Making the magic happen: Perham grad lands a gig with Disney
As kids, a lot of people dream about spending their lives at Walt Disney World. But as adults, very few get to actually do it.
Tara Steuber Wilson is one of the lucky ones.
After graduating from Perham High School in 2002, Tara got back-to-back bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, all in mathematics. While all that studying may have earned her a nice, fun, relaxing vacation to Disney World, she ended up there for a completely different reason – her career.
Tara is now a Decision Science Consultant for the Walt Disney Company, collecting and analyzing data in order to make processes at Disney more efficient, and to increase the profits of businesses at the park, such as resorts and restaurants.
It’s a very grown-up sounding job, in the land of eternal youth.
“I will never get bored,” said Tara of her position. “There are always new projects coming down the pipe, so I will always have a chance to work on and learn something new… I am very excited to have the opportunity to keep doing that with Disney.”
She’ll never get bored on her days off, either, since she’s able to spend them at Disney World – a perk of the job.
Life in general is good for her in Orlando, Fla., where she plays softball on a Disney co-ed league and watches popular musicals like “Wicked.” These are interests that carried over from her high school years, when she was on the softball team and played the clarinet in the school band and in the pit orchestra for the community musicals.
It was Perham teacher Larry Wankel who got Tara started in band, she said, “and I’ve had a huge appreciation for music and the arts ever since.”
It was also a teacher who started her on the path to an eventual career in mathematics: “I’ve always liked math, but it wasn’t until Mrs. (Diana) Porath’s geometry class in ninth grade that I knew I really loved it. It was the first time that I had been introduced to proofs. I loved how logical it was.”
According to Tara’s mom, DaVida Steuber, Tara was a natural math whiz, rarely asking for homework help as a young girl, and never needing it as a teenager. She was always in advanced math classes in high school. Therefore, it was no surprise when she decided to study math in college – though at times she considered other careers, such as engineering or actuarial science.
“My path has been fairly random,” she said. “Basically at each step I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just kept going to more school.”
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in math and Spanish from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., Tara was recruited into a master’s program in mathematical sciences at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. After that, she decided to stay on and get her Ph.D.
While at Clemson, she also met her husband, Nick Wilson, who, also holds a Ph.D. in mathematical sciences. The two were married in January.
It was only by chance that Tara ended up in Orlando. She applied for jobs all over the country after earning her last degree, she said, but she took the job at Disney because she knew it would be challenging and “keep me on my toes.” She also knew that the analytics work the company did would be “top of the line – as is anything Disney does.”
Describing exactly what Tara does for Disney can be difficult since the work is so varied, but, put simply, she uses her math skills to find creative solutions to problems.
One of the projects she’s currently working on, for example, has her gathering and analyzing data about Walt Disney World visitors in order to help them quickly and painlessly find the best resort to fit their needs. With around 29 different resort options to choose from, finding the right one could be a time-consuming and overwhelming process. The work Tara does makes things easier for everyone involved.
“A typical day is hard to describe because it can be different on any given day,” said Tara. “…A large portion of my days, though, are sitting at my two computers researching methods for my projects and implementing them by writing statistical and optimization code in SAS or R (statistics and operations research software).”
Tara makes it home to Perham a few times a year to visit her family. Her parents, DaVida and Eric, still live in town, as does her long-time friend, Brooke Hamann. She also has an older brother, Tim.
“It makes it easier being away knowing that my family does and always has supported me and my decisions,” Tara said. “I think they are proud of what I’ve made of myself and I’m very happy with how things have turned out, too.”
“Her father and I are very proud of Tara’s accomplishments,” said DaVida.
Marie Nitke, Perham Focus