More than 20 years ago, when Mar John Ecija, 26, was a little boy, he loved the Disney movie, “Toy Story.” More specifically, he liked the fictional character, Buzz Lightyear, the story’s resourceful space ranger and super hero.

And, in the fantastical imaginings of this then 4-year old’s mind, anything was possible. Soaring into the heavens with a jet pack, astronaut gear and best friend, Sheriff Woody, Lightyear embodied bravery and ambition, best known for his battle cry, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

Little did that little boy know then, that one day, he could describe his own future with the same call to action.

All grown up now, and the proud recipient of an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University-Central Texas in liberal studies focusing on mathematics and psychology, Ecija can hardly believe his good fortune, having competed for — and landed — a prestigious spot in the Disney College Program, a four- to seven-month internship, allowing interns to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build transferable skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication.

Not that he wasn’t already prepped within an inch of his life by the A&M Central Texas Career and Professional Development Office where he was once a student worker. His supervisor, Amanda Jo Olson, helped him review and improve his resume and encouraged him through the application and screening process.

“Having worked in our office for almost two years, he’s seen the value of letting us help,” said Olson. “But, as important as that was, it wasn’t the most important thing. Mar John himself is the key to his success.

“He had a vision of what he wanted to do and he did it,” she explained. “We offer resume review, job placement, interview preparation, networking and so much more. The university makes these resources available so that our students can improve their competitive position, and Mar John is proof that it works. Our students get internships, full-time jobs, a referral — and for a lot of them, these things mean they get a new professional beginning — because that’s what we help them do.”

Ecija couldn’t agree more.

“There were so many steps involved in the application process,” he said. “There was the resume review, a web based interview, a phone interview, and — if all of that went right — an offer. After I realized I was selected, there was a lot of laughing and happiness and celebrating.”

Still Ecija is mindful that what might seem like a stroke of great luck was really the result of years of hard work and sacrifice. The first of his siblings in a military family to complete an undergraduate degree, he wasn’t always sure if he would finish.

As a student at Texas Tech, he was doing well until his grandmother became ill in 2018, requiring him to move back to Killeen. And what might have felt like a setback at the time was really a blessing in disguise.

“I loved the years I spent at A&M Central Texas,” he said. “Instead of only having access to teaching assistants in enormous lecture halls where no one even knew my name, I had all of the one-to-one time with my professors that I needed. They were completely devoted to my learning and we developed relationships that we are going to have for the rest of our lives. It’s like family.”

Hoping to compete for a professional position on the Disney Marketing team after his seven-month internship is complete, Ecija’s odds are actually pretty favorable.

Career and Professional Development officials say that the internship program is so highly thought of that more than 90 percent of the interns who complete the Disney College Program are offered full-time employment.

As proud as they are to have been a part of Ecija’s success, the Office of Career and Professional Development is also excited about the fact that A&M Central Texas is now considered a “Disney Campus,” meaning that it future students will have opportunities for professional careers and internships, as well.

The faculty and academic leadership of the A&M Central Texas College of Arts and Sciences are thrilled with Mar John’s success. Not only is it a testament to a student who believed in the power of his own dreams, but its more evidence that a degree in liberal studies is valuable.

“A liberal studies major is one of the most versatile degrees a student can earn today,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jerry Jones. “Liberal studies develops timeless skills like effective communication and critical analysis. More specialized degrees often focus on a narrow career track based on the current market, but liberal studies majors are positioned to adapt to the demands of future careers and opportunities.”

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