Recent Bryant Alumni Trustee Alexia Brandao '24
Recent Alumni Trustee Alexia Brandao '24 found success as a scholar and leader and recently started as an analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Recent alumni trustee takes her seat at the table
Jul 08, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

If you’ve ever been to Cumberland House of Pizza in Rhode Island, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Alexia Brandao ’24, Bryant University’s newly appointed Recent Alumni Trustee, hard at work.

The restaurant has been owned by her family since its opening in 1973, serving delicious food (try anything with buffalo chicken, Brandao says — it’s her favorite), but the best part, at least for her, was how it always felt like home. It’s been a special place; one she knows intimately.

Being comfortable, though, can sometimes be a constraint, she notes.

As a first-generation college student, Brandao didn’t have a roadmap to follow. Coming from a high school with a small class of just over 100 students, she was uncertain of the transition from high school to college, especially the college search and decision process. But supported by her parents and her sister — who always encouraged her to dream big — Brandao took that leap of faith.

“I knew that I had to get out of my comfort zone to succeed,” says Brandao. “I knew that I needed that to grow.” She also had a pretty good idea where that growth would take place; a school that would allow her to become her best self.

Growing up a few miles from Bryant, committing there cut a bit of that uncertainty away.“I think that I always knew I was coming to Bryant,” she reflects. “I applied to a few different schools, but the only acceptance letter that really mattered to me was Bryant’s.”

That doesn’t mean the transition was easy, though. “It was really nerve-racking,” admits Brandao who lived at home her first year. “I had no idea what to expect.” The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic during her senior year of high school, and its shift to remote learning, made things even more stressful.  One of her first memories as a college student involved taking a COVID-19 test upon arriving to campus.

Yet even with those complications, she still strove to challenge herself.

“Joining the Commission was a way to make sure everyone had their own involvements they could join, to make sure they all had the same opportunities to be part of what they were passionate about.”

One of the first communities she joined on campus was the Bryant Honors Program, which became an integral part of her college career. It was in an early “Honors Macroeconomics” class, where she studied the large-scale factors that shape the world with Lecturer of Mathematics and Economics Allison Shwachman Kaminaga, Ph.D., that she discovered her path as an Economics major.

“I felt like I was getting a holistic view of so many different ideas,” she says.

Shwachman Kaminaga became a trusted mentor and, in a difficult time, having someone on her side made things a little easier. “She made everything incredibly understandable in her classes, but she also clearly cared about her students,” says Brandao.

New ways to grow 
Seeking to engage beyond her academic studies, she became a member of the Honors Council in her first year. It was here that she crossed paths with Julia Di Natale ’22, a first-generation college student and the President of the Honors Council at the time. Brandao quickly formed a friendship with Di Natale, whom she regarded as her mentor and biggest inspiration.

She notes that Di Natale distinguished herself in both her studies and as a female leader on campus. “She was so driven, but she also just cared about everybody,” reflects Brandao. “I wanted to be just like her.”

In her sophomore year, Brandao decided to live on campus with her friends and immersed herself into campus life. She was interested in the performing arts, having found a passion for singing and music early on, and that passion helped her to make connections through The Bottom Line, Bryant’s co-ed a cappella group.

“One of the students in my “Global Foundations of Business” class found out I could sing and was immediately like, ‘Oh my God, you have to join!’” she remembers with a laugh.

“I told myself I was going to do anything I could to be successful for him, even though he wasn't physically there to see it.”

The Bottom Line, though, needed help. The group had been put on hold due to the pandemic and membership had dwindled. Brandao and the rest of the group worked to recruit new members — part of a university-wide effort by Bryant’s students to help restore campus life in a post-pandemic world.

Together, Brandao and the other members revitalized the group, recording an album in 2021 and even competing at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in 2022. Along the way, she matured as a performer. Singing her first solo with the group, she says, led her to rethink what she was capable of.

