ASU Online student, and military spouse, graduates thanks to Starbucks College Achievement Plan

May 4, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

When Melanie Wood started taking classes at a community college right out of high school, she thought it would be a good opportunity to get the basics out of the way. Not knowing which direction she wanted to go, however, Wood eventually dropped out of school, got married and started her family. Melanie Wood and her husband, Patrick, a store manager with Starbucks. Download Full Image

Her husband joined the Army after they got married, and Wood spent the next 15 years moving as the Army relocated their family and supporting her husband through two deployments in Iraq.

It wasn’t until after her husband retired from military service that Wood was introduced to an opportunity that would allow her to focus on reaching her goals.

“As military spouses, we put our careers and everything else on hold because you continue to pack up and move. While his career was progressing, I was always starting over,” Wood said. “When he retired, it was time for me, for my growth and development, to do what I wanted to do in life.”

That became easier after Wood’s husband, Patrick, took a job with Starbucks and learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (a partnership between Starbucks and Arizona State University that grants employees full tuition reimbursement when enrolled through ASU Online). And in Wood’s case, since her husband was a veteran, the benefit was extended to her as well.

“Patrick has been with Starbucks for three years now, and learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan after starting with the company. He already had a degree and therefore didn’t qualify, but for me, this benefit was amazing,” she said.

It is because of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, and its inclusion of veterans’ family members, that15 years after leaving school, Wood is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in family and human development from Arizona State University.

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

Answer: That moment came when I first started applying to ASU Online. The very first person I spoke with was my enrollment coach, and they got the ball rolling for me. When I first started thinking about majors, it was a toss-up between family and human development, sociology, or going a completely different route and getting a business degree. But when were were going over my transfer credits, my enrollment coach was surprised at how many of the family and human development courses I had taken then I first went to college and asked if I wanted to think about that as my major. It was still a topic I was passionate about, and many of those courses actually transferred over.

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

A: I don’t know if this is a changed perspective, but I really liked the stance ASU has taken on having the university be a place for everyone. Everyone belongs. It doesn’t feel exclusive, like you are not good enough to be here. If you want to be here, you will have help reaching graduation day.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: That opportunity came through my husband. When he retired from the Army he was hired on as a store manager at Starbucks. After learning about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan he came home from work one day to let me know that the benefit was being expanded to family members of veterans who were employed by the company. Every excuse I had made for myself as to why I couldn’t go back to school, the time, the financial expense, no longer applied. It now came down to realizing I had this great opportunity, and what was I going to do with it.

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

A: Just finish! Finishing is the best feeling ever. I had quit in the past, which didn’t really feel that great, but now that I have finished school it feels amazing.

Q: What was your favorite spot to study?

A: My favorite spot to study was usually on my couch after my kids went to bed. I earned my entire bachelor’s degree on my couch, with my computer on the end table, after my kids were in bed.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Hopefully I will complete my alternative teaching certificate and become a classroom teacher here in Texas. The alternative credential allows for anyone who has a bachelor's degree to teach in the classroom while they finish their requirements.

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

A: I hate the idea of a child going hungry, and many times the only time a child eats is when they get meals at school. With $40 million I would want to create a summertime program that allows children to continue getting the meals they would if they were still in school.

Q: What is your favorite Starbucks drink?

A: An Iced Caramel Macchiato. And when you have to stay up late studying, you have to get it with an extra shot!

Carrie Peterson

Sr. Manager, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University


Seeing a need, graduating senior Kaitlyn Felix studied Spanish to be a better doctor

May 4, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Graduating senior Kaitlyn Felix dreams of becoming a surgeon someday. To help her achieve that goal, however, she didn’t just study health sciences. She studied Spanish at the School of International Letters and Cultures. Kaitlyn Felix Graduating senior Kaitlyn Felix wants to be a surgeon someday, but uses Spanish to help her connect with patients. Download Full Image

“I’ve been a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) since high school,” Felix said. “A lot non-English speakers are your patients. It’s great to have a medical background and a Spanish background. I’ve taken two or three classes that had a Spanish medical language frame.”

Felix has substantial experience in both medicine and Spanish. Spanish is her first language and the language her family speaks at home. Besides working as CNA, she interned with a pediatric surgeon last summer and was her grandfather’s caregiver while he battled cancer and dementia.

Blending the two disciplines made Felix better at both, and prepared her to work, research, study and succeed at ASU.  

“It’s almost like learning another language. Learning the body parts, the tools, the correct way to form a question to a patient. It’s been really interesting and helpful to me as I worked through the medical field all through college,” Felix said.

She has found that speaking Spanish has been especially helpful while practicing medicine in the Southwest, enabling her to connect directly with patients, as opposed to always need a translator. That connection leads to trust, especially dealing with pediatrics.

“It was nice to have to have that language barrier be broken. Obviously they’re there for kind of a scary situation. It was with family, obviously with children most of the time,” Felix recalled. “Their face would light up, like ‘Oh my God, someone speaks Spanish here. That’s great; I’ll know what’s going on.’”

At SILC, as she balanced her health science studies and Spanish minor, she found the faculty responsive, enthusiastic and supportive. She said that all SILC staff “really take the time to get to know their students … they actually seem to care about their work.”

Now applying to medical school, Felix wants a program that gives back to underserved communities. She has found her cultural competence to be a professional benefit and wants a program that expands on it.

“Cultural competency is a big thing where we’re seeing problems in the medical field,” Felix said. “Understanding culture, understanding language barriers … it might increase lifestyle and medical advice. I think it’s important to be interdisciplinary … every case is different.”

SILC advisers would help Felix plan out her semesters. This meant focusing on medical classes at one point, then getting ahead in language classes when she had class openings. Felix accomplished all this while also holding down a job.

Felix said that while balancing the two programs was challenging, she succeeded by reminding herself that she was not just working, but working toward something.

“There’d be late nights, super early mornings, lack of sleep, lack of food, but it’s one more day closer to medical school, one more day closer to becoming a doctor, one more day closer to graduation. And graduation is a week from now,” Felix said. “So I made it.”

Gabriel Sandler