By Lea Killian
CU Admissions Counselor and alumni Madison Lyda graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Media Production last May. During her time at CU, she wrote as a student journalist for the Cameron “Collegian,” working her way from a staff writer to the managing editor.
In addition to her work on the “Collegian” and being involved in other organizations at CU, Lyda had one college experience unlike any other: Being accepted into the Disney College Program.
Lyda began dreaming of the Disney College Program when she was in the eighth grade and spent hours of her time researching and watching YouTube videos made by others who had been accepted.
Even at a young age, Lyda was determined. “In my eighth grade free period,” Lyda said, “I was so obsessed with the idea of doing the Disney College Program that my teacher helped me draft a list of 300 questions that they could ask me in my interview. We studied every single day for an entire semester because I knew it was something I wanted so badly.”
When Lyda first applied alongside 350,000 other applicants in her junior year of college, she believed her chances to be accepted were slim. From her research, she knew about Disney’s rigorous hiring process, but within a week of turning in her application, Disney had moved Lyda through all three application phases and accepted her into the program.
Upon arriving, Lyda quickly learned that no day was the same as the day before, even arguing that every hour seemed different than the last.
Usually finding comfort in well-balanced, familiar patterns, she was surprised at how exciting Disney’s unpredictable and demanding work schedule could be, some days having to wake up at 2:30 a.m. to get ready for work. On those days, she would get off work by 10:30 a.m. and have the rest of the day to herself.
Outside of work, Lyda would attend classes taught by Harvard professors and Disney Imagineers. When she wasn’t working or attending class, Lyda began to understand the difference between living in Disney and simply visiting.
Living in Florida gave Lyda the opportunity to explore every inch of the parks without the hassle and stress of a vacation time limit.
“If you were hungry, you could just go to Magic Kingdom to eat a hot dog,” Lyda said. “If you wanted a beverage, you could go to Epcot and visit every country. There was no pressure to see everything because you were living there for eight months.”
Even though the transition from Oklahoma to Florida was difficult at first, Lyda understood just how fortunate she was to have the opportunity. After acclimating to her new life, she never wanted to waste a second.
“It was nice because you knew that you were the lucky ones,” Lyda said. “There are so many people that can’t even afford to visit the park, and here you are, living there. I lived two blocks from Hollywood Studios. If I went to the top of my apartment building, I could see the Tower of Terror. I would always just go, even if I didn’t have a plan. I never stayed home.”
After Lyda completed her time with the Disney College Program, she returned to CU to finish her degree. At this time, she also resumed her job as the Managing Editor of the “Collegian.”
Print media wasn’t always one of Lyda’s passions, noting that the only reason she first applied for a staff writer position was because she wanted to use the scholarship money to help pay for her tuition.
“I had no intentions of staying with it or crafting my writing or learning any new skill, but toward the end of my first semester as a staff writer, I realized that it was something I really enjoyed,” Lyda said.
Through middle school and high school, Lyda felt like she was never truly taught how to write correctly. She often felt as though she wasn’t as smart or as gifted as other students, but when she joined the “Collegian,” her self-esteem began to change.
“Knowing that someone actually took the time to show me how to do things right started easing my anxiety and made me feel like I was actually on par with everyone else,” Lyda said. “That was when I decided to try to make the leap for an editor position.”
The determination that drove eighth grade Madison Lyda to practice 300 question interviews and spend hours researching the Disney College Program had started to help her reach the brand-new goals that she set for herself.
When Lyda was hired as the Student Life page editor, she was a PLUS scholar and heavily involved in RHA and PAC, making her the perfect person to write about events and organizations on campus, but what really started to garner Lyda’s attention was the layout and design aspect of the job.
At first, she was nervous about the responsibility of having to not only write stories for the page, but also design something aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching. Lyda was also worried about learning the software used to design the pages and getting better at photography. However, after she designed her first page and received praise from Mr. David Bublitz, the newspaper adviser, she found her confidence again.
“That reassurance and positivity from a mentor and from someone that I looked up to was a driving force behind realizing that I wanted to keep doing this,” Lyda said. “I might not be good at it, but this person is saying that I’m producing good work. Someone is saying that I am worth more than my thoughts would have me believe.”
Over the semester, Lyda’s designs started to improve, but it wasn’t until the following semester that she found herself completely enthralled with the design process, often getting distracted in classes trying to come up with layout ideas for the next issue of the newspaper.
Her work didn’t go unnoticed. The managing editor at the time came to her and said, “You’re going to design the front page of the newspaper.”
Lyda’s initial response? “Absolutely not.” She was still unsure about her abilities as a graphic designer, but Lyda said that having someone continue to believe in her drove her to create a design she truly loved.
“The design was for the Native American Student Association’s Indigenous Peoples Day,” Lyda said. “Not only was it a sensitive topic, but I have ties with that culture in my family. My grandmother was a Kiowa princess, and I wanted to make her proud.”
After completing the design, she said it was the first time she felt like she had done something truly well.
“The ‘Collegian’ is the reason I started dreaming for myself,” Lyda said.
After graduation, Lyda applied for the Admissions Councilor position at CU. She did apply for editing positions at Disney, but when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Lyda knew the timing just wasn’t right.
More than that, Lyda said she wanted to return to CU to work because when she first started as a student, she had no idea about Journalism and Media Production or the Art and Theatre Departments.
“I thought that was a crime,” Lyda said. “We have incredible programs here on campus. These students are coming here and, yes, some of them want to be lawyers or teachers, but some of them of secretly want to be graphic designers, painters and photographers. The admissions team did a great job beforehand, but I really wanted to change our outlook on the way that we were recruiting students… I wanted to show them that their brightest, most creative side can shine through with a degree here. I wanted to tell them about Dr. Matt Jenkins, who makes his own movies. I wanted to tell them about Professor Bublitz and his published collection of poetry. I wanted to tell them about Dr. Christoper Keller who basically changed the life of every student in this department. It was the journalist coming out in me. I wanted those students to be seen, and I wanted them to be heard.”
Ultimately, Lyda wants perspective students to feel the way she felt when she first joined the “Collegian” and started receiving praise for something she didn’t even know she had a skill for yet. She makes it her mission to guide every student in the direction their heart desires because that is what was done for her.
Being out of school has given her the opportunity to research things she didn’t have time for before, such as social media branding and marketing.
With her design experience on the “Collegian,” she knows she wants to make a career out of it, and intends on applying for the Communications Masters Program at the University of Oklahoma to improve her craft and learn more about those aspects of Journalism and Media Production.
Lyda also intends on reapplying for the editing internships at Disney when the time is right.
Ultimately, her goal is to work for a large marketing agency, but as of the last four years, she has the biggest dream of working for Netflix.
“It came to my head one day and ever since then, I’ve been dead set. I’m passionate about it and I know I can get there, because at one point, I felt the same way about Disney. Sure, it’s an off- the-wall dream and it sounds crazy, but I know I want to work for Netflix.
The “Collegian” gave me the opportunity to dream and find my passion and have hope for my future, and this was one of the goals that it gave me, one of the dreams that it allowed me to pursue. At one point, I was thinking, ‘I want to work for Netflix, but it’s never going to happen,’ and now I think to myself, ‘I want to work for Netflix. It’s not going to happen right now, but just like Disney, it will come to me when it’s ready.’”