Barista seizes opportunity to pursue religious studies degree at ASU

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. 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. Download Full Image

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.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


First-gen ASU grad shares her story with local youth

December 14, 2020

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

A few years after visiting ASU’s Tempe campus for an AVID event, Sun Devil Marlene Ortega is graduating this semester with a degree in art studies from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Originally from the southeast corner of the state in San Luis, Arizona, Ortega spent her time in college sharing her passion for education through SPARKS, an organization of ASU students who share college readiness resources with families throughout the state.   Marlene Ortega ASU grad in her cap and gown and Hispanic Convocation stole ASU grad Marlene Ortega. Download Full Image

Ortega got involved with SPARKS on a whim. One of her close friends suggested the idea, and they both decided to go check out the program. She connected with the mission and has spent the last few years speaking with students from kindergarten to high school about their higher education opportunities.

One of the most important parts of Ortega’s job is to share her Sun Devil story. Ortega told younger students what it was like to navigate the college application process as a first-generation student and that she changed her major three times before deciding to pursue a degree in art studies.

“I know what it feels like being a first-generation student, the fact of not knowing what’s coming next,” she said.

In addition to working for SPARKS, Ortega is also a youth coach for First Star.  She provides guidance to foster youth, and her goal is to help them succeed academically and personally.  

As she wrapped up her time at ASU, Ortega shared more about her Sun Devil story and her plans to attend graduate school in fall 2021. 

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

Answer: I feel like I’ve always liked the arts; I always like creating new stuff and being inspired by anything that’s happening in our community. I feel like with the arts, I was able to say my own story but with a painting or a drawing. I feel like it was my voice.

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

A: It’s going to be my views on how I see the world and how we are the ones who can transform it. Anything, it is possible … you just need to be able to talk to people and be like “Hey, I want to do this, help me do this.” 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: In high school, I was an AVID student. We raised money, and we were like “Oh, what’s the closest university we can travel to?” So, it was ASU, and I fell in love with the Tempe campus. … ASU has been really good to me. There’s a lot of resources that any student can use. The way I see it is that you can’t fail a class at ASU. It’s about you just putting in the work and asking for help.

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

A: Paul DeNigris, I feel like he taught me how to do things for passion, not to do things for money. … If you don’t have passion for something, then what’s the whole point of you doing it? 

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

A: It’s OK if you’re not happy with your major, like I said I changed mine three times. … Take advantage of all the resources that ASU has, all its counseling, advising, career services that are there to help. Get involved with clubs; you will meet amazing people. And by meeting those people, you will get opportunities, whether it’s at ASU or out in the community. People will remember you. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The MU or the Secret Garden.  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m super inspired with education and still would like to promote it a lot, but I also like the arts. So, I’m still planning to continue going to school. I’m applying to grad school again with the Herberger Institute in art education. 

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

A: Something to support all schools in all Arizona. … Perhaps a gadget that can help all students — it’s all a utensil whether you wanted it to be a pen, a pencil, a crayon.

Written by Claire Muranaka, ASU Student Life