Starbucks partner earns degree after developing passion in leadership and management

May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

A resident of Lockport, Illinois, online student Jen Schmidt found her way to Arizona State University through an educational benefits program between Starbucks and Arizona State University. Schmidt enrolled at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in summer 2017, deciding to major in organizational leadership through the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Jen Schmidt Jen Schmidt realized her passion was for leading people and making decisions after a promotion to shift supervisor at Starbucks. Download Full Image

“I actually decided to go back to school after working as a barista at Starbucks. I had been in that role for eight months when my manager saw potential in me. It was following that promotion that I decided to return to school and major in organizational leadership after realizing that is where my passion lies.”

Finding that passion in leadership and management didn’t come right away. Following her high school graduation, Schmidt enrolled at a local junior college to pursue a degree in child development.

“I had been a nanny and child care teacher for a couple of years, so I thought that was what I was supposed to do at 18 years old,” she said.

While Schmidt found a lack of fulfillment in that original path, she did go on to obtain her associate degree and certification to teach English as a second language (ESL). This led to an opportunity at 21 years of age to live in Ukraine for a year teaching ESL. According to Schmidt, “I matured during that year and gained a new perspective on cultures outside of the American culture. It changed me for the better. I continue to have the desire to learn more about other cultures and welcome them into my life.”

Her journey to ASU came a couple of years later, when two years into her marriage Schmidt and her husband moved to California and she took a job at Starbucks. While the road to graduation was not an easy one, Schmidt always had a feeling in the back of her mind that she would not give up.

“Going to school was a bit bumpy as we moved four times, experienced job changes, bought our first home and experienced infertility. But I knew that I would make it to graduation. That is why I decided to celebrate with all I have and fly out to Arizona to walk across that stage. The support I have received from my friends, family, professors and success coach has been overwhelming. The only way I know how to thank them is by acknowledging my success proudly.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: My “aha” moment came shortly after a promotion at Starbucks. Once I became a shift supervisor, I finally realized what my passion was: leading people and making decisions.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I’ve learned a tremendous amount thanks to all the professors and their thoughtful assignments and feedback. Something that opened my eyes was the topic of conflict management. Anywhere you go to work will have an opportunity to diffuse conflict. Knowing how to approach the situation and gain the best perspective helps leaders manage conflicts.

William Ury gave a TED Talk which I was assigned to watch in one of my OGL classes. I learned about the balcony perspective, which allows the problem to be seen without surrounding distractions. I think about this, as well as “suspending assumptions,” when I begin to let my emotions get in the way. It has truly helped me with resolving issues both at work and at home.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: With what I know now, I would choose ASU again. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan allowed me to take courses at ASU to complete my bachelor’s degree.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. (Jennifer) Chandler with OGL 321: Foundations Project Management taught me about project management, which is essential in all areas of life! Also, Dr. (Janice) Lawhorn with OGL 220: Behavioral Dynamics in Organizations, OGL 481: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar I and OGL 482: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar II. Dr. Lawhorn took time to review and discuss every detail of my work. Having that kind of attention during online classes showed me she cared about my success.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It is important to schedule each assignment on a calendar. Each semester I printed out the syllabus and wrote in each assignment on a desk calendar. Also, your teachers are your great resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot to think or study as an online student was in my home. The ideal setting was in the middle of the day, sun shining through my windows, quiet, or instrumental music, and an organized desk.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Post-graduation I would like to find a career in project management, or training and developing.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle recycling. I would promote awareness in a way that people think about the way they reuse, reduce, repurpose and recycle. Living in California helped me form a habit, and moving back to my hometown of Illinois allowed me to introduce my habits to family.

Carrie Peterson

Associate Director, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University


InvestU event brings ASU students, entrepreneurs and investors together for advancement

May 6, 2019

An innovative idea, the right pitch and an affiliation with Arizona State University may be the winning combination for two companies participating in the InvestU pitch event on May 20.

Surf Entertainment is focused on customizing passengers’ ride share experiences, while EndoVantage is assisting surgeons with complex procedures. Both companies must persuade accredited investors to invest money and resources in their ventures in a format similar to the show "Shark Tank." Download Full Image

"Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities and ASU is the most innovative university,” said Robby Choueiri, associate director of ventures and investments for Arizona State University Enterprise Partners. “There are a limited number of funding options in Arizona during a company’s early stages. We’re building a community entrepreneurial ecosystem to introduce capital and resources, which leads to growth, job creation and more innovation.”

