October 27, 2017

Oni Onwuka: Finding a path through college with Starbucks

The PIC has had a robust partnership with Starbucks for nearly two years, resulting in the company hiring more than 70 PIC-coached students. One major draw for students is the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a joint program launched in 2014 with Arizona State University (ASU) Online that helps Starbucks employees attend college online without going into debt. Onyinyechi “Oni” Onwuka was one of the earliest PIC-coached students to be hired at Starbucks, and she is taking full advantage of the College Achievement Plan.

Oni moved with her family to Boston from Nigeria 11 years ago. She attended Madison Park Technical Vocational High School (MPTVHS), specializing in the school’s culinary arts track. During her time at MPTVHS, Oni connected with a PIC career specialist who worked with her to secure her first job: a youth counselor at Bird Street Community Center. Oni says her first job got her thinking more seriously about her future. “I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but working with youth at Bird Street definitely got me thinking about leadership and managing people,” says Oni.

After graduating high school, Oni remained connected to the PIC and enrolled at Roxbury Community College. She attended classes part-time and worked with the PIC postsecondary employer account manager, Rob Surratt, to secure a number of part-time retail jobs to help pay for her education. After two years, Oni was struggling to pay for classes and becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of her progress. Always a highly motivated student, Oni was determined to fast track her studies and searched for another path through college.

Starbucks Baristas Making Coffee

After learning of her challenges, Rob talked to Oni about the opportunities available at Starbucks, highlighting the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Oni knew working at Starbucks could put her on the right path to achieving her dream of a college degree. She interviewed with Starbucks and secured a position as a shift manager, and has been with the company for about a year-and-a-half. During this time, she has continually impressed store manager Lorena Nunez. “I noticed Oni’s leadership abilities right away. She is so adept at getting buy-in from her fellow partners whenever there are changes in the store,” says Lorena.

Lorena is a product of the Boston Public Schools herself, graduating from East Boston High School. Her family is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to East Boston when Lorena was seven years old. She has been a champion for PIC students at Starbucks because she understands some of the challenges they face. “I became a young mother, which delayed my college plans. I ended up working to support not only myself, but also my child. Starbucks offers young people a chance to work and get a free college education--that’s something I wish I’d had when I was in their place,” says Lorena.

Oni is currently in her second semester of the ASU online program studying psychology. She says the support she has received at Starbucks has helped her stay on track, especially as a first generation college student. “Studying online is different from being on a campus; it’s a lot of self-accountability. The team at Starbucks is nurturing--they help me stay focused,” says Oni. She’s also still in touch with Rob, who she says continues to push her to reach higher in her education and career goals. Oni’s supervisor Lorena is also enrolled in the ASU online program, majoring in Global Business Logistics and Communications. The two have supported and motivated one another to progress in their respective programs. Oni is on track to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in early 2019, and plans to continue her education by pursuing an advanced degree in either clinical or industrial and organizational psychology. Thus far, Oni’s college and career journey has taught her one lesson that she will carry forward above all else. “Whether we’re talking about job opportunities with the PIC in high school or studying in college, you have to be motivated,” says Oni. “Obstacles are going to come, but you have to persist.”

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