Data and Disney: Morgan Ferguson ’19 shares how data drives business

The event featuring Ferguson, a senior data scientist at Disney, is part of the Data Nexus Speaker Series.

When Morgan Ferguson ’19 walks through the park and surveys the crowds at Walt Disney World in Florida, she sees numbers at work.

No, the entertainment giant didn’t introduce a new team of costumed numerals to greet guests. Ferguson is a senior data scientist for The Walt Disney Co. with its Commercial and Customer Experience Intelligence, a team of about 12 who are deep into data. Their goal is to gather and analyze data to produce insights into how to drive revenue by enhancing the experience of the millions of visitors to Walt Disney World each year.

Crista Arangala, professor of mathematics and director of Data Nexus, introducing Morgan Ferguson ’19.

“It’s so fun to see in action things that can happen when you use data to make decisions that ultimately bring projects to life,” Ferguson told the crowd gathered in LaRose Student Commons on Monday, Feb. 12. “It’s so rewarding to be able to work on a project and then go inside the park and see something you’ve worked on come to life, to see guests interacting with it and to see the joy it brings to people.”

Ferguson was visiting Elon as part of the Data Nexus Speaker Series, which is designed to offer insights into the benefits of data competency. Data Nexus is Elon’s five-year universitywide quality enhancement plan designed to enhance student learning of the knowledge and skills required for working with data during and after their college experience.

Ferguson positioned herself for what she describes as her dream job by majoring in applied mathematics and statistics at Elon and then earning a master’s degree in analytics from the Institute for Advanced Analytics at N.C. State University. From there, she spent nearly two years as a technology consultant for EY, an experience she said helped her develop the skills necessary to bridge the gap between business and technology.

“Your data is only as valuable as what you’re able to gain from it, so it’s really important for you to be able to understand the business side of things,” Ferguson said.

Morgan Ferguson ’19 displaying a photo of herself as a child at Disney World as part of her talk for the Data Nexus Speaker Series.

After completing her master’s degree in May 2022, she landed at a place she had set her sights on years before — Walt Disney World. As a senior data scientist with the Commercial and Customer Experience Intelligence team, she is part of the effort to develop, collect and synthesize data from across Disney domains. Her team is more focused on the guest experience at Disney properties, and draws upon a wide range of data that Disney collects about guests through interactions such as using park passes, purchasing tickets, staying at resorts and participating in surveys.

With the help of tools including SQL, Python, Tableau and even Excel, Ferguson’s team provides information to help inform decisions across the business, such as pricing, planning and forecasting, customer engagement, industrial engineering, finance, marketing and more.

“We can combine data across all of these different domains to get an idea of a guest holistically,” Ferguson said. “We’re able to look through data, build models, conduct the analysis we need to and then come back with insights to help people make the decisions they need to make in their line of business.”

Ferguson offered the example of a project involving transportation at Disney World and explained how her team approached the challenge of determining whether buses were running efficiently across the park and between other locations and the park. It’s a challenge that impacts costs and can also greatly impact the guest experience. Among the factors Ferguson said they would look at is the load factor (how many guests were riding each bus each trip), the wait times of guests, the time between buses and whether with each bus stop the bus was able to “clear the curb” (load all waiting guests).

“The real key to this project and what made it successful was being intellectually curious and asking lots of questions,” Ferguson said. “Having an inquisitive mindset is really important to make sure you capture the right data.”

When she joined Disney, Ferguson became part of a robust companywide effort to better harness the power of data and what it can mean for both the bottom line and the guest experience. She noted that a search of the Disney jobs site,, using just the keyword “data” turned up 400 listings. The company’s annual data analytics conference was attended by about 2,000 employees last year, she said.

“There are so many different applications and jobs that rely upon data,” Ferguson said. “Everyone uses data now, and data-driven driven decisions can be the most important thing to a company.”