Bryan Scanapieco, a first-generation student in the College of Arts and Sciences, began his Cornell career intending to study physics. His high school physics teacher inspired him to enroll in physics for three of his four years of high school. He also encouraged Bryan to apply to top-tier schools, including Cornell.
Scanapieco’s mother moved to the United States from Quito, Ecuador when she was 26, in search of a better life. His mother’s first exposure to English was here in the U.S. Scanapieco has had no contact with his biological father since he was one year old, but he credits his stepfather with helping him to aim high and to succeed. “He is a large part of who I am today,” says Scanapieco.
Scanapieco is the recipient of the David and Annabelle Watkins Scholarship, which supports students in the College of Arts and Sciences with an interest in entrepreneurship. More than 25 percent of the payout from the university’s endowment supports financial aid for Cornell students.
“Cornell’s financial aid policy was said to be good by my peers and high school teachers, so I had faith that Cornell would provide a fair financial aid package, suited to my needs,” he says.
The chance to study particle physics at the Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory was also a big factor in Scanapieco’s decision to come to Cornell. But after a difficult first semester and a bit of soul searching, Scanapieco opted to change course—to economics.
“My greatest challenge at Cornell was my first semester, as I searched for a balance between academics and extracurricular activities,” Scanapieco reflects. “By the time I started my first-ever round of prelims, I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. I walked into my multivariable calculus exam absolutely clueless about what was going on. So I walked out, ripped up the exam, threw it in the garbage, and promptly dropped my first class.”
Serendipitously, a program on Netflix was Scanapieco’s first entrée to the field of economics. Freakonomics is a documentary that explores societal questions through an economic lens, such as:
- “How much does good parenting affect your child’s education?”
- “What types of incentive systems work to improve the grades of high school students?”
- “How much money do drug dealers make in comparison to minimum wage workers?”
The show inspired Scanapieco to order the book Freakonomics, by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, and he never looked back. Scanapieco is particularly interested in the field of behavioral economics, which applies the findings of psychology to better understand economic decision making.
Scanapieco made another formative decision during the spring semester of his freshman year, when he joined Kappa Delta Rho fraternity because he liked the people there and loved playing pool at the house. Scanapieco feels that his experience as president of Kappa Delta Rho has “worked wonders” to enhance his interpersonal skills and give him hands-on practice in leadership.
“You have nothing to lose, so put yourself out there,” he says. “I am now serving my second term as president—an experience that has brought me a multitude of great things I could not have foreseen when I signed that bid!”
Scanapieco is considering entrepreneurship as a career path and has participated in Three-Day Startup (3DS) and in Women Entrepreneurs (W.E.) Cornell, in partnership with his girlfriend. 3DS is a Cornell-sponsored intensive entrepreneurship program, in which small teams brainstorm a business idea, create a business model, and then pitch their idea to Cornell faculty and alumni.
In 2017, Scanapieco’s team proposed a new iPhone application, called Holler. Holler leverages customers’ social media networks to give small businesses a strong media presence. In exchange, customers receive a discount on their next purchase.
Though his team did not pursue Holler once the event ended, Scanapieco says that the 3DS experience was invaluable. “I learned the fundamentals of the lean startup business model, how to create a business plan, how to function in a cohesive team, and how to pitch a business idea,” he says.
Scanapieco participated in 3DS again in 2018, working with a team to create Peer Chef—an app to connect hungry college students with home-cooked meals. His most recent startup idea is called Pet’s Taste, a buy-in-bulk pet food store that allows pets to actually sample their food before it is purchased. According to Scanapieco, this will “spare pet owners the headache of finding just the right food their dog or cat really likes.” Working with his partner in W.E. Cornell, Scanapieco has conducted 20 customer interviews to further refine their concept.
“My long-term plan consists of one thing,” says Scanapieco, “to be happy. The best way I know how to do that is to apply for jobs that seem appealing to me and that have a good company culture—and explore from there,” he says.