“When we reached the semifinals in Boston, we were the only school there that didn't have a formal music program,” she recalls. “We wanted to prove ourselves and give our all.”

Wanting to get involved beyond performing arts, Brandao joined Bryant’s Ways and Means Commission, which works to fairly and equitably distribute funding to the university’s clubs and organizations. “Joining the Commission was a way to make sure everyone had their own involvements they could join, to make sure they all had the same opportunities to be part of what they were passionate about,” she notes.

Brandao found other ways to give back as well. In her junior year, she helped to welcome the next generation of Bulldogs as an Orientation Leader. She also became a member of the Honors Council’s Executive Board, was a Student Ambassador, and a member of Mock Trial.

As a member of the Derby Days Committee for the last few years, she helped to organize a week-long event, hosted by the Sigma Chi Fraternity, that collected more than $232,600 for cancer research. During her last semester as an undergraduate, she, alongside her best friend and roommate Catherine Harris ’24, received MVP awards for their effort and dedication to the fundraiser.

This year’s drive had a special resonance for her, she notes, as her grandfather passed away from cancer in November. In fact, she dedicated her senior year to him. “I told myself I was going to do anything I could to be successful for him, even though he wasn't physically there to see it,” Brandao says.

A seat at the table 
Since then, she has never lost sight of that goal. Brandao’s Senior Honors Thesis allowed her to combine her love of music with her field of study in Economics. With Shwachman Kaminaga as her advisor, she explored gender discrimination in the music industry, putting together her own dataset with a multitude of variables.

“The struggle against discrimination and inequality has always been a huge thing for me, even as far back as high school,” she says. “The thesis gave me a space where I could present research that was really important to me.”

Brandao also was selected as a member of the Bryant Senior Advisory Council (BSAC), a group of student leaders who met regularly with Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., and members of his leadership cabinet to discuss their Bryant experience. She was again inspired by Di Natale, who had also served on BSAC and been chosen from among its ranks to be the 2022 Recent Alumni Trustee.

As the end of senior year approached, Brandao began to get ready for her post-college career, which included applying for full-time roles. One, an analyst position at Goldman Sachs, a prestigious global investment banking firm, was of immediate interest. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could challenge myself and grow professionally,” she notes.

But securing the position would be another big leap. In need of support, she turned to her old friend. “Throughout all my job interviews, I was super-nervous, so I called up Julia,” she recalls. “She would always just tell me ‘Just be yourself and you'll be perfect,’” Brandao says with a grin.

“It’s a little scary but I know, with the foundation that I have from Bryant, I'm ready.”

Brandao, though, still had one big accomplishment left. As the year drew to a close, she applied for the Recent Alumni Trustee position, determined to continue making a difference on campus past graduation. “I thought that, as alumni trustee, I could not only give back to Bryant but to so many other students — and help them have the same transformative experience that I’ve had,” says Brandao.

The selection process was the culmination of her Bryant career, including her many involvements and academic successes. When she learned she had been chosen for the position at Bryant’s Senior Ball, it was almost too much to imagine.

“I’ve worked so hard to grow and make the most of my time here, but if I had to look back at my 18-year-old self and tell her, four years later, she would be sitting on the board of trustees and have accomplished all of these things, I don't think I would have believed it,” Brandao says.

She knows, though, that the job isn’t just about her. “I don’t think leadership is something you do for yourself,” she reflects. “It’s something you do for other people.” As Recent Alumni Trustee, she notes, her job is to be a voice for all students and recent graduates. “There’s not many places where you have an opportunity like this, a seat at the table,” she states.

The trustee position is just one of the new tasks she’ll be taking on. This past month, in the space of a week, Brandao worked her last shift at Cumberland House of Pizza, moved to New York City, and began her career at Goldman Sachs — just a few desks down from Di Natale.

It’s a big change, she admits. “It’s a little scary but I know, with the foundation that I have from Bryant, I'm ready,” Brandao says. 

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