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UW-Eau Claire psychology student to intern at Walt Disney World

November 18, 2013
 Shelby Kirshbaum with Mickey Mouse

EAU CLAIRE — Walt Disney World: The place where dreams come true.

For University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Shelby Kirshbaum, one of those dreams soon will become a reality.

Kirshbaum, a psychology major from Maple Grove, Minn., will begin a six-month animal behavior internship at Disney's Animal Kingdom in January.

Animal Kingdom, located in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is one of four theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort and is the largest animal theme park in the world. Home to more than 1,700 animals across 250 species, the park reflects Walt Disney's dedication to conservation and commitment to animal care, education and research.

As an intern, Kirshbaum will work directly with animal program staff conducting research relating to animal behavior and conservation in a zoological setting. Other responsibilities will include literature studies, data collection of animal visibility, behavioral observations of a variety of species, and assisting in the design and implementation of animal behavior studies along with entry, analysis and evaluation of behavioral data.

"This internship is something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl," Kirshbaum said. "My family and I visit Disney World every two years; it's like my second home."

Kirshbaum, a Minnesota native, says she is a bit hesitant to move to Florida, but admits she'll be happy to be away from the cold weather for a few months.

Kirshbaum is a transfer student from UW-River Falls and North Hennepin Community College. When she came to UW-Eau Claire, Kirshbaum changed her major from biology to psychology with a minor in sociology.

"People tend to assume that working with animals is something only biology majors do, but a lot of the concepts are related to psychology," she said. "The field of psychology can be useful for many different purposes. The fact that I was chosen for this internship shows how UW-Eau Claire's psychology program is teaching students the information and skills they need to be successful in life."

Dr. Carla Lagorio, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Eau Claire, has been by Kirshbaum's side since her first day at UW-Eau Claire. Lagorio encouraged Kirshbaum to become a member of Behavioral Applications Regarding Canines (BARC), a program to retrain and correct behavioral problems of dogs at the Eau Claire County Humane Association.

"Shelby has had a long-standing interest in animal care and training and has been very proactive in pursuing possible opportunities relating to this interest," Lagorio said. "She was one of the first students who I accepted into the BARC program."

Kirshbaum says BARC gave her the experience she needed to become a final candidate for the internship.

"Having such clearly defined interests and career goals is somewhat unusual for students at her level," Lagorio said. "She has certainly taken the initiative to explore a variety of internships and other experiences during her breaks from UW-Eau Claire."

Kirshbaum saw the position posted on LinkedIn and applied online through Disney's website. She went through two phone interviews where she showcased her animal-related research and internship experiences.

"I was offered the position during my second phone interview," Kirshbaum said. "I was one of two students selected out of 150 applicants."

Kirshbaum will live in apartments provided by Disney World with three other interns and will be able to attend Walt Disney employee-sponsored events such as character meet and greets, dances and special after-hours nights at all of the parks.

"This will be a great opportunity to meet other interns from around the world," she said. "I'm still in shock about the whole thing. It doesn't feel real yet, but this will be a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience I will always cherish."



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