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From Starbucks to summa cum laude: Ugandan grad celebrates ASU education

Graduating students walking in procession

Evans Kaddu, '23 BA in political science. Photo by Ivy Studios Photography, provided by Angele Busch

December 14, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Before Evans Kaddu was hired at Starbucks, he did not know what a cappuccino was. Now, five years into his role as a barista, thanks to the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, he graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Kaddu immigrated to the United States from his home in Uganda five years ago, after beginning a degree he was originally unable to complete. Even though he was not well versed in the culture at Starbucks, Kaddu was no stranger to the origins of coffee. His paternal grandparents grew coffee, and his maternal grandparents harvested vanilla.

This familial connection to coffee was first carried on by Kaddu’s father. He studied agriculture and got a job for a cooperative bank that strove to support farmers like Kaddu’s grandfather with savings and investments.

Kaddu emphasizes the importance of coffee, not just in his family but also as part of his Ugandan culture.

“Coffee is a part of our intricate culture, and wedding ceremonies are kicked off with a coffee ritual where we share a bowl of dark roasted cherries,” Kaddu said. “One of the first things I noticed at Starbucks was a vanilla syrup bottle, which made me wonder how the vanilla from my grandmother’s farm ended up in a bottle.”

When he first arrived in the U.S., Kaddu knew nothing about the culture and environment surrounding Starbucks as a company. In fact, he had never been inside a Starbucks and mostly drank black coffee until that point. However, when he learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), Kaddu was excited to finish his degree.

“I was determined to get a job there and soon learned about the SCAP program,” Kaddu said. “I immediately took advantage of the program to get back into school. Graduating debt-free is a major benefit, so I am grateful to the company and the partnership with ASU.”

First introduced in June 2014, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan helps Starbucks partners attend ASU with full tuition coverage. The partnership between Starbucks and ASU helps remove barriers to higher education and creates a wide range of opportunities for prospective students. Currently, there are more than 25,000 students enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and upwards of 12,000 graduates to date.

Angele Busch, a Starbucks senior manager in corporate communications, appreciates the adaptability of the program.

“The benefit is not restricted to a specific set of business-related higher education programs, unlike tuition programs offered by other retailers,” Busch said. “We recognize our partners have diverse interests and want to make sure they can access a variety of degrees.”

Aside from Kaddu’s work as a Starbucks barista and student, he also earned an internship this summer in Washington, D.C., through the ASU School of Politics and Global Studies’ highly competitive Capital Scholars Program. Twelve students were selected overall, and only two, including Kaddu, were fully online students. Through the program, Kaddu joined the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants as a legal volunteer.

“In this position, I was able to help a group of lawyers and legal assistants in filing cases and supporting newly arrived immigrants and refugees, since the fall of Kabul and some from the southern border,” Kaddu said. “I am an immigrant myself, and I always wanted to give back, so this work was important to me. In the end, I was able to build a referral framework for the office that is still used to this day.”

This fall, Kaddu participated in a fellowship with The Starbucks Foundation where he learned about how Starbucks supports coffee farmers in different countries. According to its mission statement, the Starbucks Foundation aims to “strengthen humanity by transforming lives across the world, with a focus on enabling community resiliency and prosperity and uplifting communities affected by disaster.”

At the end of his fellowship, Kaddu traveled to Seattle and presented a report on global community impact grants.

“I was born and raised in a coffee-growing country, so I was really eager to learn how the company I love so much is supporting these communities,” Kaddu said. “I sat in meetings with global licensees and nonprofit partners who share the same goals. I was able to provide perspective to the team at the foundation since I have lived experience.”

One thing Kaddu noted was the caring atmosphere he experienced during his time as an ASU student. When Kaddu could not afford a plane ticket for the winter convocation ceremony, his coworkers banded together and bought him one as a surprise.

“They made me feel so proud to be their partner,” Kaddu said. “I am forever grateful to them.”

After graduation, Kaddu was awarded two scholarships and is now pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs and leadership at ASU. He hopes to one day move to Washington, D.C., and work for the U.S. Department of State, so that he can help his home country, Uganda.

When asked if he had any advice for first-year ASU students, Kaddu said education is all about perseverance and resilience.

“I worked hard and studied hard,” Kaddu said. “The first few months might seem overwhelming and make you want to drop out, but the resources are available to support you, and if you stick it out, you will triumph. Don’t forget the reason why you started. Keep moving.”

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