Stephen Cucchiara’s office could charitably be described as “cluttered.” (If you weren’t feeling charitable, the words “busy,” “charmingly chaotic” and even “out-of-control” may also apply.)
The small space, his since he arrived at UCCS nearly ten years ago, is layered with posters, event advertisements and printouts of Goosebumps covers, photographs and memes from “The Office.” A backwards bike he’s storing for the College of Education rests against the bookshelf. (Turning right takes the bike left, and turning left takes the bike right, he explains. Learning to ride it helps maintain the neuroplasticity in your brain.)
Stephen can describe the story behind each object on his walls, shelves and floors. A quick scan of the space reveals zombie masks (leftover decor from Halloween, which also happens to be Stephen’s birthday), a Ben Franklin costume (which Stephen puts on each Constitution Day) and a sequined pillow featuring Nicholas Cage (purpose and origin unrevealed).
The clutter is a testament to the length, and depth, of Stephen’s time at UCCS. He’s held three different positions over the course of the decade, starting as an assistant director, then becoming Director of Student Activities and Community Service, on his way to his current role as Director of Student Engagement.
“I’d always wanted to work in a student-activities-led department, planning events, working with students and really providing a dynamic, student-centered experience from the day students get on campus to the day students graduate,” he explained when asked about his career path.
The university’s unique students also played a large part in his decision to come to UCCS.
“A big reason I came here is because of the student population,” Stephen said. “I really wanted to work with a first-generation student population. And those are the kinds of students we have here, and giving them those learning opportunities and looking at their holistic development is what I’m proud of and really enjoy doing.”
Stephen understands those students better than anyone – he was the first in his family to go to college.
“I remember my grandparents giving me five bucks and saying, ‘Okay, take the bus to school,’ but the bus didn’t go up to my undergrad,” he laughed. “And I remember signing up for 19 credits my first semester, bio major pre-med, and I had no idea what I was doing. And I did not do well my first semester, to say the least.”
It’s worth noting, however, that by his sophomore year, Stephen was student body president.
He brought the same leadership skills and contagious enthusiasm that surely won him that campaign to UCCS. He launched Clyde’s Kickoff Week, now a longstanding campus tradition, in his first year – something he described as a career highlight.
Stephen now oversees all aspects of student engagement, from student media to leadership programs to clubs and organizations. He credits his staff, which he describes as “talented and vibrant,” for all the department’s achievements over the years.
Stephen and his team are currently working on launching a program called Clyde’s Five, which he described as an incentive-based co-curricular program that gives students a structure for getting involved on campus, and then being recognized for that involvement.
Brad Bayer, Senior Executive Director of Student Life, cited Stephen’s “engaging, creative, and entertaining presentations he has given at new student and transfer orientations over the years” as one of the many reasons Stephen was nominated for Employee of the Quarter.
“Those presentations are often the first glimpse students and family members receive into UCCS campus life,” he said, “and Stephen’s unique talent to bring the programs and events alive in a fun and interactive way sets just the right tone, which excites and motivates students to get involved in student life to maximize their UCCS experience.”
“Stephen brings fun to the work setting,” Bayer continued. “Whether that be the creative icebreakers he offers at the beginning of a meeting or the humorous memes he inserts within Power Point presentations, colleagues and students are always sure to get a laugh.”
He’s known for carrying that passion and energy into every other area of his work.
“Stephen’s willingness to take risks, be innovative and embrace change have provided the UCCS community with extraordinary Student Life programs and serve as a model for countless others,” said Noelle San Souci, Associate Director of Student Engagement. “His ability to harness joy, his energy, and his authentic leadership have helped contribute to a positive work and campus environment.”
Despite his long tenure at UCCS, his dedication to his role, and his relentless efforts to provide students with the best possible college experience, Stephen prefers to stay under the radar – something his coworkers are well aware of, and yet chose to ignore in order to recognize him for all he does.
“Stephen will probably be mortified that we have nominated him for this award,” said Sabrina Wienholtz, a former Student Life colleague, “and that’s part of why he is so deserving. He excels in his role at the university, has taken on a ton of additional responsibility, and does it all with an eye toward building and supporting his communities.”
Sabrina also spoke to Stephen’s professionalism and dedication to student success.
“He puts in long hours and does whatever it takes to support students at UCCS,” she said. “Whether it be advocating for the Greek Life program, backing up a student employee, or making sure all students can access opportunities to serve their community, Stephen consistently makes decisions with a student focus.”
Even his wild, wonderful space is a reflection of that student focus.
“I decorate my office the way that I do because sometimes, a student may be uncomfortable coming to talk with a staff member, and if I can present an environment that takes their focus away from the stress and onto something silly or goofy, that’s what I want to achieve,” said Stephen. “When a student comes into this space, I want them to get a taste of what it can be like, as a college student here at UCCS – endless opportunities and possibilities.”
About the Employee of the Quarter Award
The Employee of the Quarter program is designed to promote and reward outstanding performance by staff at the university. In recognition of his efforts for UCCS, Stephen will receive one day of administrative leave, a $100 stipend, three months of a free and reserved parking space and a $40 voucher to the UCCS Bookstore.
Do you have a colleague whose extraordinary efforts at UCCS deserve to be recognized? Nominate them for the Employee of the Quarter award.