Southeast Missouri State University junior Brianna Voelker of Waterloo, Illinois, is getting a taste of the horticulture industry this summer as she begins a seven-month internship at Walt Disney World Resort’s Epcot Center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Voelker is working in “The Land,” billed by Disney as a place for visitors to whet their appetite for sustainable high-tech horticulture. “The Land” focuses on human interaction with the land, encompasses six acres and is the largest pavilion in Future World, one of Epcot’s themed areas.
The first couple weeks of her internship have focused on classes and training, but Voelker says she’s excited to work with plants new to her. She says “The Land” offers a variety of crops grown hydroponically– those grown without soil.
“I’m just going to try to soak everything in and learn all that I can. Our managers and staff members are very knowledgeable, and they are always willing to answer any questions,” Voelker said.
Voelker’s duties include maintaining show quality crops in the greenhouse, performing general cleanup and sanitary procedures, harvesting food and floral crops, giving daily one-hour “Behind the Seeds” tours to Disney guests and staffing the “Behind the Seeds” tour desk. On those tours, guests are taken through various facilities where they can see backstage labs and greenhouses, and explore the future of agriculture.
It all began while browsing jobs online when Voelker came upon a plant science professional internship at the theme park. Voelker, an agribusiness major with a horticulture option, interviewed for the position over spring break while participating with a Southeast contingent in the Center for Strategic and International Studies seminar in Washington, D.C.
“It gave me a great talking point for some of the interview,” Voelker said. “The interview was about 45-60 minutes long, and it was conducted by two of the managers in my department that I will be working with on a daily basis.”
Voelker arrived at the beginning of June and will stay through the end of January. She says her department is fairly small with just nine permanent staff members and about 16 interns employed there every six months. Because it is small, “The Land” offers a family-like atmosphere and everyone has been welcoming and optimistic, she said.
“Even though I’m at Disney, and it certainly is a huge company, I don’t feel completely overwhelmed by my transition,” Voelker said. “Being in a different state is so neat. Florida has a subtropical climate, so there are so many different plants, animals, and weather patterns than the Midwest does not offer to learn about and explore.”
At Southeast, Voelker is an officer in the Horticulture Club and the SEMO Collegiate Farm Bureau and is a member of the Agriculture Club and Delta Tau Alpha Ag Honor Society.
“Like many college students, I’m not sure what I really want to do after graduation. I know I want to work in some aspect of the horticultural industry. I’m hoping that this internship will help guide me in the direction that I will find and be able to live out my passion for horticulture. I’ll just have to wait and see where this takes me,” Voelker said.