Shannon McCully finds magic in industrial engineering through career at Disney

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Industrial engineering is all about efficiency and innovation, incorporating math and science to create new and improved ways to perform tasks. These tasks are accomplished using a variety of methods. For some, the trick might be instinctual, while others rely on science and equations to get the job done.

But for Penn State alumna Shannon McCully, there is one thing that makes her career in industrial engineering different from all of the others: magic.

With the official title of manager of industrial engineering, McCully leads a team of experienced industrial engineers to support Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Orlando, Florida.

“I lead a team, so first and foremost I support the team members,” McCully explained. “We’re really like an internal consulting firm, and my client areas include global marketing and sales, and transportation. So my job is to maintain contact with the clients, solicit from them projects that help improve the business or we come up with ideas that drive value on our own.”

A lot of the work that McCully does for Disney is to make the process of visiting one of its locations as easy and enjoyable as possible for guests.

“We’re analytical thought partners. I assign work to my team for projects, and then I make sure I review it and make sure the work is sound and that we are making good recommendations to help Disney run more efficiently,” she explained. “You know, our guests dream about visiting and save up to visit Disney Parks, so we want to make sure they have the best experience possible.”

McCully graduated from the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Within a month, she began her career with Disney.

“Disney called me because Penn State sent my information when a manager who went to Penn State asked for résumés. They contacted me, interviewed me and then invited me down to Florida,” McCully explained. “I had a very nontraditional path to the position. I got very lucky and I worked very hard.”

After graduating from Penn State, McCully had one month to buy a car and pack up all of her belongings. After that, the moving van showed up and brought everything she owned to Florida, and she’s been there ever since.

“I definitely did not think I’d stay with Disney for as long as I have, but it’s such a great place to work and I always get to keep learning. Besides, it’s Mickey Mouse,” she joked. “It’s just such a neat place to work that I never left.”

In 2003, McCully earned her MBA from the University of Florida.

“When I graduated with my MBA, I calculated that I had spent two-thirds of my life in school. I decided I needed to take a break to just work and travel,” McCully said.

And travel she did. McCully says that apart from work, her greatest hobby is traveling the world and seeing new places. Between personal trips to places like Hawaii and all over Europe, and business trips to the many locations globally where Disney operates parks and resorts, McCully has been to her fair share of interesting places.

“I’ve had the opportunity to go to Disneyland Paris for three business trips, each a month at a time, to help out with a new park. I also was able to go to Italy do some work with our first cruise ship, the Disney Magic,” she said.

When asked what her one piece of advice would be for students that are preparing to graduate or begin a career, McCully’s advice was simple: Do what you are passionate about.

“You show up for work every day, you might as well do what you love. Even if you don’t find it right away, keep looking for it,” she said. “School does end. You will get through these classes, and on the other side of that you get to solve some really cool problems that help people. And that‘s what’s great about industrial engineering. We make things run better, and we help people.”

McCully found this passion at the intersection of industrial engineering and Mickey Mouse, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Despite her success, McCully originally came to Penn State to major in aerospace engineering. It wasn’t until struggling through her first physics class that McCully realized that maybe aerospace engineering wasn’t for her.

In looking for something that had more of a business focus, McCully found industrial engineering and it was the perfect fit.

“I have a favorite question that I ask students who are interviewing with me, because I’m also one of the recruiting chairs for the IME department. I ask them ‘just tell me about a place, and what would you fix about it,’” she said. “I feel that there are natural industrial engineers – those people that have walked into places saying, ‘Oh this drives me crazy and this is what I would do about it,’ their whole lives. School just teaches you the math on how to prove your theories right, but really I think some people are born doing it. I think I was born to do it, I just didn’t realize it until I was a sophomore.”

When asked if she plans to stay with Disney, McCully said she’s not planning on going anywhere, but she is always looking to learn more.

“I always want to have a role where I am learning something new,” she said. “I had supported theme parks for about 14 years, and four years ago my leader, who I had reported to in a previous job, called me and she said ‘Do you want to come back to industrial engineering and learn a whole new side of the business?’ and I said absolutely. To me it’s not so much about my job, it’s a question of ‘Can I keep learning?’”

Throughout her successful career with Disney, McCully never lost her love for Penn State. Soon after moving to Orlando, she joined the Central Florida chapter of the Alumni Association, and she said it provided her with the familiarity and sense of community that she missed when moving to a new city.

“Penn State is highly regarded in the industry, and students made the best decision choosing this school,” she said. “I would tell current students to follow what they love to do, not what someone tells them to do. Take risks, especially while you are young and you can. I moved 900 miles away from anything and anybody I ever knew. It was the best decision I ever made and I still get really excited when I see Mickey Mouse.” 

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Last Updated March 28, 2018