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Bee with Dr Heather Holian: Empowering Disney Scholars Through DisNet's Mentoring Program


Hello DisNeteers and welcome to another segment of Bee With...

Fig. 1: Dr Heather Holian

Today's segment establishes our first one that focuses on highlighting DisNet academics and the amazing work that they have done for our DisNet community! I had the great privilege of speaking with Dr. Heather Holian about the the fantastic work she is doing with our DisNet mentoring program.

For those of you who don't know, Dr. Heather Holian is a Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro where she also just become the Associate Director of the School of Art. Dr Holian teaches art history classes on ancient Rome, Medieval and Renaissance art, and the art and artists of Disney and Pixar.

Dr Holian's research focuses on art exhibitions of the Walt Disney Studios during Walt's lifetime and their connection to American identity, the critical, artistic ascent of the studio, and the democratization of art ownership and viewership.

Here at DisNet, Dr Holian is part of the Leadership team as the Head of Mentoring & Membership. In this capacity, she runs the two monthly DisNet mentorship groups and also looks for various ways to support and guide our members professionally. In terms of Membership, Dr Holian collaborates with DisNet Treasurer Charlotte Durham, and the entire DisNet Leadership team to grow our membership and promote DisNet.

For more of Holian's extensive work, see her profile or see her UNCG page.


When speaking with Dr. Heather Holian, I of course stated with the MOST important questions:

Bee: I am thrilled to have you here today, Dr. Holian. So, I have to ask the most important question of all, what is your favorite scene of any Disney film?

Heather: Oh man! This is a tough, tough question. First, I would say that this answer is different today than it would have been before I started teaching the Art of Disney and Pixar regularly 15 years ago. Studying the art and animation of Disney films has given me a deeper and different appreciation. So, I'm going to cheat and give you two.

While I think Cinderella--as a piece of visual art--is stunning pretty much all the way through, thanks largely to the work of Mary Blair, I find just about any scene involving the mice and Lucifer to be a true joy to watch! Ward Kimball's animation of Lucifer and through that the development of his character are just masterful. He bends the rules of realism that guide the movement of the humans and as he does so, he creates a secondary villain whose mania is just hysterical at times! I also might be slightly biased because I have a cat who must be related to Lucifer!

But, if pushed to pick a favorite Lucifer scene from Cinderella I would choose the famous "tea cup scene," where Lucifer breaks the 4th wall and shares a moment of insane delight with the audience as he anticipates locating Gus under a teacup (see above).

My second favorite scene is a choice driven by nostalgia and the way I remember feeling when I saw it in the theater. I am speaking about the Prince's transformation scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast. It's a super powerful scene on an emotional level, but again, the animation of Glen Keane here is stunning. I remember thinking I had never seen anything like it in animation and I'm not sure I have since.

Fig. 3: Beast Transfroms

But honestly, this is such a good, tough question and if you asked me at the end of the semester, I might have another favorite or 3 that I'd need to wedge in here.

Bee: Lucifer's chaotic energy in Cinderella (1950) has always been one of my favorites because I think you can see the same chaos from Alice in Wonderland (1951) in a lot of their characters! The kind of chaos we eventually see towards the end of Beauty and the Beast (1991) during the battle at the castle when the furniture goes to war. Which leads to that fantastic animation sequence! These are all fantastic selections and I have so many I want to discuss with you, but we have other important things to discuss today.


Bee: Now that our DisNeteers know the most crucial information, I just want to say how excited I am to speak with you today. I have had the privilege of seeing you present on Disney and Courvoisier at conferences in the past, and I love your work.

However, we are here to talk about another role that you have. You've mentioned that you are the Head of Mentoring and Membership at DisNet. Can you talk more about mentoring at DisNet?

Heather: The most obvious form of mentoring at DisNet occurs in monthly Mentorship meetings, these are divided into two groups depending on where a member is in their professional career. One group focuses on grad students and early career or tenure-track faculty and the second is for mid-career or tenured faculty.

I run these groups which are envisioned as part professional support and part guidance and advice, but I like to let the group shape the dialog. I am here to help in whatever way is most beneficial and sometimes that's me coming in with a topic, and other times it's about making space to talk about difficult challenges in the classroom happening right then. Or others it might be about the group sharing strategies with one another for how to conduct archival research effectively.

