When new alumna Marissa Honka ’19 returns to UCF for graduate school next summer, her tuition will be fully covered under the Disney Aspire Program. Originally, her mother and father had anticipated paying much of her educational expenses out of their pockets. Honka relishes in the fact that she can relieve her parents of such an immense financial burden.

“Disney Aspire has been a dream come true for me and my family,” says Honka, who earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at last weekend’s commencement. “I am fortunate to have parents who are willing to go the extra mile for my future. At the same time, my parents have already done so much for me throughout my life. I wouldn’t want to put the weight of graduate school on their shoulders.”

Honka is one of the first 18 UCF students to graduate under Disney Aspire. The Program offers free tuition for Disney employees at a select number of colleges and universities across the country. UCF joined the network of institutions in May 2019, making more than 300 local Disney employees, including Honka, eligible for the program this Fall.

Building on the success of the initial launch of 34 undergraduate and master’s degree programs — including 10 that are fully online — UCF and Disney officials recently made the decision to expand the program’s offerings. When students return for the Spring 2020 semester, UCF will be making more than 70 of its existing degree programs eligible for tuition coverage under Disney Aspire.

The collaboration is a natural fit between UCF and Disney since both institutions are powerful economic engines in Orlando and across Florida. It also strengthens UCF’s already recognized position as one of the nation’s most affordable and best-value universities.

Next summer, Honka will pursue an MBA degree from UCF. A Disney employee since October 2018, she will continue working at Disney as a lounge concierge. Much like her final semester of undergraduate study, Honka’s graduate school tuition will be fully covered.

In the years to come, Honka plans to travel extensively — possibly as a flight attendant — immersing herself in as many foreign cultures as possible. Her long-term career aspirations include opening a Disney theme park or a Disney hotel internationally, a lofty goal that Honka has embraced wholeheartedly.

Honka also has embraced the rigors of graduate school at UCF. Even with Disney Aspire, she knows that continuing her education while working fulltime will not be easy, and she looks forward to the challenges. She says that this stage in her life has taught her a great deal about herself, both personally as well as professionally. Wherever her life’s ambitions take her, Honka says that she will always have a receptive ear for her parent’s wisdom.

“I lean on my parents for their advice and guidance,” says Honka, who remembers entering college as an elementary education major and realizing that wasn’t her calling. A period of self-reflection and several in-depth conversations with her mother led her to Rosen College and a career geared toward her life’s passions for travel and people.

“Literally, in my very first class as an education major, I knew in my heart that teaching wasn’t for me. That was a pretty tough moment,” says Honka, who was attracted to Rosen for its reputation for being one of the best colleges for hospitality. “My mother was amazing during that time, reassuring me that I wasn’t bound to the major, and that I could make a change to whatever was in my heart. That’s the type of support that I want from them.”