For Nicole Cutrufo, ’13, it all started with a childhood dream. After journeying from Europe to the United States to prepare for a career in theme parks, her passions led her home.
Can you describe your career journey since graduating from UCF’s Rosen College?
I graduated with my Master of Science in Hospitality Management in May 2013. It was a great accomplishment for me coming directly from Europe to study and work in the capital of hospitality in Orlando. After working at Disney as a guest service manager, I gained some great operations management experience. I then had the opportunity to continue my leadership journey at Universal Orlando as an attractions supervisor. After I graduated, I was selected to be part of the leadership group for Halloween Horror Nights.
Eventually, I decided to move back to Europe to continue my career and bring home the great lessons I learned in the states. I was offered some interesting industry roles in Europe and decided to accept a position for the opening of a brand new park, Cinecittà World. Today, I’m a guest service and attractions executive, opening a new park, inspiring, recruiting and training new staff members and creating a theme park culture. I’m involved in writing the attractions’ procedures for the very first time, designing tools, evacuation routes, standards of service, etc. It’s a great challenge, but also a great honor.
How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you for the industry and your current role?
I have always been a great theme park enthusiast ever since I can remember. I studied at the best business school in Italy, but there weren’t any classes to develop leadership skills in the theme park industry. The first time I came to Orlando was as a Disney International College Program participant working at Animal Kingdom. I then moved back to Europe to continue my career at Disneyland Paris and obtained the Hospitality Management Certificate from Rosen College while studying at Disney University. I was later accepted into Rosen College’s Master of Science in Hospitality Management degree program. I also served as a guest service manager in Future World Epcot operations thanks to an internship program at Rosen College.
I was blessed to have great professors from the industry supporting my development, believing in me as an international participant and giving me the knowledge, strength and hope to pursue my goals while realizing my childhood dream. As an international student and woman, my experiences at UCF and in the United States exposed me to a culture of women in business. It may be typical for an American student; however, it’s not where I come from. I will always remember the women I met in leadership positions in our industry and I will try to inspire other young women here in Italy to ask for more, to study, to be their selves in a world where there are not as many women in leadership positions.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do so far in your career?
Opening a brand new park! I had assisted the operations team in opening the Test Track area in Epcot and the new expansion of Krusty Land at Universal Orlando, but I never had the opportunity to open a brand new theme park like Cinecittà World. We recently opened the park and it was so emotional seeing the staff members welcoming and loading our guests. I felt honored to be part of that moment, going to work and remembering where it all started: my Rosen College education and my American dream.
What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?
My favorite part about attending Rosen College was to be in the global tourism center learning from professors from all around the world and studying with students from many interesting industry backgrounds. Career Services was also an incredible tool. Without the help of Rosen College’s professional advisors, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today; I wouldn’t have found my path or have been able to identify and work on my weaknesses. They helped me focus on being a positive example in the industry and working with passion and dedication. My professors taught me what professionalism is and today, they are my mentors and examples in my everyday life. During my morning briefings to my team members, I often mention my days at Rosen College and I hope that many international participants will have the same chance to study at UCF.
Do you think your degree gives you a competitive advantage compared to your peers? How so?
My degree prepared me with an in-depth knowledge of our industry. It also gave me the capacity to think strategically and analyze figures rather than think about new ideas without structure. I enjoyed the practical classes like Hotel Management and Food & Beverage Management, as well as Finance in the Hospitality Industry and Research Methods. Without this structure, I would not be competitive in a world of decisions. Decisions must always be supported by numbers and quantified. This is the best knowledge I brought home with me, in addition to the importance of teamwork.
What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students?
Serve as much as you can. During your university experience, apply for as many frontline jobs as you can and then use your hospitality experience in your research and studies at Rosen College. Many professors can help you link your everyday work experience to your studies. These teachings are the best competitive advantage you will have. Our industry needs prepared professionals and professionalism starts with service. Take advantage of being in the heart of the hospitality industry and find as many occasions to experience small things like open a ride early in the morning, complete a checklist, explain a map to a guest or smile as you say goodbye to every single guest at the end of the day. These things, together with your degree from Rosen College, will make you a leader.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
– Mother Teresa
To meet other Rosen College alumni and find out what they’ve been doing since graduation, please visit hospitality.ucf.edu/our-alumni.