Say hello to two-time #VStateGrad Crystal Harris!
Crystal graduated from VSU in 2014 with a bachelor’s degrees in economics, and she has gone on to earn her master’s degree in higher education leadership. Today, Crystal is living in Washington, D.C., as she works toward her next degree: a doctorate in education from the University of New England-Maine.
Crystal, a self-proclaimed “forever learner,” is learning what it is like to become a part of history. Recently, she began working at a unique Starbucks in D.C. – the first-ever U.S. sign language store. Harris, who identifies as hard of hearing, knew this was something she wanted to be a part of, so she went for it.
Here’s what Crystal had to say about her experience at #VState and her experience working as a barista at the first U.S. sign language coffee shop.
Q: How did you hear about the first U.S. Sign Language Starbucks?
A: I believe there was a flyer sent to our campus communications. Originally, I had no intention of even applying, but a coworker of mine told me to go for it. I thought, “Why not, this store is going to make history!”
Q: What has it been like to be a part of something as historic and special as this is?
A: Life changing. I am both honored and humbled to be a partner at this Starbucks. Growing up, I didn’t identify with the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) community. At 5, I received two hearing aids and sat in the same classes as my peers. I knew I was different, but it never occurred to me that my hearing loss was a part of who I was as an individual. This store has allowed me to embrace my identity as a HH person. Starbucks has created an opportunity for D/HH people to obtain jobs and advance in a major company; they are setting the blueprint for other companies.
Q: When you were at #VState, how did you choose your major at VSU?
A: Great question! I remember graduating from high school trying to figure out what I was good at. At the time, my goal was to become a lawyer; therefore, I felt the best route to prepare me for that was choosing economics as my major. For my master’s, that really was a last-minute decision, but one of the BEST decisions I ever made. My master’s program gave me an opportunity to see that both the business world and higher education can coexist. Also, it provided me with a completely different passion, and I am thrilled to see what is next for me.
Q: What was your experience like within your major at VSU?
A: LCOBA has some of the most supportive faculty, especially the economics professors I had. If I had to pick one, Dr. Gonzales was my absolute favorite. Economics was challenging. My major challenged me in ways that strategically taught me how to think. For me, it wasn’t about the numbers. After my junior year, I knew I had no intentions to move further in the Economics world, but the way those classes trained us to think is what made me decide to stay in the program.
Q: After you graduated, what was your next move?
A: After graduation in 2016, my next move was undecided for me as I was supporting my husband’s journey to medical school. When we decided we were moving to D.C., I knew that Gallaudet was where I was going to land; I was determined. Eight long months later, I was offered a position at Gallaudet University as their Student Accounts Representative for Student Financial Services. Currently, I serve as the Assistant Director of Student Financial Services. Working at Gallaudet University has been a rewarding experience for me.
Q: You were mentioned in an article on Starbucks’ blog and we learned that you were pursuing your doctorate in education. What has that experience been like?
A: Currently, I am a doctorate student at the University of New England-Maine. Obviously, obtaining a terminal degree while working full-time is maddening. For me, that madness is tripled working full-time, part-time, and supporting a third-year medical student. However, I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything. In the end, I intend to confer a doctor of education in educational leadership with an emphasis on transformational leadership.
Q: What do you plan to do with your doctorate?
A: No idea! I am a forever learner, so for now, I am focused on the information and how I can best make it active in my life and career. I can imagine myself a VP of an institution or possibly doing some consulting work. My passion lies in leadership. I would love to help leaders understand their role in creating and fostering environments that promote positive and functioning team dynamics.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
A: Valdosta State has played a major part in my success. The faculty and staff there truly go beyond just teaching. I can honestly say that VSU is creating future leaders. I owe much of my success to my mentor Dr. Karla Hull. Dr. Hull saw things in me that I never imagined for myself. The ability to teach and transform is what sets VSU apart from other colleges. I am extremely proud to have both my undergraduate and master’s degree from Valdosta State University.