opportunity to advance their strengths and interests, meet guests and cast members from around the country and take part in educational opportunities students can't get anywhere else."

"I only have 97 days until I start," Knierim said. She described the programs lengthy interview process as well as the four day wait for a response as some of the most nerve-racking experiences of her life.

"It was killing me waiting for a response; I must have checked my e-mail 30 times a day. If I had not gotten it I would have balled my eyes out."

Knierim worries, though, that the experience might ruin the "magic" of the place after working there.

That wasn't the case for mass communications major Taylor Martina from Kenner, La., who recently completed a semester at the Disney college program. "For me, the magic wasn't ruined because I helped create the magic".

Martina spent his semester ferrying vacationers on a boat to and from the Magic Kingdom.

"The best parts were driving the boat on Monday mornings." Martina said. "It's the first day of many vacationers stay and they, of course, go to the Magic Kingdom first. Coming into the park, we would reach the final corner where you can finally see Cinderella's castle and you hear the squeals of delight."

Like Knierim, Martina has been to Disney World almost 20 times and said his passion started at early childhood. They both say the parks feel almost like home to them, and are places they can go with their loved ones and relax.

"My whole family gets along there," Kneirim said. "My brother and I fight all the time, but we don't there."

"I have a history of making happy memories there with my friends and family," Martina said. "I get to be fully immersed in a world they created for me."

LSU psychology professor Katie Cherry said having leisure pursuits, such as visiting Disney World, is healthy and a part of a balanced life.

"People like to escape to a place that has meaning that often times can be associated with their childhood. You want to recreate these feelings and be able to step out of a stressful world."

According to Cherry, the same thing is accomplished by people who hike mountains, sunbathe at beaches, or attend Star Trek conventions. "As long as these pursuits do not affect their social or work lives it is perfectly healthy to have these interests."

Cherry said she recently completed a study on families whose homes were destroyed by hurricane Katrina and found one family started a tradition to visit Disney World every year after.

"They talked about going to Disney every year and they said going was helpful," Cherry said. "After they lost everything they needed something they could count on."

Andrew Herbert is another who grew up loving Disney World from childhood. He has visited the park close to 15 times and said it has always been a place where he could escape the stress in his life.

When Katrina forced the New Orleans native to evacuate his freshman year at Tulane University, he found he had a tough choice to make about his college career.

"I was told whatever college you evacuated to would force you to pay the same tuition fees of the last school you attended," Herbert said. "I don't know it if was just a rumor, but I felt that would be ridiculous with Tulane's tuition so I grabbed my garbage bags full of clothes and went to Orlando."

The Disney College program was the answer for Herbert. Disney World was a place he knew he could call home during his hard times.

"It helps you escape the world. You lose whatever cares and worries you have."