From barista to writer: Starbucks graduate finds purpose

December 12, 2022
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

The sky is the limit for Leo Leon, who is graduating this fall with a bachelor’s degree in English from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

Leon, a proud member of the LGBTQ community, originally started their journey hoping to teach. At the suggestion of an advisor, they looked to English and discovered the many career opportunities the degree would offer.  Leo Leon, ASU Online graduate Leo Leon is graduating this fall with a bachelor’s degree in English from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

“It turns out you can do a lot with this major,” Leon said. “It gave me so many opportunities that I never thought I could have. Now I no longer want to teach; I want to write, more like an editorial assistant, and work in the publishing industry. Who knows? Maybe I can become a screenplay writer? A New York Times bestseller?”

The Brawley, California, native moved to Los Angeles when they were just 17 years old. Leon knew their passion for entertainment, acting, writing and producing would find an outlet in LA, but they also needed a degree to make it happen. 

Working at Starbucks allowed Leon to enter the Starbucks College Achievement Program as a transfer student, switching from a local in-person college to ASU Online. Initially nervous about transitioning to online coursework, they quickly discovered the many benefits of earning a degree online, not least of which was the flexibility to make their own schedule and learn on their own terms. 

Online coursework also allowed Leon opportunities to make an impact on other students’ academic journeys, such as working with first-year composition students and faculty in the Writers’ Studio.

“I had the opportunity to work with ENG 101 first-year composition students and immerse myself in the world of writing,” they said. “It was a learning process, but it's worth noting how much I cannot thank the team! They are so professional but also very friendly. They want you to succeed and see how you can impact a student's life.”

What happens next? Leon just published a book of poetry, “OCT 10.”, and plans on taking time to promote it. They also plan on indulging in some more travel before starting their next project. 

“Honestly, I couldn’t afford college, and I didn’t think I would be able to get my bachelor’s,” Leon said. “However, working at Starbucks helped me with the SCAP benefit. I can get my degree, not be in debt, and still manage to have a life. I couldn’t have done it without my support at Starbucks!”

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

Answer: During the pandemic, many of my friends who transitioned from in-person to online were struggling to find that in-person connection they would typically get from attending in-person sessions. It helped change my perspective because everyone was working to find their balance; I realized online courses were a better fit for me. I had a lot of anxiety going to class in person, but I miss that sometimes. However, being online allowed me to go and be spontaneous like going to New York City but taking my school with me. That was cool!

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

A: I worked as a mentor for ASU Writing Studio, and I got to meet my Instructor Esparza, who lives in Chicago, but he made me feel as if we were in person. I learned more about my degree and saw where that took him. It inspired me to focus on my studies because with hard work comes great opportunities. I had so much fun working with him and learning lessons about myself and my capabilities with English writing. 

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

A: DO THE WORK. I sometimes know that online school can seem like an easy way to procrastinate. But, doing the work to have the freedom to go where life takes you, ASU online really allowed me to have that. Other times, you will feel like you're alone; do not fear, you will meet people along the way and find your support groups. So many clubs and opportunities can help you feel less alone. I also tried to make friends. I have this one friend named David, and we relied on each other throughout the semester, and we still keep in touch! 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I would travel to work at coffee shops (not just Starbucks). I have always dreamed of being that artistic, coffee shop enthusiast. So, it gave me a chance to try different styles of coffee and also manage my work. It's become my weekly tradition to try a new spot every week to get the job done. When I worked my two internships, on top of school, the only place I felt productive was at my coffee shops. Shoutout to Long Beach, CA, coffee shops! They are elite, and if anyone comes, they must try! 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: The first thing I want to do after graduation is REST. I was working two internships, school full time, and working a full-time job. I want to be able to sleep and not stress. Other than that, I want to continue working on my projects. I have a book that came out recently called “OCT 10.” I have not paid much attention to it and want to promote it more and maybe write another book? Two? Also, I want to travel worldwide with my best friends and enjoy life. 

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

A: If we think about it, 40 million is not a lot. I want it to go somewhere I find handy and feel very needed. The first thing I think of is my home, Imperial County. I would divide the money equally through the county where it's most needed, like our social services, mental health division, schools, etc. I always loved my home, and it's where it gave me purpose. Giving back to my community is something I will always advocate and fight for. I would like to know that my home is being cared for, especially when I am no longer living there. 

Written by Margot LaNoue for ASU Online.

Thunderbird graduate steps out of comfort zone to gain life experience

Sakhi Solanki knew she would learn a lot when she started her MGM program but didn't anticipate how much extra life experience she would gain

December 12, 2022
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Sakhi Solanki was born and raised in Ahmedabad, India. Before attending Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, she earned her bachelor's degree in computer engineering. While working toward her degree, she had already developed an innovative android sales analysis tool that enables small businesses to use business intelligence tools.

After researching different master's programs and speaking with T-bird alumni, she chose to attend Thunderbird because she felt it fit perfectly with her professional goals. Photo of Sakhi Solanki This fall, Sakhi Solanki will graduate with a Master of Global Management with a concentration in global digital transformation from ASU's Thunderbird School of Global Management. Download Full Image

"Professionally, I was fascinated by the emphasis given on analytics, big data and artificial intelligence technologies, as they are the need of the hour," Solanki said. "I expected to learn a lot when I started my master's program, but I didn't anticipate how much extra life experience I would gain."

Solanki will graduate with a Master of Global Management with a concentration in global digital transformation. 

"You gain so much more from Thunderbird than just a degree," Solanki explained. "I learned from people from different backgrounds. I learned professional and personal skills. I refined my time management skills, grew out of my comfort zone, participated in school activities and planned various events. These organizational skills and professional learning have made me a well-rounded person."

After graduation, she hopes to work as a marketing analyst, but she is also open to working in data analysis and consulting. She feels that her background and skills gained during her master's program have prepared her to work in any of these fields. 

Solanki is motivated by making her family proud and truly wants to be excellent in whatever she does. She works extremely hard to make the most of her Thunderbird journey. Her advice for future T-birds is, "Open up and get out of your comfort zone. Try to meet as many people as possible, talk to them and be genuine in your conversations and you will make friends for a lifetime — and you may even meet your next business partner here (at Thunderbird).” 

Question: What do you love about being a T-bird?

Answer: Being a T-bird has been an incredible journey. The best part is the people you meet from all over the world, with different cultures, ages and professions. You learn not just in the classrooms but outside as well. You will experience other cultures, which I probably would not have experienced anywhere else. 

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

A: I learned corporate strategy and global strategy from Professor Kannan Ramaswamy, which was an exceptional experience. I learned how global multinational firms create value. I learned about competitive advantage and its sources in emerging and developed markets and how organizations tackle the complexities of being an international corporation. This class taught me that strategic decisions are ingrained in every business unit and that no unit functions as a separate entity. 

Q: What would you tackle if someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet?

A: If I was given $40 million to solve one problem, I would try to solve the food and water insecurity problem. Millions of children are impacted and have malnutrition because of this problem. And the number has been rising and has been severely impacted by the pandemic. 

Q: For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

A: I feel most grateful for my family and friends. Their constant support and love have made me the person I am today. I couldn't have done this without them. So, from the bottom of my heart, I am thankful for all of them!

Dasi Styles

Senior Media Relations Officer, Thunderbird School of Global Management