When Jonah Stafford ’25 began exploring colleges to further his education, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota presented a unique mix of opportunity and the right fit.

A public relations and digital media major with a business minor, Jonah heard about Saint Mary’s through his mother, an alumna who received her master’s degree in special education through Saint Mary’s. While she pursued her Saint Mary’s degree, she continued her role as an English teacher at Faribault High School. “Her experience is what nudged me to look at Saint Mary’s,” Jonah shared, “but the biggest factor in my choice was the comparison of communication programs.”

He applied to three schools – Bethany Lutheran College and Gustavus Adolphus alongside Saint Mary’s, but after speaking with Dean Beckman, associate professor and chair of Saint Mary’s Business and Communication Department, Jonah was impressed with Beckman and the quality of Saint Mary’s public relations major, which would offer him a high-quality education and a variety of career opportunities. The major included a portfolio course designed to help with career readiness in the field, and that gave Jonah’s parents peace of mind in sending him to Saint Marys. 

Upon touring the campus in Winona, Jonah liked that Saint Mary’s felt so intrinsically “Minnesotan,” nestled into the bluffs of Winona and alongside the Mississippi River. Only being a couple hours away from home would also allow him to be close to family while still enjoying the college experience and being on his own.

Last summer, Jonah decided to step out of his comfort zone with an internship in Florida through the Disney College Program, which offers paid internship opportunities, as well as company-sponsored training programs and housing for students to work at places like Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, Disney Springs, or at one of their many hotels. 

“I was just like, I’m ready for a change, so I’m just gonna throw myself into something new,” Jonah said.

When he arrived, Jonah joined the showkeeping team at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, whose responsibilities involved elements of customer service while maintaining the cleanliness of the park. 

“If guests had questions, we were the main people walking around,” he shared. “Most of the other workers would be stuck in one spot, like a store or restaurant. So if someone needs to find something, we were probably the first people to be able to tell you where to go.” 

Many of Jonah’s experiences at Saint Mary’s helped him make the most of his internship.   Anything can happen in a place where thousands of people gather together, so the detailed training he received at Disney gave him a strong foundation of what steps to take in planning for and managing potential crises. Thanks to the networking events that Jonah attended at Saint Mary’s last year through Career Services, he felt confident interacting professionally with Jackie Swisher, the vice president of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, who connected him to a colleague in communications at Disney. Because of his PR classes in news writing, his journalism experience writing for the student section of a local newspaper in high school, and writing for three newspapers in Waseca County, he had the necessary skills to communicate with others sensitively and with purpose, which helped him provide effective support to Disney guests in need of help.

Jonah enjoyed his time in the Disney College Program so much that it motivated him to gain more hospitality experience as a student worker for Saint Mary’s Event Services Department. He is interested in exploring career opportunities in events and hospitality after graduation, but for now, he’s focused on gaining new experiences and living in the moment. 

“I want to be a little more self-directed right now,” Jonah said. “Instead of just writing other people’s stories, I’m living my own story.”

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