Starbucks partner and 2021 Graduate Monty Burich

Longtime Red Cross volunteer earns degree with help of Starbucks College Achievement Plan

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

The goal to finish college seemed less attainable every year Monty Burich waited to go back. Whether it was family, work or life, something always kept him from finishing his degree. Then, while working at Starbucks, he learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and the company’s partnership with Arizona State University and his hope was renewed. “How many times do you get a second chance like this?”

As a longtime volunteer for the American Red Cross, Burich has alway had a passion for helping people. This led him to ASU’s online public service and public policy degree program with a focus on homeland security. This particular field will go hand-in-hand with his volunteer work as he helps provide guidance on preparedness and recovery.

“We know the world is changing, we have to be ready to deal with it when it does. Good emergency managers are part of the way that we're going to do that,” he said.

While completing his degree, Burich utilized a variety of ASU Online resources, especially the 24-hour tutoring.

“When I’d be up late trying to work through a problem, it was really helpful to be able to put a problem up on a virtual board and work through it with someone. It’s an amazing feature.”

He also regularly talked with his success coach when he needed someone to cheer him on. While at work, his Starbucks manager would help with his schedule if he needed to study or work on a project. If Burich was called away to serve for the Red Cross, his professors would fully support his trips.

“The American Red Cross responds to home fires every 16–20 hours, so when I was on duty, flexibility was critical to balancing the needs of family, school, work and most of all, the community,” Burich said.

When not working full time, volunteering for the American Red Cross or concentrating on his studies, Burich loves spending time with his wife and cooking for his family. Living in the Pacific Northwest, he loves to get out in nature. He makes an annual family hiking trip to Mount St. Helens and tries to visit the other beautiful mountain ranges. In addition to hiking, Burich visits a variety of local eateries and enjoys traveling the world through different flavor profiles. 

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

Answer: I think the fact that online schooling is doable was an eye opening experience for me because coming from traditional schooling where you're in the classroom, online in my mind was a little treacherous. What would it be like interacting with other classmates and the professors? It was the unknown that was challenging. But once I got into it and started to see how things progressed and the amount of support you have available, it was better for me.

The amount of support that we have through tutoring, through discussions with professors or reaching out to one of your classmates, it ended up easier than if I did classes in a traditional school setting. Coming out of high school and doing this would have been very, very difficult. But after being out of school for 20-plus years, I had a chance to develop some of that discipline and I think that's what made it possible. Coming out of high school and jumping in right away without a chance to hone those skills, well I don't think it would have worked quite the same way. 

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

A: Professor George A. Pettit when I was in his course about pandemics. It was amazing to study a topic that was unfolding in front of our eyes in real time. So, even though we had a curriculum written and we had things we were expected to learn, that class was very much taught as it was happening around us. Since the professor was a former city manager, he had some great experiences to share with us. We had real-time connections with city managers and emergency personnel, fire chiefs and police chiefs. Being able to have those open discussions were really informative. It definitely renewed my focus and energy in emergency management. Professor Pettit showed us the real world effects of the pandemic and interpreted it in a way that we could learn from. Overall, he was really inspiring and truly renewed all my focus on why a future in emergency management was the place to be. 

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

A: For an existing student who's maybe halfway through or just starting out and maybe it seems a little bit daunting, don't keep it a secret. Ask for help, reach out to your classmates, have those challenging conversations with your classmates, break the ice, don't feel like you're alone. There's so many options out there for you to reach out for some support or help. And don't forget about your family! They may be quiet sometimes but just know that they're supporting you behind the scenes and sometimes just talking about it makes all the difference. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I usually sit in the kitchen right next to the window so that I have a chance to peer out and look into the trees and watch the birds flying around. It takes my mind away for a few minutes when I'm deep thinking about a particular topic. It just seems to be the best place for me. I've tried going to a Starbucks store and sitting down but there's too many distractions. Sitting at home here in my kitchen while my wife works around the house, plays her piano, while the animals are relaxing outside, like our four pet tortoises, is so relaxing.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: The plan right now is to continue to focus on where I'm at with Starbucks. My ultimate goal is to join FEMA at some point down the road. I’m keeping my options open as there seems to be jobs in my field popping up regularly and nature continues to show us how unprepared we really are.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a Sun Devil?

A: My mom and her boyfriend live in Tucson, Arizona. When I go down to visit them, I actually get to stop in Tempe and see the school and get to see where I graduated from. Plus, you can't ask for a cooler mascot than a Sun Devil, right? Being able to visit and see the campus, which is such a beautiful place to behold, is very exciting. To be able to also show my kids that I did it and they can too is wonderful. 

Q: Tell us about your best Sun Devil moment or experience.

A: Meeting the alumni where I live in Seattle. It’s rewarding to meet some of the people that have graduated and to hear their experiences. It felt like being back in high school. Again with all your old buddies.

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

A: We need to work on our growing homeless population. It’s daunting to see how much it has increased. Resources need to be available for homeless families. Investing the money into getting affordable housing established and starting to brainstorm temporary solutions for people making transitions for one part of their life to the next is vital. There are some amazing people in these communities that just need a leg up to get back on their feet. 

Written by Tuesday Mahrle, earned media specialist for EdPlus at Arizona State University.