Where are they now? Starbucks college plan grads share their stories

A promise kept

It may just be a piece of paper. But for many, a college degree can feel like an impossible dream.

Five years ago, Starbucks announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan — a groundbreaking new effort to help partners attain a first-time bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program. Today, more than 13,000 partners are participating and more than 3,000 have graduated from the college plan with 100 percent tuition coverage. To mark this milestone, we caught up with graduates to learn where their diplomas have taken them.

Starbucks was Robin Bondy’s first job. When she put on the green apron as a 17-year-old barista in 2012, “I knew chances are I would not be working there for long. It would get me through high school and maybe part of college,” Bondy said.

But her Starbucks store became a home, and fellow partners like family. She went on to attend community college and a university but struggled to finish a degree, changing her major twice. In January 2016, she decided to enroll in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and put herself on a new path toward a degree. Before she started ASU classes, her mom learned she had stage 4 lung cancer.

“When we found out she had lung cancer, we knew she was going in for the biggest fight ever,” she said. “My dad and I decided we're going to take on a challenge too. She said, ‘Why don't you promise me you graduate from college?’”

Her mom died just two months later, and Bondy began her journey that fall at ASU. She continued working at Starbucks and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in technological entrepreneurship and management from ASU in 2018. Her fellow partners encouraged her along the way. “They have been there for different phases of my life; whether it was times of celebration or challenges I was overcoming,” she said.

After six years at Starbucks, Bondy now works as a research technician for proton therapy cancer treatment for a local medical center. She still stays in contact with her friends from Starbucks though. “They're just so excited to see how my life has changed in such a positive direction,” she said.

For her, the ASU degree holds special significance.

“The degree’s more than a piece of paper with my name on it. The degree represents a promise to my mom.”

‘Doors are wide open now’

Robert Lamb joined Starbucks as an assistant store manager after several years of retail management. Lamb had earned more than 100 college credits between 2005 and 2010 but had fallen short of earning a diploma. On his first day in October 2017, his district manager introduced him to the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. By his third day, his regional director was challenging him to finish his degree.

Within a few months, Lamb was promoted to manager of the East Baltimore Community Store, one of over a dozen Starbucks stores in underserved economic areas that aim to strengthen local economies by creating jobs and engaging with nonprofits that support young people. He also enrolled at ASU in the liberal studies program, which he says helped him make authentic connections with people in the community.

“You know we’re just one really large family here in Baltimore,” he said. “Going through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan has influenced how I take care of myself as an individual and also just as being a leader and connecting to your community.”

In April 2019, nearly 15 years after he first stepped onto a college campus, Lamb earned his bachelor’s degree. Over the summer, he completed a three-month assignment at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, managing the summer internship program and developing a project plan for the winter program. He also joined the advisory board for The Choice Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which helps young people gain instruction and professional experience for personal and career development. Now back as a store manager in Baltimore, he’s looking forward to the next chapter.

“I can honestly say that I now have the foundational tools that will last myself and family a lifetime. I’ve been able to have a second opportunity to go back and finish something that was so important to myself and my family,” he said. “Doors are wide open now.”

Leaving a legacy

When Julissa McWashington’s daughters, Yasmin and Ava, were born, she started saving for their college fund. With every paycheck, she’d tuck some money away. She had gone to four different colleges and universities in spurts but could not find a way to finish her degree.

“My parents are both from Honduras, they never experienced school in the United States,” McWashington said. “Going to college seemed like something unreachable, and I wanted to be able to create a different way for my kids.”

McWashington joined Starbucks in August of 2010 as an administrative assistant. “I have always been ambitious and a go-getter but not having my degree always was that dark cloud hanging over me. I remember not applying for certain roles because I felt less than without my degree,” she said. 

When the plan was announced in 2014, McWashington realized this was her chance to go to college and still continue to save for her kids.

“I remember when it was unveiled,” she said. “I felt like this was — for the first time — this was my moment.”  

McWashington earned her degree from ASU in organizational leadership last year and is leading the Community Stores program on the Starbucks Global Social Impact team and is a board member at Wellspring Family Services for low-income families and an after-school program called After-School All Stars. Her oldest daughter, who is now 18, is now a freshman in college.

“For me, it's always been [about] trying to change the narrative of who I should be,” she said. “Seeing them grow up, I wanted them to have that moment of going to college, but I knew they had to have the example.”

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