Universal Orlando champions future generations through its Universal Education Center partnership with Orange County Public Schools
Imagine attending high school where every morning you are greeted with the roar of a roller coaster just steps away from your classroom. For the Universal Education Center’s graduating class of 2023, this was not only the reality, but also an integral part of their learning experience.
For the past 29 years, Universal Orlando Resort has partnered with Orange County Public Schools to provide an alternative approach to traditional learning for local high school students through its School-to-Work program. The Universal Education Center (UEC) is located on the grounds of Universal Orlando and, in addition to attending classes, each student works as a part-time Team Member at the theme park destination. The program welcomes up to 40 high school juniors and seniors to participate in this alternative approach to education each year.
“The program [UEC] gives students the opportunity to be Team Members at one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world while also being high schoolers,” explains Adam Swiatek, UEC’s Mentor of the Year and Digital Strategy Manager for Universal Orlando Resort. “Students learn life skills as they create a high school experience unlike any other.”
One of the unique highlights of the program is that each student is paired with a mentor – a Team Member from Universal’s management team. Mentors and mentees meet regularly to discuss school, work or sometimes to just talk and provide advice. The mentorship program is a support system, building relationships that cultivate further learning beyond the classroom or workplace.
“We are here to celebrate many wonderful things and a large part of that is the Mentor Program,” said 2023 graduate Paloma Pineda. “Mentors being able to help me on that personal level, I really owe them for helping me graduate because I never thought I would make it here.”
In addition to their mentors, a smaller class size allows the students to create long-lasting friendships with one another. They also receive more individualized attention with a 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, allowing students to further elevate their potential and goals.
“Our teachers genuinely care about each and every one of us and have been very involved in our high school careers,” 2023 graduate Abigail Mier shared. “Each one of us has a different story and path to take but whatever journey it is, we’ll be connected by our time here at UEC.”
The prestigious Lexa Ruoff Award was presented to Ryan Ortiz, a recognition named for one of the UEC’s founders and presented to the “Most Outstanding Senior” each year. The award comes with a full-time job offer to continue working at Universal Orlando. Abigail Mier received the inaugural “Rebecca Haile Davis & William “Bill” Davis Aspiration Scholarship,” presented to a graduate continuing their education at an accredited university or trade school. This annual scholarship was made possible by former Universal Orlando President Bill Davis and his wife, Becky.
All 14 graduates also elected to continue their careers as Team Members at Universal Orlando, another first for the program. Congratulations to the Universal Education Center Class of 2023!