Disney Internship Provides Insight on Hospitality in Assisted Living

Posted: May 14, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

Guests at the Grand Floridian Resort, located within view of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Fla., enjoy all the amenities available from the vacation destination’s premier resort. But for Maria Pokorny, a Mason student completing a semester internship in hospitality services at the hotel, the experience has provided a model for improving care for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia.

Pokorny, 21, a junior in Mason’s program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration, has worked the previous five years in a Northern Virginia assisted living community.

Maria Pokorny and Aziza Ali
Student Maria Pokorny, left, did her internship at the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World Resorts. With her is her internship supervisor and hotel general manager, Aziza Ali.
Photo courtesy Maria Pokorny

Her goal in working at the Floridian is to learn how Disney’s approach to hospitality can be used to improve quality of life for such residents. Nearly 5 million U.S. seniors suffer from dementia, with the number expected to grow to nearly 20 million as the Baby Boom population ages.

“We’re taught in the Mason program how important it is to make seniors feel special and at home, and so much of that is incorporated in the way Disney approaches their guests,” says Pokorny.

Pokorny is the second Mason student to spend a semester at the Disney World resorts as part of a unique arrangement between the university and the Disney College Partners Program. In both cases, the students had previous assisted living experience. Students without such experience are required to complete internships within traditional assisted living communities.

“An Alzheimer’s community can cost in excess of $60,000 a year,” says Andrew Carle, assistant professor and director of the Mason program, which was the first in the nation dedicated to the field. “Maria understands the clinical side of Alzheimer’s, but people with dementia know when things aren’t clean, phones aren’t answered or staff aren’t professional – as do their families. It’s about raising standards in every area.”

Pokorny’s work involves or provides exposure to areas similar to those found in an assisted living community, including housekeeping, maintenance, security, transportation, dining and front desk duties.

In addition, she will complete Disney course work in hospitality and human resource management. Following her internship, Pokorny will return to Mason to complete her degree in health care administration, which has already included course work in assisted living, aging and Alzheimer’s as part of a concentration in senior housing.

Pokorny’s background has also been useful to Disney. “We have guests with disabilities, or older adults who need special assistance,” she says. “We have to understand and adjust to their needs, which I’m used to.”

Pokorny was one of only two interns asked to extend their stay for an additional three months, as well as to become a trainer for new interns, says Carle. “Which means she’s outperforming the hotel management majors.”

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