One of the things I love about running these groups is that the discussion is organic and varies from meeting to meeting.

Bee: That sounds so wonderful! Why do you think this is an important service for DisNet to offer its DisNeteers (members)?

Heather: Group mentoring has so many benefits! First and foremost, I think mentoring is SO important because when it is effective it strengthens and diversifies the field by helping to level the "playing field" and expand access.

For individual members, I think that group mentoring can be really beneficial for the professional connections it fosters and the mutual support it provides from those at the same point in their careers, as well as from the lead mentor.
These mentorship groups provide a safe place to talk about challenging topics, brainstorm, troubleshoot, get advice, and share experience. Many if not all of us have mentors in other areas of our professional careers, but a different viewpoint or collection of viewpoints can be really helpful and clarifying.

I will also add that I've been lucky during my grad school days and professional life to have benefitted from some truly outstanding mentors. I can honestly say that I wouldn't be where I am today without them; and I still have mentors. It's something, as scholars, we never don't need. One of the reasons why I was excited to take on this role was because I feel a profound sense of gratitude for the mentors I have and still have, and I want to continue to pay that forward. I also like mentoring because it keeps the field fresh for me. I learn from my mentees, just like I hope they do from me, and I enjoy that sharing of knowledge and experience.

Bee: I completely agree. My mentoring sessions and meeting other scholars through mentoring was a crucial part of my development when obtaining my doctorate. Not only do you obtain a mentor, you are finding a group who will guide and support you. But, every mentor and mentoring session can be different. Can you explain what an average mentoring session at DisNet entails?

Heather: We meet for an hour. I like to start things off with brief introductions, especially if we have new members joining us. I like to do a kind of check-in—are there pressing issues a member or members could benefit from talking about and getting feedback on. If so, we might spend half or all of the time talking about these. If not, then I'll come prepared with a topic in mind and we'll have a discussion. In the first meeting of the semester/term I like to hear from those present about what would be the most beneficial topics to discuss over the year and how this group, specifically, can help them. As I mentioned, this these topics are a guide, but any meeting can also be adjusted depending on what the groups want or need to do in the moment.

Bee: This all sounds amazing! How do you sign up for mentoring at DisNet?

Heather: The first step is to become a member, which is easy to do through the DisNet website.

Once you've signed up, the second step is to check out our Mentorship page. This can be found under the Member's Area once you've signed up!

Bee: Fantastic! Thank you so much Dr Holian. Before I let you go for the day, I have one last critical question for you today: What is your favorite thing about working with DisNet?

Heather: The people! I love meeting other Disney scholars (and fans) who are as passionate as I am about this growing field. I've found true friends here, and colleagues who I will know and work with for the rest of my career. That's pretty special, I think. And related to that, I also like how welcoming this organization is. 

Bee: That is true for me as well! The people here at DisNet and the incoming Disney scholars and industry professionals we have joining are passionate and embody the Disney spirit. Our members and our board are full of such phenomenal professionals, such as yourself, and I am beyond excited to work with you all.

I want to sincerely thank Dr Heather Holian for meeting with me and taking the time to discuss the DisNet Mentorship program. This program is something we are very proud of here at DisNet and look forward to seeing our new members take advantage of such an amazing opportunity!


But wait! There's MORE!

If you love all things Disney, if you had a presentation that you would love to see written down (and citable) come out into the world, email Bee! Do you have a book coming out and would love to have a launch with us? Email Bee! Did your book, or someone else's book, come out and you want to see us do a book review or an author interview...that's right, email Bee!

Check out our Want to Write for DisNet post.

(Bee's email is also



Fig. 2: Still of Lucifer from Cinderella (1950). Geronimi, Clyde, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, dir. 1950. Cinderella. RKO Pictures.

Fig. 3: Gif of Beast's transformation from Beauty and the Beast (1991). Trousdale, Gary and Kirk Wise, dir. 1991. Beauty and the Beast. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.

Fig. 4: Image of Courvoisier's Animation Cel of Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Timmer, Tracie. 2017. "The Courvoisier Galleries: Selling Disney Magic." The Walt Disney Family Museum.

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