Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here.
Name: Pia McCusker '92
Sports: Track and Field
Current job: Senior Managing Director, Global Head of Cash Management at State Street Global Advisors
Pia McCusker came to Brandeis from Brockton, Massachusetts. She competed on the track and field teams in the throwing events. She graduated from Brandeis in 1992 with a degree in Economics and in American Studies. After a few years working in finance, including for the University, she returned again as a student, part of the inaugural class in the Brandeis Master of Science in Finance (MSF) program. After graduating with her master’s degree in 2000, she accepted a position at State Street Global Markets as a senior associate for their Structured Products group. She remains at State Street to this day, now as a Senior Managing Director and the Global Head of Cash Management at State Street Global Advisors (SSGA). In this role, she manages a team of global investment professionals with about $450 billion in assets. Pia is a member of the firm’s Senior Leadership Team, chairs State Street Global Advisor’s Independent Fiduciary Committee and is a member of the North America Valuation Committee, Liquidity Risk Committee, Securities Lending Committee, and Diversity and Inclusion Council. She remains involved with Brandeis and currently serves on the Asset Management Council at the International Business School.
Describe your overall experience as a student-athlete. What does it mean to you now/what did it mean to you while you were an undergraduate?
As I thought about responding to this question, some information about myself that I should share.
First, I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts - the City of Champions, home of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. The football team was ranked #1 in the country during my senior year. So, the opportunity to participate in a sport or club activity was vast and was a given in my high school. I was able to play volleyball in the fall and joined track & field for winter and spring… well, the field part since I didn’t run.
Second, I’m a first-generation American and grew up in a single-parent home, so I was keenly aware that I needed a well-rounded resume for college since getting into a good school on the basis of academics alone was insufficient. I was just fortunate that I discovered discus throw was a “thing” and excelled at it. I was a pretty shy kid growing up and coming to a new country was an adventure.
Being a student-athlete helps… it forces you to come out of your shell. You build trust, camaraderie, and close friendships like no other. You develop important life skills – dealing with pressure, organizing and optimizing your time – balancing between school work, practice, and competition, managing varying personalities amongst teammates, and building a discipline to handle adversity. I took these factors to a college setting and felt I was prepared and was one step ahead.
Being a student-athlete during my years at Brandeis was also easier since the team setting was like having a built-in family already headed by Coach Norm Levine. You need Advil/Tylenol? Need someone to talk to? Want a free lunch at a local Chinese restaurant? Go see Coach – he’ll take care of you. It was a fraternity or sorority of sorts, without the baggage and silliness that comes with “Greek life”.
We did everything together… study at special spots in the library; ate meals together – always by the first 2 rows of Sherman; gatherings in Grad, Ziv, or Mods; Red #5 gigs at Usdan; practice, compete, challenge and support each other… call it “forced family fun” week-in and week-out.
It was a great experience… I can’t believe that was more than 30 years ago! Great memories… I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
How did your time as a student and student-athlete at Brandeis prepare you for your career and life after college?
Not to sound cheesy, but my overall Brandeis experience certainly help laid the fundamental groundwork for my career – whether developing effective time management, paying meticulous attention to detail, encouraging a good work ethic, being a productive member of society, building relationships and loyalty with your team or organization, and of course, keeping the “Brandeisian” culture of paying it forward. These Brandeis influences have certainly helped me build a successful career path. The rest was a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and having the right mentor.
Do you have any advice for current or future Brandeis Student-Athletes?
Being a Division III Brandeis student-athlete is the most ideal, balanced arrangement a young adult could ask for. You have an elite, academic setting amidst a competitive sports landscape. In track and field, many of the competitions are open meets against high-caliber, Boston D1 schools. Of course, Brandeis is unique in being part of the UAA, a conference that allows you to travel and experience competition outside of New England. With this as a backdrop, my advice to current and future Brandeis student-athlete is… don’t take it for granted… use all of it as a great opportunity to enhance your academic experience and to embrace competition as part of your personal growth. It is an arrangement not readily available in other college settings.
What originally attracted you to Brandeis as a student-athlete?
The Brandeis track coach at the time, the legendary “Stormin” Norman Levine recruited me. He was a larger-than-life character and was always a presence at local high school track meets. I just loved the way he connected with all of the athletes; he just about knew everyone in our sport. Don’t get me wrong, he was aggressive in his recruiting efforts, but what I loved the most about him was that he always placed academics on top of the waterfall. He always emphasized education, getting good grades, and doing better in life. He saw being a student-athlete as a stepping stone to a bigger and brighter future for you.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your former Brandeis teammates?
Of course! I recently won the Brandeis track alumni Super Bowl squares! I primarily keep in touch with Jean (Olds) Cann and Kirsten (Kelly) Pricher; we meet up for dinner a few times during the year. Kirsten was actually one of my bridesmaids and vice versa. Jean and I recently checked out the indoor track UAA championships held at Brandeis. Chrissy Bandzul typically gets a track mini-reunion going when she visits from the northwest. Jess Bergman (FOBA) and I are in the same field, “circle” for work, so we chat on Bloomberg all the time. She kindly reminds me of 'Deis Day and annual donation suggestions. She’s also trying to convince me to play pickleball too!
-- lightly edited for clarity