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

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.

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.

“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.

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