Native Atlantan Ronke Olatunji started her career with the Walt Disney Company at the front desk of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World Resort while she a part of a unique college program. What started as a job turned into a 19-year career.
She took time to talk to The Atlanta Voice about her story, continuing her education (She completed her MBA at Rollins College in Orlando, Florida), working for one of the world’s largest companies and the best part of the journey thus far. “The people,” she said when asked what the best part of the journey has been. “I have gained relationships with colleagues that I know will last a lifetime.”
The Atlanta Voice: How does it feel to be representing Atlanta, Georgia State University and AKA family as a member of the Disney family?
Ronke Olatunji: I am extremely proud to be a graduate of Georgia State University, an initiate of the Eta Mu Chapter and member Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and what I call Atlanta born, NAIJA blooded. I hold all of that in the highest regard and strive to make each proud. When I visit GSU’s campus and return to Atlanta for Homecoming, I am happy to see the growth of the university. I am also grateful to the School of Hospitality because that is where I learned about the Disney College Program while in undergrad. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is a sisterhood I cannot imagine life without. There are forever relationships developed and a network of amazing women who I am inspired by. I am honored to have these experiences that contribute to how I show up as a Disney Cast Member.
AV: Going into your 2oth year with Disney, what has been the best parts of that journey?
RO: The people – I have gained relationships with colleagues that I know will last a lifetime. From mentors to friends and even bonus families, I am a better Ronke because of the connections I have made during my career journey. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the evolvement of Disney’s outreach to diverse communities. I’m particularly excited that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, a new attraction named after Disney’s first Black princess will open next year at Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. There’s so much happening now and it’s exciting to contribute to this area of growth. I have Co-Led one of Disney’s Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs), FL PULSE, since 2020. (PULSE stands for People United to Lead, Serve & Excel) and we support our Black Cast Members and allies. I have the honor of leading this work that has really fed my soul and I am grateful for the impact we’ve made. More recently, the Atlanta based team behind CreativeSoul Photography had their global release of their Disney Princess collection. There are four dolls and five prints inspired by some of Disney’s classic princesses. To see these beautiful African American dolls in person filled me with joy. I am super proud of this partnership because I envision little kids’ (and kids at heart) reaction to them and know it will make a difference on our culture.
AV: What would you tell 18-year-old Ronke to prepare for the journey she was preparing to go on?
RO: Buckle up…there is no way to fully prepare you for the things you will experience. And even when things sometimes seem tough, joy will come again so keep going. Lean into your strengths and just know the risks you take will work out for you. Also be sure and seek out a support system, mentors, community or church members, your own personal board of directors (BOD) of people who will mentor, advise and support you. Your BOD has been crucial to you in your career so form it early and fill the seats with people that only see the bluest of skies for you.
I would also share with 18-year-old Ronke something one of my mentors told me a few years ago:
“Every day the choice is yours. Be happy or don’t. Do what you know is right, and what is best, and let all the other stuff just roll off your back.”
AV: How important was the Disney College Program to your career?
RO: The Disney College Program was vital…it was the start of a career I could not have envisioned for myself. I came to the program to take a break from school before applying to the graduate schools. Growing up in a Nigerian household, hard work and taking pride in your name was instilled in me from a young age. Working at the front desk of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge allowed me to apply the lessons learned at home in my role. The front desk was the “catch all” of the resort. People came to see us for various reasons. It taught me how to become resourceful and I quickly learned it was not about knowing all the answers but finding the right partner who does. Looking back, I am so thankful I started with the Disney College Program. It gave me frontline experience and showed me the importance of the relationships you build with the Cast Members who work directly with our Guests.
I was fortunate to work with a great group of leaders who asked me if I wanted to apply for the Management Internship program. That internship led me to a full-time manager role upon completion and I haven’t looked back since. I have worked on 12 different teams in seven different businesses, and it all started in the Disney College Program.
AV: What kind of advice would you give to college students and young people interested in learning more about careers with Disney?
RO: Do your research – there is a career for everyone; our reach is broad with opportunities in almost any field you want to work in. Be persistent, be willing to take a role that will set you up for your dream role. Be willing to work in an hourly position. How you start will look different than how you finish. Be intentional about building relationships.
AV: What’s next for you?
RO: I look forward to continuing to grow in my career with The Walt Disney Company. The possibilities are endless if you’re willing to work for them and take a chance on yourself.