As an incoming student at UNC-Chapel Hill in the summer of 2012, Joe Puccio faced a familiar challenge for college students, organizing and planning for course registration. Registration can take several hours, only to result in courses being full, and creates an overwhelming experience for many students.
Reflecting on his own frustration with the process, Puccio took action. Combining his passion for building things and his interest in programming, he collaborated with co-founder Tara Aida to develop a program that would track course openings and automatically send a text message when a spot in a needed class opened up. Soon, other students were asking how they could gain access to the program.
Puccio saw the value of this service and expanded the project’s capabilities during his time as an undergraduate student at UNC. Now, Coursicle – a mobile app and web service used on college campuses across the country – helps students with all aspects of course registration. Coursicle is used by more than 900 college campuses, including UNC, where 80 percent of students are Coursicle users.
Puccio now leads Coursicle, but he initially had no interest in business or entrepreneurship, and his motivations for studying math and computer science were purely based on his passions and interests. His experiences within UNC Computer Science – from the late nights in Sitterson with his peers to the relationships formed with faculty – provided him with a sense of community. It is this community that he identifies as important to supporting his entrepreneurial ventures and one he still feels strongly about giving back to today.
Puccio credits Kevin Jeffay, Gillian Cell distinguished professor and department chair, with providing mentorship during a critical point for Coursicle, and is thankful that Michael Fern, professor of the practice of entrepreneurship and associate chair for business affairs, supported his efforts by introducing him to UNC Information Technology Services (ITS). Further, he reflects fondly on a critical course taught by Lawrence M. Slifkin Distinguished Professor Michael Reiter, and as a student was energized by the personality of Associate Professor Ketan Mayer-Patel, now serving as director of undergraduate studies. All of these experiences at UNC prepared him well for leading Coursicle today.
As an alumnus, Puccio stays connected to UNC CS not only through the relationships he has formed over time, but also through providing opportunities for current UNC CS students. Puccio hires UNC students as interns and employs current and former students. He has a vested interest in ensuring the department prepares students for internships and careers. Puccio visits often with faculty, valuing their continued mentorship. He has also formed new relationships, meeting with Professor of the Practice Jeff Terrell, founder of the UNC App Lab, who now serves as Coursicle’s Technical Advisor.
While investing time and energy into a startup as an undergraduate took an immense amount of sacrifice, Puccio today is encouraging to other entrepreneurs, reminding them that they are capable and that through perseverance, partnership, and drive, there is success.
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