Sparky and the Sun Devils Costa Rican Coffee Adventure

College Achievement Plan, ASU provide unforgettable experience for Starbucks partners

After traveling for nearly eight hours and navigating through the bustling airport in San José, Costa Rica, MistiLynn Lokken finally had a moment to catch her breath. She sat down at a restaurant outside of the baggage claim area and waited.

The Starbucks partner (employee) was embarking on an eight-day study abroad trip in Costa Rica with Arizona State University. As a Starbucks College Achievement Plan scholar, Misti is earning her degree online. She would soon be joined by on-campus and online ASU students, some of them fellow Starbucks partners, from across the country, as well as China. The only problem: She had never met any of them in person.

Enter the unlikely hero of the day, Sparky the Sun Devil. Well, a smaller, plush version of the university’s mascot. Unsure how she’d easily identify the ASU students at their designated meeting spot, Misti set the stuffed Sparky out on her table. Like a magnet, Sparky almost immediately drew in her trip mates. Over the course of a few hours, the entire group assembled and their Costa Rican adventure had officially begun.

Earning a bachelor’s degree had been a long-term goal for Misti. But after graduating from high school, she needed to start working to support herself.

In 2014, she joined Starbucks as an executive assistant at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Familiar with her goal, the executive Misti worked for at the time encouraged her to explore the College Achievement Plan, which allows eligible partners to get their bachelor’s degree online from ASU with full tuition coverage.

In the fall of 2015, she enrolled in the program.

Knowing the “world is getting more global, not more local,” Misti decided to pursue a degree in global leadership with a certificate in business analytics.

“This was the plan that was going to give me the best opportunity for the future,” she said.

Her travels to Costa Rica in March 2017 have proven to be the most impactful part of her College Achievement Plan experience thus far. With a focus on business in Costa Rica, their itinerary included visits to several coffee farms—including the Starbucks coffee farm, Hacienda Alsacia .

“Hacienda Alsacia ... was of course the amazing highlight,” Misti said.

Located on the slopes of the Poás Volcano, the 240-hectare farm serves as Starbucks global agronomy headquarters. Hacienda Alsacia’s mission is to help ensure the future of coffee—for everyone.

As Misti and the group toured the farm, they visited the tree nursery where Starbucks develops new rust-resistant coffee varieties and growing techniques. They also learned about the wet and dry mills where coffee is processed—the method of separating the fruit of the coffee cherry from the bean.

“It shows that the Starbucks spirit is everywhere, because they’re just partners like we are, but on the different side of the supply chain,” she said. “Getting to hear their knowledge and getting to share with them what we see on our side of it was a special experience.”

The trip also gave her a newfound outlook on coffee.

“When you look at one cup of coffee, when you think about how much it takes to make that one cup of coffee, it makes you cherish every single bean,” Misti said.

In addition to experiencing Costa Rica’s coffee industry, they had the opportunity to do some sightseeing. They peered into the crater of the Poás Volcano, explored majestic waterfalls, even hung out with animals at a sanctuary. Misti said the trip exceeded all her expectations.

Misti says the study abroad experience made her feel like a part of the bigger ASU community—a sentiment echoed by other Starbucks partners on the trip.

“It’s given me an opportunity to actually connect with professors that we would never see face-to-face, connect with students that we would never see face-to-face,” said Carrie Hough, a 15-year Starbucks partner and store manager in Omaha, Nebraska. “[The trip] brought it home for me. We’re part of something bigger.”

Misti is still fairly early on in her college career—she’s at the beginning of her sophomore year. Because she’s balancing school and a full-time job, she’s taking one class a quarter. She has to prioritize her time differently than before she started school. And she spends a lot of time doing homework. But Misti loves being busy because she knows it means she has a great future ahead.

To learn more about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, check out .

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How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants