James W. Cuccia

October 30, 2018

Public Information Officer


Following the career of the longest serving adjunct faculty member in Alamo Colleges District history --- inventor/researcher James W. Cuccia, U.S. Navy, Alamo Colleges District – St. Philip’s College, Southwest Research Institute, Retired

St. Philip's College has been celebrating one A-Plus veteran of arms, research and education throughout 2018, recognizing the adjunct faculty alumni member who is a significant industrial researcher for giving back through a combined 109-year career of service over three related, often intersecting, careers.

St. Philip's College electrical department alumni faculty member James W. Cuccia (pron: koo-sea-ah)---who served a combined 109 years with the U.S. Navy, St. Philip’s College, and the Southwest Research Institute---retired from St. Philip’s College and was recognized by both peers and colleagues at the college for his innovative educational, research and military service this year.

Nationwide, adjunct faculty members teach at colleges on limited-term contracts---frequently semester-by-semester, and they are not eligible for tenure and many benefits. These experts from the community represent half or more of faculty at community colleges that teach half of the nation's postsecondary student body. Seeking no homage as a St. Philip's College adjunct faculty member, Cuccia gave back by altering his amazing research career to devote significant portions of his life making his experience the knowledge of others by working at the college. A 22 year military career, a 41 year research career and a 46 year educational career represents a combined 109-years of service before self for this exemplary alumni adjunct faculty member.

By itself, the career of the longest serving adjunct faculty member in both Alamo Colleges District and St. Philip’s College history---possibly all of San Antonio’s history---enhanced the lives of around 5,000 alumni after roughly seven classes of 15 students per year for 46 years. 

Devices from a Cuccia nuclear resonance imaging research project helped the Pentagon measure the quantity of water in U.S. Army gunpowder barrels, and that institute research breakthrough was scaled up and led to the medical MRI equipment billions benefit from at present. Students at St. Philip’s College engaged with an industrial researcher who created the sorting machine technology used by the iconic Uncle Ben’s Rice brand to separate the light grain rice from the dark grains during the product’s 40-year status as the U.S. market’s top selling rice. Originally the Uncle Ben’s team was conducting this sorting operation by hand, which was neither economical nor efficient, but Cuccia came up with the industrial process that separated the rice efficiently, through his service with the Southwest Research Institute.

While recognizing Cuccia for engaging students for nearly 50 years, St. Philip’s College President Dr. Adena Williams Loston this summer told an Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees audience, “Our students have been the benefactor of his great gifts of knowledge. He is a part of why St. Philip’s College is on the map and why people seek us out for training. He has rendered 46 years of service as a part time instructor in our electrical trades discipline, and he was originally hired over the phone when was a senior electronics designer at Southwest Research Institute.”  

Encouraging the spirit of innovation on campus, Cuccia taught local students to build programmable logic control units that store the electronic codes for a bevy of devices, at a cost of $300 each as opposed to purchasing commercial units as training aids at $3,000 each.

He spoke where he was most comfortable, when he was most comfortable, and where he could be most effective---during the final days of his final second semester 2018 motor controls class at the college's 31-year-old 800 Quintana Road location, inside an austere and repurposed once-excess military property and surrounded by applied mechanical and electrical department students who learned while using several of his fabled and personally-made training aids---trainers that dated to 1986---when his classroom was once located at the college's 100-year-old 1801 Martin Luther King Drive location.

"That started in 1986 in electricity and electrons [classes] at main campus and Southwest Research Institute at the time,” Cuccia said of the trainers as students were building very marketable knowledge with the devices in one of his labs.

"I told Mr. Hale, the electronics program head at the time, We ought to incorporate it. I wrote it up and designed it. He said, nobody made trainers. And I said, I do, in my garage. We made 12-16 of them and replaced old with new as they got more, and there are about ten back there [on the campus] today. We use them because the ones you can buy today don't last, and it [the trainer market] has bloomed over the last 25 years. Most manufacturers use them and they are programmed in multiple languages. It's become complex," said Cucia.

Q: Forty-six years of service is more than one-third the service life of St. Philip’s College in 2018. How did you begin working with St. Philip's College? This is not common knowledge, as the few who know you from the beginning of your SPC service are now alumni faculty.

A: I got my job here when Southwest Research Institute called me and said St. Philip's College is hiring for a color TV repair faculty member[Evening Division Dean] Leonidas Watson was the contact at the college. He said, What makes you think you can do the job? and I said, I'm the best in Texas. He said, Come on down, I've got a job for you.

