Gigi is about to begin her senior year of college through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which provides 100 percent tuition coverage through a partnership with Arizona State University’s online degree program.
The Starbucks 50th anniversary television commercial spotlighting the company’s innovative tuition benefit features a Starbucks barista in Southern California – an aspiring musician and daughter of immigrants from the Philippines who will be the first in her family to graduate college.
Meet GenevaMay – Gigi for short – who’s about to begin her senior year of college online through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), which provides 100 percent tuition coverage for eligible U.S. partners (employees), working 20 hours a week or more, through a partnership with Arizona State University.
Since the program’s inception in 2014, more than 6,500 Starbucks partners have earned first-time bachelor’s degrees.
“When I started working at Starbucks, I had no idea – no idea – that it would open so many doors for me,” says Gigi, who’s majoring in film and media studies with a minor in digital audiences. “Not just in terms of getting to work at a beautiful store but being able to finally be on my way to finishing my degree.
“For a long time, I thought I wasn’t going to. I thought I was just never going to graduate college and (was going to) be a disappointment to my parents. But something truly ignited the fire in me – you’re almost there, just push through.”
“When I started working at Starbucks, I had no idea – no idea – that it would open so many doors for me.”
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Gigi, now 24, grew up immersed in the arts. She performed in vocal jazz ensembles, starred in school plays and musicals and taught herself instruments and songwriting. But creativity was just a hobby and the plan was to go to a four-year school and study business and hospitality. Until she couldn’t come up with the money.
It was really hard, she remembers. “But honestly, I’m really grateful that happened, because it pivoted me and redirected me to focus on the things that I was actually passionate about.”
It meant diving into theater at a local community college, producing a film festival – a competition she’d won Best Picture in the year before – and moving to Los Angeles in 2019 to pursue more creative opportunities. After relocating, she’s recorded a solo songwriting project, found a concert and tours management internship, hosted a community open mic event at her Starbucks store and auditioned for – and earned – the spot in the Starbucks commercial.
“I have a passion for storytelling, whether it’s through music or film or really any other medium. I just really like the idea of being able to turn an idea into fruition,” Gigi says. “Success ultimately at the end of the day means fulfillment. Do I feel fulfilled in what I’m doing? For me, as long as I’m able to tell a story and be content with that, I think that would be success for me.”
Gigi started working at Starbucks in 2018 but didn’t know about the SCAP benefit until after she moved to L.A. and transferred to a different store. After she enrolled, she found that the online classes, the strong community – she was part of ASU’s first global online sorority – and the personalized coaching around academics, well-being and finances all combined to give her the flexibility and support she needed to succeed in school and pursue her artistic ambitions.
This past spring quarter, for the first time in her life, she received a 4.0 on her report card.
Gigi’s parents immigrated from the Philippines to the United States in the 1990s. Her father gave up a career as a police officer to do so. As a young adult, she’s beginning to understand the sacrifices her parents made – and are still making. Both her parents were laid off from their jobs during the pandemic.
The fourth of five children – her two oldest siblings are in the Navy – Gigi says her journey of finishing her degree has also brought her closer to her father, something she didn’t expect when she was a teenager pushing back against the pressure she felt he was putting on her to succeed, and values she thought were too conservative and strict.
“My dad and I just had this conversation, the whole idea of sacrifice, and the types of sacrifices you have to make when an opportunity presents itself,” Gigi says. “For him, it was, ‘Hey, I have the opportunity to move to America with this woman I love. But that means I have to give up this dream of being a cop.’
“That’s something I learned from him. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for an opportunity that might present a better thing for you, even if you just don’t know what that thing is quite yet. It’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older and I moved out and saw what it was like to really support yourself. Being an adult, it’s hard, and there are things you don’t want to do that you have to do.
“That’s what’s helped me build empathy for my dad. I hope that my dad knows that he did a good job. And I hope that he feels like that sacrifice was worth it.”
Gigi is one of more than 18,000 partners currently earning a degree through SCAP. More than 6,500 others to date have graduated. For more information on becoming a Starbucks partner, visit our careers page.