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Barista seizes opportunity to pursue religious studies degree at ASU

Adriana Soto

Adriana Soto graduates this fall with her bachelor's degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

December 14, 2020

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

This fall, Adriana Soto is joining a community of 3,000-plus Starbucks employees who have earned a  bachelor’s degree online from Arizona State University, for free.

An Arizona native, Soto said she was familiar with ASU’s reputation and had friends who had attended the university, but it wasn’t until she was presented with the opportunity to attend through the Starbucks College Achievement Program (SCAP) that she took the plunge and applied.

“I dove deeper into researching what ASU was, and I just liked what it stood for, like innovation and diversity,” she said. “Being a Latina, not a lot of Latinas go to college and pursue a degree. And ASU is very diverse which I really like. Starbucks brought it to my attention and after some research, I figured it was the right path for me.”

Soto is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in religious studies with a minor in philosophy from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. This semester, she was recognized for her academic achievements with an induction into Theta Alpha Kappa. Although she finished her academic journey with honors, Soto gets emotional thinking of one philosophy class in particular that became an obstacle to overcome.

“Unfortunately, even after all my hard work and turning in assignments, I just didn't end up passing the class. It was really devastating at the moment because I'd never failed a class and let alone at a university level,” she said. “I was scared and full of emotions. I decided that my last semester here, I would only take one class and it would be to retake that class.”

Soto said she’s thankful that ASU allows students the opportunity to retake courses and recover.

“It was just a really hard class. And the teacher that I took it with the second time really changed my perspective and broke it down for me. I'm not just passing with a C, I have an 85%, so I really was able to grasp the whole concept of the class this time,” she said. “Even though it was an obstacle, I was able to recover from it.”

Soto shared more about her journey through ASU.

Question: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue religious studies?

Answer: I had taken a few classes at Rio Salado College and then I took a survey online with ASU to see where I could land when picking a major. It recommended history, religious studies and theology or something like that so I looked into each of the programs. I was actually probably a year into it when I really knew that religious studies was where I was supposed to be. I just love people in general and I want to be a leader and I figured, it's hard to coach and lead others if you don't know where they're coming from. So I wanted to learn the different cultures, the languages, the backgrounds of everybody so that when I am a leader, I can relate and be able to lead them better.

Q: How did the SCAP program impact your experience?

A: This partnership really does make dreams come true because it's a free college degree. I feel like it's just a golden ticket handed to you. It's just been a blessing and I think Starbucks and ASU really know how to make dreams come true for people who didn't think it was possible.

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

A: Probably Charles Barfoot, I took a lot of religion classes with him and he really teaches you. He gave me a huge book over a seven-and-a-half week course and said, “OK, we're going to read this.” And then three page papers were due every week. And I wondered, “How am I going to do this?” But he teaches you how to take all that information and grab the key points and be able to present and get what you need to learn. Recently, I emailed and told him, “Hey, I've been inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa and even though I've earned the grades in your religion classes, it all starts with the professor.”

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

A: Just keep going, even when times get hard. If you stopped now, you'll be back where you were before; you just have to stay strong and know that life has its obstacles, but you have to keep going no matter what.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm still currently a Starbucks employee. However, I want to get experience with bigger companies like Amazon or U-Haul and really play a leadership or operational role. Starbucks has taught me both how to run a business operationally and how to lead a diverse team. I think I can definitely apply those skills elsewhere. I'm super excited, I don't necessarily have a set plan but I know what I've learned from Starbucks and being a student at ASU can apply in all areas of my life.

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