“It’s given me the ability to dream again”
How you can help Starbucks employees earn college degrees
Claire Ostermeier is the kind of person who isn’t afraid to rifle through the trash bin just to rescue a plastic cup that could have been recycled.
When she wants to get a cup of coffee, the Starbucks partner (employee) makes it a point to bring her reusable ceramic tumbler, decorated with colorful siren scales. “Every single day, that is one thing that I can do to prevent one more thing going into our waste stream,” she said.
At home, her shelves are filled with books about sustainability and green living. A small white and green compost bin is tucked in a cabinet under her sink. Her Starbucks Greener Apron program certificate hangs on her refrigerator.
She dreams of making our planet a better place for future generations by creating healthier cities, making waste streams easier to use and improving access to transportation.
But at one point in her life, she didn’t think dreaming was possible.
Growing up in Northern California, Claire spent much of her time outside, camping with her dad and going on hiking trips.
“I always loved nature. I loved just getting lost in it,” she said.
On a recent overcast afternoon wandering through a Seattle park, it’s evident her passion continues. She seems at home, unfazed by the typical Northwest drizzle. In fact, she finds it peaceful and rejuvenating. She speaks with enthusiasm and conviction about her desire to preserve the outdoors for people like her 7-year-old niece.
“It was something that, as I grew older, seeing the destruction of what’s happening on our planet made me really sad to know that other children of the future may not have the same opportunities that I did,” she said.
Despite her interest and passion, Claire encountered some challenges on her journey toward finishing her education.
“Most of it was the recession,” Claire said. "I was just stuck.”
In 2014, Claire was between jobs. While searching for new opportunities, she considered Starbucks. Knowing that she wanted to complete her bachelor’s degree, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan piqued her interest. Through the program, eligible partners can earn a bachelor’s degree online from Arizona State University—with full tuition coverage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Partners become eligible for the Starbucks College Achievement Plan after working for Starbucks for at least three months for 20-plus hours a week. More than 7,100 full and part-time partners from around the U.S. are participating in the program at ASU. After graduation, there’s no requirement that partners must continue working for Starbucks.
In preparation for her job interview, Claire took a trip to the library to research Starbucks. She devoured “Pour Your Heart Into It,” written by Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz.
“If anything, that just solidified the fact that I wanted to work for this company because they care so much about their partners,” Claire said.
Claire got the job in October of 2014, working as a barista at a Starbucks store in downtown Seattle. A few months later, she was selected to join the team at the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery, where she spent nearly two years. She also enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in the fall of 2015 and decided to pursue a degree in sustainability studies with a focus on urban dynamics.
“In reading the description about what the degree was all about, I knew that that was why everything had happened. I was meant to do this because I hope that after my time is over on this planet that I have made it better for all the future generations,” Claire said.
She’s already having an impact on current generations. While working at the Roastery, Claire helped educate partners and customers from around the world about Seattle’s recycling and composting guidelines. She made poster boards explaining how to sort products into the appropriate receptacle and led a sustainability talk with a co-worker for Roastery partners. She also spearheaded an effort to reduce water waste at the Roastery.
When fellow partners started telling her they’d bought a compost bin or came to her with their recycling questions, she realized just how much of an effect she could have.
“I was flattered that they thought that I knew everything, because of course, education’s a journey,” she said, jokingly acknowledging she doesn’t know everything about recycling.
Claire is now in her senior year at ASU. She currently works at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle as an Enterprise Help Desk analyst, assisting partners with technology troubleshooting. She’s one of three partners involved in a pilot sustainability internship program through Starbucks and ASU. Her focus? Encouraging more Starbucks customers to purchase their drinks in a reusable tumbler. And she recently joined the board for the Partners for Sustainability Network, a group dedicated to inspiring and supporting partners to incorporate sustainable practices at work and in their communities.
Balancing a full-time job and a full course load doesn’t come without its challenges. Asked when she finds time to study, she’s quick to respond, “All the time.” That, she says, means between calls, on breaks, at lunch and when she gets home from work.
“It’s just literally all day in between things as much as possible because I want to make Starbucks proud and get all the A’s,” she said.
Advice from a fellow partner—just sit down and do it—motivates her when her to-do list seems never-ending. She’s determined to give her best at work and school because of Starbucks’ willingness to invest in her and her future.
partner and student
She wants people to know that when they come to Starbucks, they’re getting more than just a cup of coffee.
“The money that people are spending on our amazing coffee is going to so much more than someone’s pocketbook. It’s paying for farmers to learn more about agronomy … all the way to back here in the states knowing that the barista across the counter from you can get a college education and do whatever they want,” Claire said.
Claire hopes to graduate by the end of 2017 or early next year. She’s already making plans to fly to Arizona State University for the graduation ceremony.
“I have to walk across that stage. ... I’m going to be so happy. It’s going to be life-affirming,” Claire said.