Media and Information alumna Brenda Cucci (B.A. ’88 Telecommunication, M.A. ’95 Telecommunication) created the Cucci Endowed Scholarship to support undergraduate and graduate students alike in their quest to attaining a degree from Michigan State University and is a founding member of the Michigan State Center for Ethical & Socially Responsible Leadership.
Figuring it Out
Brenda Cucci’s journey to MSU was like that of many students financially supporting themselves in the 1980s.
“When you graduated from my high school with a 3.5 or better, your community college was paid for,” she said. “Two years of free college was something I could not turn down.”
Then she received her acceptance letter to transfer to Michigan State as a third-year student. From that point on, Cucci said, “It was fast and deep love” — but first, she had to figure some things out.
For Cucci, who wanted to be a math teacher, one of the main attractions to MSU was the education program. Math teachers were in huge demand, and Cucci had a talent for it. She was taking classes and coaching basketball at Waverly High School when she realized that, no, this was not her calling.
Eventually, she found her perfect fit. She went to her academic advisor, who noted Cucci had credits in chemistry, physics and calculus, and suggested she switch majors to telecommunication.
“From a business perspective and a technology perspective … that was kind of my first eye-opening experience [realizing] technology helps drive business,” she said. She took an internship with AT&T, and two months before graduating with her B.A., she was offered a job with the State of Michigan Legislature in their telecommunications department.
Cucci saw the importance of everything she was doing in that space and decided to return to MSU for her graduate degree, figuring it would give her a stronger business lens. She was right.
“Undergraduate was much more the technical part of it – voice and data networks; the telecommunication master’s at the time was really unique because it had a strong business focus,” she said. “My classes were in economics, accounting, management and statistics … it was an MBA, but specifically focused on the telecom field. I loved it then and in hindsight, I can say with 100 percent certainty — it was very special and put me in a unique position in the industry.”
Technology and Sustainability
Nearly 30 years later, the two-time telecommunication alumna and Senior Partner at IBM is still as Spartan green as ever. Cucci spent years helping clients figure out how to conduct business more efficiently and cost effectively, proving that technology was key to both. Then, she zeroed in on sustainability.
“I was interested in circular economy, and as I looked at that, I realized technology can drive much more efficient ways of doing business in a sustainable way. Quite honestly, without technology we can’t conduct a more sustainable business,” Cucci explained. “Technology allows the tracking of materials we’re using today and provides the ability to create new products made of new and different materials. Technology allows us to measure and monitor what raw materials exist and which are being depleted. I mean, at some point in time we will run out of natural resources if we continue to do business in the same way because we don’t have the right data, right?”
As she became more passionate about sustainability, waste and impact on the earth, Cucci decided to start figuring out how she could use her expertise in technology to help guide those industries to be better in this space — and to understand the effects of our business practices’ impact.
At IBM, Cucci now leads the company’s strategic sales go-to-market strategy for Sustainability, ESG (environmental, social and governance) and Responsible Business. Currently, she is focused on the transportation industry — specifically, building an equitable and interoperable electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.
And she’s looking to her alma mater for the next generation of leaders.
“I continue to commit to the fact that I think Michigan State is uniquely positioned to provide an educational experience and curriculum for students that is really well-rounded. And we’re so in need of that — from a consulting perspective, from a technology perspective and from a business perspective.”
Cucci firmly defends that assertation, beginning with MSU’s deep roots as an agricultural college, the STEM building (made from materials that sequester carbon) and renewable energy initiatives. She cited the top-ranked packaging program, business and supply chain programs (noting that the latter is critical to tracking and reporting on scope one, two and three emissions); and her home college, ComArtSci, which plays a critical role in telling the story of sustainability. Combined, she believes MSU’s programs have immense potential to educate students with a holistic vision of what must happen for businesses — and societies — to become more focused on sustainability.
This line of thinking brought her to the table with top leaders at Michigan State, conversations which eventually led her to become a founding member of MSU’s Center for Ethical and Socially Responsible Leadership. Cucci still serves on that board today.
Spartan Green, Through and Through
These days, Brenda Cucci is based in Chicago, Michigan and soon to be Florida … though that hasn’t stopped her from being as involved with MSU as her days in McDonnell Hall.
“My blood is so green … it’s not even a light shade of green. Spartan green, through and through,” she declared.
Cucci is a member of the ComArtSci Alumni Board, an Outstanding Alumni Award honoree (‘99), guest lecturer, athletics season-ticket holder and a Spartan mom herself. She is also a proud supporter of student success, creating The Cucci Endowed Scholarship to help students like she once was.
“I didn't have financial help; I was figuring it out — and quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing,” Cucci said. “I worked a ton. I coached, I refereed, and I worked for the IM … I was working easily 30 hours, some weeks maybe closer to 40. And, you know, carrying 12 to 15 credits — I couldn’t really do much more than that.”
She remembers being especially grateful to her professors in grad school, who were able to accommodate her requests to take classes at night. Even if today’s students were to work as many hours as she did in the ’80s and ’90s, she knows their wages alone would not be enough to cover the cost of living and college tuition, For her own daughters, and for the students she supports through the endowment, Cucci wants to make sure they get the full college experience.
But the experiences to be had on campus, she believes, don’t have to end when you graduate.
“I probably missed out on a little bit of college as a result of working all the time … maybe that’s why I’m still so involved. I just keep living my best days at Michigan State.”