‘Don’t limit yourself’: Meet 4 graduates of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan


This month, nearly 900 Starbucks partners will graduate with degrees through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which provides 100 percent upfront tuition coverage at Arizona State University.

Genece Blackwell, district manager, San Francisco, California

Genece Blackwell started working as a Starbucks barista when she was 30 years old, a single parent looking for health benefits for her two kids. She’d thought about college after high school, and studying to be a nurse, but set that aside when she became a mother.

“It took me until I was 30 to really get my bearings in life,” Blackwell says. “I knew I wanted something better, I just didn’t know how to get there or what that was going to look like.”

Fourteen years later, she’s a Starbucks district manager in San Francisco, about to earn a college degree with honors in organizational leadership, with a minor in communications. Along with nearly 900 other partners (employees), Blackwell will graduate this month as part of the newest cohort of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), which provides eligible partners with 100 percent upfront tuition coverage at Arizona State University. This is the largest graduating class since SCAP launched in 2014. To date, more than 8,500 partners have earned first-time bachelor’s degrees.

Her daughter, Breanna, a Starbucks barista in San Francisco, is close behind. Inspired by her mother, she’s enrolled in SCAP too, with one quarter left, and plans to graduate next fall.

“We have redefined some generational history and we get to rewrite our own stories in life,” says Genece Blackwell, whose parents didn’t attend college. “Starbucks is not only a job for me, but also a deeply personal journey that has helped shape who I am as a person and has given me opportunities I never even dreamed of.”

She credits the leaders who invested in her and “gave me courage and confidence” as she was promoted to shift supervisor, then assistant store manager, then store manager for four years.

Her first store manager taught her about saving for retirement and helped her sign up for Starbucks Bean Stock, another partner benefit. She pulled that money out recently and put a down payment on her first house.

“She was the first person to see me,” Blackwell says. “She asked me what I wanted to do with my future, gave me time and confidence, encouraged me and trusted me, and gave me opportunities to prove I can get the job done. At that point in my life, that was the biggest thing I needed.”

As she was transitioning to a district manager role, a regional director encouraged Blackwell to get her college degree through SCAP. Blackwell didn’t want the lack of a degree to hold her back from future opportunities. So she pushed through, finishing her schoolwork early in the mornings and during the weekends. Last year – feeling burned out by the pandemic, worried about her mental health and unsure she would finish school – two other leaders “really helped me in this last leg of the race.”

“I wanted a better life for myself and my kids; that was really the motivation,” Blackwell says. “I knew I had to get better for me in order for them to be able to be better for themselves. I knew it had to start with me… What I’m most proud of is now those two little kids are both in college. What a proud moment for me to be able to be a role model for both of them.

“I know my story will inspire one person out there. Don’t let fear get in your way. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t ever limit yourself.”

“I know my story will inspire one person out there. Don’t let fear get in your way. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t ever limit yourself.”

Genece's daughter in Arizona State sweatshirt with her arm around Genece in mortarboard and stole, both smiling
Fermin Juarez, store manager, Miami, Florida

Fermin Juarez grew up in a small town in Argentina, amidst fields of sunflower and corn, about five hours from Buenos Aires. Ten years ago, he hugged his family goodbye at the airport and came to the U.S. to work an internship with a hotel chain. When it was over, he moved to Miami and joined Starbucks, where he saw a poster at his store advertising SCAP. He decided to give college one more chance; he’d tried before in Argentina but couldn’t afford it.

He’ll graduate this month with a degree in business management and wants to eventually work in the Latin American market. He’s also active with a local nonprofit called Clean Miami Beach. Since 2016, he’s participated in about 50 beach cleanups, each time diverting 200-300 pounds of plastic from the ocean. For the last three years, the group has received funding from Starbucks Neighborhood Grants.

“When I think about my journey, I just feel humbled and happy. Howard (Schultz, Starbucks chief executive officer) said recently at a partner open forum, we have to dream big and follow our dreams. And I did. I kind of feel like it’s also my turn to inspire others. In my store alone, I have five partners that joined the SCAP program who are currently pursuing their dreams as well… I want to be able to inspire and help partners see their true worth, which will empower me to grow our company in ways we never thought possible… But being able to provide for my family, that’s number one. They supported me in my dreams. I was able to bring my mom from Argentina to visit for a month. She didn’t spend a penny out of her pocket. That’s the biggest fulfillment.”

“I want to be able to inspire and help partners see their true worth, which will empower me to grow our company in ways we never thought possible.”

Fermin in store with two baristas in green aprons, wearing his ASU stole
Morgan Clark, shift supervisor, Alexandria, Virginia

Born in Washington D.C. to a military family, Morgan Clark attended college after high school, but dropped out during the recession in the late 2000s. A few years later, she started working at Starbucks, and in 2018, signed up for SCAP, steadily working toward her psychology degree. She hopes to be a clinical neuropsychologist, helping people improve their mental health and address past trauma.

Clark is also passionate about literacy and learning, which is why she volunteers with a local mentoring organization called Wright to Read. She tutors a 2nd grade student once a week; currently, they’re reading “The Wild Robot.”

“Through SCAP, I was given the opportunity to invest in my education, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to help invest in the education of another young scholar… No matter if I find myself in one-on-one therapy sessions, doing research or in an academic setting, I hope to inspire and nurture the human spirit, to remember that it’s the people that we share this planet with that make it a place worth living… Finishing school was always in the back of my mind, a goal and a dream deferred that I hoped one day would come to fruition. There were times I didn’t think it was going to be possible. It seems surreal that in a few short weeks, that dream will come true.”

“I hope to inspire and nurture the human spirit, to remember that it’s the people that we share this planet with that make it a place worth living.”

Morgan in mortarboard and ASU stole sitting outside on a picnic blanket, tossing pompom in air
Paige Pazdur, shift supervisor, Temecula, California

For Paige Pazdur, graduation will be a way to honor her parents, who both worked multiple jobs to support the family. She especially remembers how her mother juggled shifts as a janitor, caregiver and school cafeteria server. She died of cancer when Paige was in high school. About three years ago, Paige decided she wanted a college degree and joined Starbucks, specifically for the SCAP benefit.

Pazdur is a military spouse. She married her high-school sweetheart, who’s been in the Navy for 10 years and is now stationed in Camp Pendleton. She works with Help Heal Veterans, which makes and provides customized craft kits – woodworking, leather, scale modeling and painting – that veterans can use to help with their physical therapy and rehabilitation goals.

“Really to honor my mother’s legacy, that’s why I went back to school and made sacrifices in my personal life. I’m doing this for my family, I’m doing this for her, I’m honoring her hard work and everything she did for me. Finishing that chapter, I think it’ll be a testament to the work we both put in, the past and the present coming together to make this happen… Majoring in organizational leadership is for me, figuring out what kind of leader I want to be, to really learn from the managers I’ve had in the past – good and bad – and combine it with my degree and really be the best person I can be and the best leader I can be. I want to get my own store and elevate the experience in my own store.”

“Majoring in organizational leadership is for me, figuring out what kind of leader I want to be… and combine it with my degree and really be the best person I can be and the best leader I can be.”

Paige in Starbucks store wearing green apron and ASU stole
thumbnail for Honoring connection among the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities

Honoring connection among the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities