'Don’t be afraid to ask questions': Starbucks program grad on discovering the importance of inclusive research

May 17, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

In 2014, when Arizona State University announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, long-time Starbucks employee Jess Tilk was intrigued. At the time, Tilk was studying studio arts at a California community college. Long-time Starbucks employee Jess Tilk graduated from ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in psychology this spring. Download Full Image

“To hear that we had partnered with ASU, I thought this was such a great opportunity,” said Tilk, who uses they/them pronouns.

After taking some time off of school, Tilk applied for the Starbucks program and began their ASU journey in January 2020 as a psychology major. They continued working as a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks while completing their online courses.

Although Tilk had never taken courses online before, they said they were able to engage in the course material on a deeper level while also building a foundation for their future.

“As an online student my experience has been really meaningful,” they said. “Through having the discussion boards online, I was able to be a bit more brave in my responses and a little more vulnerable in my application of the material. I was placed in classroom settings where I was pushed to think outside of the box, so it really prepared me with that mindset of innovation.”

Looking back on their experience, Tilk said they are in awe of all they’ve been able to accomplish during their time at ASU.

“If you would have told me two years ago I would be sitting here now, I would not have believed you,” they said. “I feel really fortunate that I worked for Starbucks and was given this opportunity. Had I not had the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship and my tuition paid, I don't know that I would have been in a financial position where a four-year college was something that seemed doable for me.”

This spring, Tilk graduated from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Here, they share more about their experiences at ASU and what’s next for them.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study psychology?

Answer: My “aha” moment came from recognizing disparities within methodology and research behind eating disorder treatment. I wanted to expand upon the current research and explore intersections between the transgender and gender nonconforming communities experiences with eating disorders, the onset development and treatment of such and explore those intersections within research.

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

A: Something that I've learned at New College that has changed me is my experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant. I was lucky enough to have that opportunity for two sessions here at ASU and during my time as an undergrad teaching assistant I was able to interact with school from the other side in terms of helping put together and develop course material. That gave me a new perspective on education, the way that I relate to the course material, and it gave me insight into what it takes to prepare courses — gathering material and interacting with material in a different way. It gave me an opportunity to take what I'm learning in the classes and learn how to apply that to teach a broader audience.

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

A: Dr. Sarah Gavac taught me the most important lesson and through my work with them, I was able to learn inclusivity and how to really take a critical approach when interacting with material and learning how to present it in a way that is inclusive and accessible for everybody.

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

A: Learn how to be okay with saying no to friends and family. There have been a lot of sacrifices that I've had to make this time for my education and in the beginning it was really difficult. I felt like I might be letting people down by saying no to certain events or social situations. Now, coming up on graduation looking back on my journey, I am so grateful that I learned how to set those boundaries. I don't regret any of the missed concerts, I don't regret any of the missed events — because the pride and satisfaction of being able to graduate summa cum laude and have the knowledge and the experience that I did going through college made it all worth it.

I think that to be a good psychology student you really need to capitalize on critical thought and learn to have an open mind to new materials. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage with material in deeper ways. This is still a new field, every year we're finding new discoveries and new research is coming out. I think the biggest tool that has helped me in this endeavor is to have an open mind and to not be afraid to engage in research.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I will be attending Alliant University, their Irvine campus, in the fall of 2022. My goal there is to get my master’s in marriage and family therapy. After that I will get my license as a marriage and family therapist and I plan on continuing my education to get my PhD in clinical psychology. With that I hope to be able to go into research and start researching the intersections of the transgender and gender nonconforming experiences with eating disorder treatment.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Mom and daughter duo graduate through ASU Online

Both earn their degrees at the same time after supporting each other’s college journey

May 17, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

When the Pappas family — mom Maria of San Jose, California, and daughter Katianna of Scottsdale, Arizona – began their educational journeys at Arizona State University, it wasn’t their grand plan to earn their diplomas at the same time. But the timing worked out just so and they both received their ASU diploma this spring. Mother and daughter Maria and Katianna Pappas both received their degrees from ASU this spring. Download Full Image

“I love that Katianna and I are sharing this experience together,” Maria said. “We didn’t initially set out to finish at the same time, but we’re so excited to be celebrating with our family and friends. Throughout the journey, we were there to support each other, which was wonderful! It was a bonding experience.”

