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ASU Online graduate is proud to be first in family to earn a degree

Justin Brengel took advantage of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan

Justin Brengel

Justin Brengel applied the skills and knowledge he gained from ASU Online to his SCAP Fellowship where he worked on the brand public relations team for Starbucks. Courtesy photo

May 08, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

When Justin Brengel graduated from high school, he faced an impossible choice: He could take out loans and go to school, or he could go to work. 

It’s a conundrum many learners face. 

Justin Brengel sits at his desk while typing on his laptop and turns to smile at the camera
As an online student, Justin Brengel's classroom could be found wherever his laptop was. Courtesy photo

Brengel first sought work and rather than give up his dream of an education, the Deltona, Florida, native looked for a solution. He found the answer when a new Starbucks location began construction near him. 

At Starbucks, Brengel embraced his love of coffee and college by taking advantage of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, or SCAP, a first-of-its-kind partnership with Arizona State University that creates an opportunity for all eligible U.S. partners (employees) to earn their first-time bachelor’s degree through ASU’s top-ranked online degree program, ASU Online.

“For eight fulfilling years, I was employed at Starbucks while earning my degree,” he said. “Cups of coffee powered me through each semester, and the flexibility of ASU Online allowed me to explore a variety of fields of study at my own pace.”

Graduating this spring with a criminology and criminal justice degree, complemented by minors in anthropology and business, and credentials in digital marketing, Brengel is poised to succeed at whatever he sets his mind to. 

Looking back at his educational journey, the new graduate is thankful for the support he received from his store manager, who was also in the SCAP program, and his regular customers, who checked in on his progress over the years and recently celebrated his milestone achievement.

“I’m proud to be the first in both my immediate and extended family to obtain a bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Brengel’s academic success mirrored his professional success. He was promoted to shift supervisor early in his Starbucks career. Last fall, he had the opportunity to participate in an SCAP Fellowship, a Starbucks internship program that hosts select SCAP scholars as they apply their academic learnings to real-world projects.

“Working on the brand public relations team, I was able to apply the skills and knowledge I gained from ASU Online in a real corporate setting,” he said. “I also gained hands-on experience working on real-time projects, such as viewing the world through the brand's lens. Through this experience, I developed my storytelling, communication and public relations skills.”

And while there is no commitment to stay with Starbucks after graduation, he is looking to expand his role within the company. 

“My plan after graduation is to seek opportunities to further develop my communication skills,” he said. “Currently, I'm unsure about which aspect of communication I want to specialize in, so I'm exploring all areas to determine where I excel.”

We spoke with Brengel about his experience with ASU Online and his plans for the future.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment occurred during high school when I became engrossed with forensic TV shows like CSI and Bones. These sparked my interest in crime scene investigations, leading me to major in criminology and criminal justice while also minoring in anthropology.

I had a second “aha” moment. This second “aha” moment brings up a quote by Starbucks founder and chairman emeritus Howard Schulz that deeply resonates with me: "In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we're made of." 

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I discovered my passion for communications and digital marketing — thanks to the Global Career Accelerator program

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

A: Something that surprised me during my time at ASU Online was the need for tech skills in today's society. It was beneficial to take the Global Career Accelerator program to gain such skills in digital marketing. This has truly allowed me to be innovative.

Q: What was your favorite or most meaningful course and why?

A: The Global Career Accelerator program courses are among my all-time favorites so much so that they changed my career aspirations. The Global Career Accelerator program is an online internship-style program open to anyone seeking to gain top-tier tech skills in a chosen track. It was in the digital marketing track that I learned real-world skills, such as designing a website through Shopify and creating an organic social media campaign on Instagram. The best part is you can use your newly acquired skills to create portfolio pieces that showcase your new abilities!

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

A: The Global Career Accelerator program was enlightening, and its professors are experts in their respective fields. One such professor was Rita Cidre — a marketing expert who has worked with companies like Zillow. She became a significant mentor during my time in the digital marketing track. Rita was quirky and personable, always willing to offer support in any area — from answering top-burning marketing questions to providing interviewing advice.

Rita was a significant inspiration to me — helping me discover my hidden talent and unlock my creative potential in marketing. She taught me a lot and has become a mentor who has guided me through the landscape of my new career aspirations.

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

A: My best advice for students is to pursue your dreams. This may sound cliché, but it's common to think you know what you want to do early in life, only to completely change your mind later. Yes, there might be ambiguity and you may not know where this new path will lead, but you can still pursue these new dreams and you will find help along the way. It's your life. Do what you're passionate about regardless of your degree specialization.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot is Starbucks (no surprise there). The aesthetic and culture of Starbucks make it an ideal place for intensive study sessions — and of course, the coffee helps.

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

A: If given 40 million dollars to solve one issue, I would address the gap in practical skills within education. The goal would be to enable students to gain more real-life, skill-building opportunities, similar to those offered by the Global Career Accelerator program. Such programs should be more widespread in our society.

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