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Starbucks partner earns degree after developing passion in leadership and management

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.

May 05, 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.

“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.

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