Doreen M. Mitchell
Vice President, Facility Asset Management, Walt Disney World Company
For three decades of innovative engineering at Walt Disney World managing multimillion-dollar projects, and for continually delivering on strategic initiatives for one of the world’s biggest entertainment providers
Growing up in Addison, Illinois, Doreen Mitchell dreamed of building skyscrapers in downtown Chicago. The thrill of watching construction take shape and a building rise steered her quickly toward civil engineering. Not in her wildest dreams, however, did she imagine she would become a working engineer at Walt Disney World.
Close to home, Purdue offered a promising engineering program. Hearing from the Society of Women Engineers sealed the deal. “For a female in the late 1970s, it felt great knowing that you are not the only one,” says Mitchell, who at that time was usually one of only two or three women in her construction classes.
Mitchell knew she had to work harder and strive for perfection to stay competitive in a field where she was outnumbered by male counterparts. “When I was interviewing for a job my senior year, a recruiter asked me, ‘Why in the world would any guys on a construction site ever listen to you?’” she says. “With that always in the background, I knew I had to prove myself.”
Mitchell proved herself to Disney when the Chicago firm she worked for built the Imagination Pavilion during construction of Epcot Center. That contract work exposed her to Disney’s high expectations. “I’m always looking for that challenge,” she says. “Disney’s expectations for quality drove my desire to problem-solve, stay engaged, and learn something new.”
After 30 years of leading traditional engineering projects at Disney, Mitchell says she found her most fulfilling role to be that of improving the guest experience through technology-based projects. From 2010 to 2014 she led Disney’s project management organization in the sitewide launch of MyMagic+, an interactive digital technology that allows Disney visitors to customize their experiences.
Mitchell says guests rave about their MyMagic+ experiences: “Everything is at their fingertips. They learn more about the offerings on their phones and computers and can plan ahead to make the most of their trip.
“The MyMagic+ project involved a group of very innovative people,” says Mitchell, who was tasked with keeping the various teams on course. “We started the project not knowing exactly what we would end up with, but ultimately delivered a fully integrated technology product.”
While the goal to enhance the guest experience may seem to lie outside the purview of traditional engineering, Mitchell says engineers are well-qualified to evaluate efficiencies and improve processes along the way. Her Purdue education, focused on problem-solving, has paid dividends at Disney. She says that looking at how to improve processes makes sense because no two projects are ever the same at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
Throughout her career — whether she is understanding technical details and creating construction schedules or managing people on multimillion-dollar projects — Mitchell has continued to think like an engineer. “As I grew through Disney, I found a lot of the things that work in engineering also work in leading an organization,” she says. “Engineers have a passion for making things better.”
Mitchell tells young women who are interested in any engineering discipline to learn everything they can, focus on teamwork, and gain hands-on experience. “Purdue has kept up so well with today’s industry and expectations for engineers; of course, I suggest they go there,” she says.
As for being honored by her alma mater, Mitchell says it is humbling and seems almost as far-fetched as the idea of her ever working at Disney World. “All I did was get a great education that prepared me for a terrific and interesting future,” she says. “It’s really a validation of Purdue.”
|2016-present||Vice President, Facility Asset Management, Walt Disney World Company (WDW)|
|2014-2016||Capital Projects Executive, WDW|
|2010-2014||Vice President, Project Management Office, WDW|
|2006-2010||Executive Director, Facility Asset Management, WDW|
|2000-2006||Executive Director, Manufacturing, WDW|
|1986-2000||Executive Director, Buena Vista Construction Company, WDW|
|1983-1986||Project Manager, MLB Construction Services|
|1981-1983||Project Engineer, Inland Construction Company|
|1981||BSCE, Purdue University|