Eli Chmouni, founder and chief executive officer of Surf Entertainment, is excited to showcase his company at the pitch event that provides hands-on learning for ASU students who assist with selecting the companies and researching them for the investors. 

“I’m an ASU grad, and I’ve been teaching at ASU for eight years,” Chmouni said. “With Surf we’ve been going beyond Arizona for funding. It’s very exciting to pitch and raise funds locally. It’s a nice endorsement stamp and kind of cool to pitch in front of the ASU (community).”

Chmouni earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from ASU and teaches entrepreneurship classes in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Previously, he taught engineering classes in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Surf is Chmouni’s fourth startup and provides free in-car information and entertainment for Lyft and Uber passengers using a tablet mounted to the back of the passenger headrest. The platform launched in Phoenix in March 2018 and operates in nine other markets. It is meant to be similar to in-flight entertainment and is customized by time of day to offer news, streaming music, funny videos and a list of nearby dining options. Brands and businesses can promote themselves through advertising on the tablets, and drivers earn revenue when passengers use the tablets, which are installed in the cars at no charge to the drivers. 

The other company vying for an investment and relationship with investors is EndoVantage. The company provides a tool for surgeons to use 3D modeling and visualization to simulate treatment options and insertion methods for stents and other devices in patients with aneurysms. The goals are to reduce patients’ risks and improve outcomes. The technology is already being used at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. EndoVantage’s technology was developed by ASU engineers. Robert Green, president and CEO of the company is an academic associate and venture mentor at ASU, Brian Chong is the chief medical officer of the company and associate medical director of development at Mayo Clinic, which works closely with ASU. Haithem Babiker, EndoVantage’s chief technology officer, earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, master’s degree in biomedical engineering and a doctorate of philosophy in biomedical engineering all from ASU.

InvestU was formed by Arizona State University Enterprise Partners and the former Thunderbird Angel Network to provide funding opportunities for companies that need a financial boost as they scale their companies. The first InvestU pitch event was held in March with two ASU faculty-affiliated companies: CYR3CON and Breezing. Both companies matched with investors from the event and are working on deals.

Paulo Shakarian, CEO of CYR3CON, was grateful to raise funds for his cybersecurity firm where he lives and works after traveling to several other U.S. cities to meet with investors.

“It means a lot to have it all be a single ecosystem,” Shakarian said. “If you look around the country at other hubs like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Denver, all of these places have the right technology, an innovative university, entrepreneurs and capital. You need all of those things together in one place. It makes it easier to move quickly.”

Shakarian is an ASU Fulton Entrepreneurial Assistant Professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and specializes in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, which led to his company’s development in conjunction with ASU.

The other firm to match with investors in March was Breezing, which measures metabolism over time using a mobile metabolism tracker and a breathalyzer with biosensors, enabling users to implement a personalized diet and exercise plan to improve their metabolism. Breezing is being used to combat obesity, Type 2 diabetes and maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

Andrew Steele, CEO of Breezing and a member of the board of advisers for the HEALab at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said the InvestU event has enabled Breezing to advance to the next level. That means commercially launching a second generation tracker that will be used with physicians to help patients with obesity and other medical conditions and obtaining FDA approval for additional medical uses.

Breezing’s chemical sensor technology was developed by researchers in the ASU Biodesign Institute before it evolved into the ASU spin-off company.

To participate in an InvestU pitch event, business leaders must apply and have a connection to ASU as an alumni or faculty through the firm’s board members or executives, and the business must be at the revenue-generating stage of growth or show compelling traction. Company representatives pitch to an advisory board, and ASU students conduct company research about the startups for the investors. During the pitch event, the students present their research findings and the company representatives pitch their companies. Then investors express their interest in investing and conduct their own diligence in the following few weeks. No final deals are made at the event.

Companies participating in InvestU have customers and are looking to raise between $100,000 and $2 million, Choueiri said. Additionally, they are looking to build relationships through investors’ connections, enter new markets and acquire additional customers.

Investors must be accredited and typically have an affinity to ASU as donors, faculty, staff, alumni or their family members.

This event is open to the public.

If you go:

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 20 

Where: ASU Fulton Center, Sixth Floor, Lincoln Room, 300 E. University Drive, Tempe


Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications, ASU Enterprise Partners