Scholar finds parallels between her communication courses and everyday life


ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Heather Oldenborg

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Graduating from Arizona State University through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Heather Oldenborg did something most students don’t during their senior year, she added a second major. While Oldenborg initially enrolled at ASU as a communications major, she will graduate earning a Bachelor of Science degree in both communication and digital audiences.

“I did my degree backwards to what more of my peers did. I took all of my required communications classes first and left my electives for my junior and senior year. But I am really happy with the way it turned out because I was able to declare that second major,” she said.

As part of her coursework for her BS in communication, Oldenborg enrolled MCO 307 The Digital Audience with Jessica Pucci, associate dean and director of the digital audiences program at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“The class was rich and full of current content,” Oldenborg said. “Professor Pucci actually wove communications theories into the course content, and that was the moment I knew I needed to do more with the area of study.” 

Oldenborg found that her coursework related to her everyday life and in turn, was able to develop better leadership skills as a Starbucks supervisor. 

“I learned along the way that there is much more to communication than I thought. I remember searching through studies for a literature review paper and comparing them to my observations of the world. I love analyzing a situation and trying to figure out why it is the way it is. Learning the theories really helped me understand relationships and expectations and how to navigate them,” Oldenborg said.

Having started her path to a degree in community college, Oldenborg learned she prefers the layout of online learning provided through ASU Online. 

“I love online learning because I am able to go back and rewatch lectures as many times as I need to. With my previous classes, I would spend much of my class time taking notes and wouldn’t always catch what the professors were saying,” she said.

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

Answer: The true “aha” moment was when I decided to stop telling myself that communication was my weakness and decided to build it into a strength.   

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I was a communications intern at the Starbucks Technology Center in Arizona the summer going into senior year. During that time, I learned how important it is to network and to continuously set personal goals.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan benefits. I was struggling to find financial aid that would cover the cost of tuition for my state school of choice. ASU worked out better for me because I was able to learn at my own pace and have the support from Starbucks to balance work and school.  

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

A: I had professor Jacob Nelson for MCO 348 Digital Audience Analysis. That was the first time I realized that my career needed to, in some way, look at analytics. I reached out to him asking about what career opportunities involved Google Analytics and he gave me a few suggestions. That was when I first started becoming acquainted with LinkedIn and reading through job descriptions. He helped me level up on my post college career goals.

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

A: Don’t put yourself on constant overload. It is okay to adjust your course load so that you can really go beyond absorbing information and find ways to put the lessons into practice outside of the online classroom. Balance is personal, and you need to take this time to make the most of your college experience.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: The power study location has changed over the years, but I was always near a window with a cup of coffee. I really appreciate taking a moment to disconnect, and my favorite place to do that is on a hike with my miniature Australian shepherd, Milo.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am actively looking for opportunities in communication, digital marketing or social media. For now, I will continue working at my local Starbucks. During my senior year courses I started a few blogs, and I think I am going to continue on with one of them.

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

A: I would focus on climate change because it is something that is on my mind daily. I believe that big things can come from small changes. I transitioned to a vegan diet about a year ago, after having been a vegetarian for a few years, and I am amazed at how my carbon footprint has changed. However, I have learned that we can’t change people; we can only give them the resources and support to change. 

COVID-19 has challenged us, but I am inspired by seeing homes and businesses with the writing, “we are all in this together.” My dream is that we can come out of quarantine, stay at home orders and safer at home orders, and still be in this together. One world that we are all on together.

Story by Tuesday Mahrle, earned media specialist for EdPlus at Arizona State University

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