From barista to writer: Starbucks graduate finds purpose
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.
“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.