Maria earned her Master in Nonprofit Leadership and Management and Katianna earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in health entrepreneurship and innovation, both through ASU Online. We talked with both about their learning experience and journey together.

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

Maria: I’ve been in nonprofit work for more than 30 years and am currently the vice president of development at The Tech Interactive, a science center in downtown San Jose. So I’m not sure I really had an “aha” moment. But I learned something new in every class I took, from finance to leadership ethics to program evaluation. And that learning was thanks to both my professors and classmates.

Katianna: Originally my major was science focused, and I really enjoyed all of my STEM classes since I always had a passion for health and the sciences. When I started working, I realized I also had a huge passion and love for business, entrepreneurship and the strategy involved. I didn’t realize a health entrepreneurship and innovation program was an option for me. But when I discovered it, it sounded like the perfect mix of both my interests.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of as an ASU Online student?

Maria: I’m proud of getting through a master’s program while working full time. Throughout the program, I was also able to contribute numerous real-world scenarios to each area we were learning. As a 30-year veteran of the industry, I had much to add to the discussions about how theories can be applied to a real nonprofit. 

Katianna: I’m most proud of my ability to balance work and school while still maintaining my social life. I started college in an on-campus program, but switched to ASU Online so I could continue to work full time as an IT recruiter. Getting an education and completing my degree were my main priorities, but it was important for me to have balance in my life while in school. That’s the main reason I decided to transition to an online program rather than be in person.

Q: How does it feel to be graduating at the same time as your mom/daughter? What was it like to go through the college experience at the same time?

Katianna: It was so much fun being able to share this moment with my mom. I wouldn’t want it any other way! She helped me so much throughout my academic career and I have always looked up to her dedication in both work and school. 

Maria: While in school, Katianna was a huge help when I had technology questions, or general questions. I had never been on Canvas and didn’t even know how to post a discussion when I started. We would bounce ideas off each other and sometimes vent about how hard it was to work full time and manage school – during a pandemic! It was wonderful we were there to support each other.

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

Maria: I appreciated learning about taking an asset-based perspective when approaching nonprofit work. It’s easy to start with deficits, but starting with assets is a much more respectful way to talk about our work.

Katianna: In one of my health innovation classes, we were looking at implementing tangible ways to measure health innovation in the field. I learned the importance of measurement and data collection in driving innovation.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Maria: I knew ASU had a nonprofit leadership master’s program, but I hadn’t looked into it too seriously until I applied. I needed something 100% online as I work full time in a senior role at my institution. I was interested in the classes offered in the program and decided to apply. I also felt a connection to ASU with Katianna being there.

Katianna: My brother started at ASU, which led me to follow him from San Jose to the sunny state of Arizona. Working while going to school was really important to me, and ASU Online allowed me to transition to online learning. I knew ASU‘s program was really strong and would set me up in the right direction.

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

Katianna: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! This is your own journey and it’s not going to be easy; there will be challenges along the way. Advocating for yourself and your academic career will set you up for success in the future.

Maria: Finish! Graduating is a great accomplishment. So even when it gets hard, keep on keeping on. I’d also encourage anyone out there, no matter their age, who thinks maybe they could get a master’s degree one day, to do it. I hadn’t been in a classroom in over 30 years! It was fun learning again.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

Maria: Relax, celebrate, enjoy! I’ll catch up on all the Netflix shows people have been talking about for the past two years. Other than that, I hope to take some time to digest all I learned from the program and determine how to bring those learnings back to my own institution. I’d also like to explore how to help develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders. 

Katianna: Now that I’ve graduated, I’m going to take what I’ve learned and plan what’s next in both my career and further education. Also, some bottomless mimosas and catching up on much needed sleep.

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

Maria: I’m in development and will be trying to raise $80 million in the coming years. So if someone gave me $40 million, that would be a huge start to The Tech Interactive’s upcoming campaign. We train the next generation of problem solvers, so my $40 million would go to our efforts to bring up an entire generation of young people prepared to tackle our world’s greatest challenges. 

Katianna: I’m not sure exactly what I would do with $40 million, but I’d like to see progress made in cross collaborations between different countries with regards to solving world problems and analyzing areas of improvement. So many organizations are working independently on the same issues; if there was more sharing of research findings and collaboration, global problems could be solved.

Written by Chad Hays, senior marketing content specialist, EdPlus at Arizona State University