Q: We can add U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer, retired to the real-world, real-time professional track record Dean Watson must have seen on your resume by that time. Later this year we will join in the seasonal Veterans Day observances in Military City U.S.A. Tell us a bit about both your Navy journey, your work ethic and your transition, as part of the observance, please.

A: I started in the Navy during the Korean War when the Navy was very short handed and I became the communications, radar, submarine battery, generator technician. Whatever was not working we'll fix it, is what our team would say, and we had many once-in-a-career challenges. You never knew when you were going to be attacked. It was never a manana job. I did 20 years reserve and two-years-eight-months active duty.

A: Your transition from military service and leadership as a member of the Cold War campaigns led you to the world of private research and some great contributions to mankind.

A: When I got out I needed a job and heard Southwest Research Institute was hiring through a lead in the Navy. They were the first to call me back, and that's where I went to work. I only did 41 years there.

A: What did you do at the institute?

A: We had different government contracts for research on new things. I wrote for military and industry concerning things we did with research. They sent me all over. We did an inspection for over the horizon radar in New York and the United Nations, Minuteman missile casings in Indiana... some live shell locating in Fort Huachuca with a crevasse detector using the principle of capacitive resistance. We used an electrostatic charge to remove grains in a rice-sorting machine for a food corporation. It's what you'd call a very broad experience.

Q: Tell us a bit about your early days at St. Philip's College when there was only a single campus and no air conditioning, and the address in the Denver Heights neighborhood had not yet become 1801 Martin Luther King Drive. You had amazing success placing St. Philip’s College alumni into basic research jobs, didn't you? An amazing track record for a community college program, or any college, correct? Now students in the automation and instrumentation fields at the college are earning annual entry-level salaries approaching $100,000.

A: The first 10 years teaching here at St. Philip's College part time, the institute hired at least 35 of my people from St. Philip's College. When corporations changed from personnel departments to human resources departments, getting jobs in research became more difficult. It became harder to get students a job on recommendation. I was careful not to recommend someone based on personality or qualifications after knowing him or her for 16 weeks. There were many of us with my skill in San Antonio at that time; others were doing what I did at Southwest Research Institute and for local electrical companies.

Q: What has your class load been like during your St. Philip's College service?

A: I’ve always taught two or three classes per semester and one each summer, seven classes a year for 46 years with 15 students per class, roughly 4,800 students as I calculate for you on the chalk board in my lab today. At the St. Philip's College main campus, we had a tin [exterior] building that became the college’s current Facilities Building on Walters St. as our classroom and our lab. We'd also roll a portable chalkboard several blocks up the street to the tennis courts on the campus for evening summer classes. I taught in the Sutton and Norris buildings, and then over here at Southwest Campus.

Q: So you are one of the few current faculty members to have served at St. Philip’s College before it became the nation’s only historically Black College and Universities member institution and a Hispanic Serving Institution. Describe your transition to the Southwest Campus at 800 Quintana Road.

A: The Southwest Campus classroom was originally one vast building without (inner) walls, and the only office was an office where the sheriff’s office is in the building today. It didn’t have walls because it was where World War II gliders were built. There wasn’t a wall in here, and you could see every wall there was. The roof leaked, the electrical transformers hissed and it was in terrible shape. There were two bathrooms and a single office.

Before St. Philip's College really decided to put in something big over here, they were already teaching computer operations to Datapoint employees. This building has been used for a lot of things through history.

Q: Are you looking forward to exiting your college service with any ceremony?

A: I'm not a ceremony person. It's fine for those who want to celebrate. I'm for what you do!

Q: So a 22 year military career, a 41 year-plus research career and a 46 year educational career represents a combined 109 years of service. And 46 years of that 109-year timeline includes St. Philip’s College. Tell us about your final, final class with the college before retirement, and why it was important to you.

A: My last class was a Chinese [student] class for two weeks after my final semester ended earlier this year. It was in motor controls. Those students are going to help China have the most advanced rail industry. Instead of using Diesel-powered controls, they will control the train wheels with electricity. It was a seminar. We answered what they might need to know in a few weeks’ time. 

Following one photo session with Cuccia, college photographer Julysa Sosa noted, “He is an incredible jeweler. He showed me two rings he had made and will be dedicating himself to creating pieces once he retires ‘without any deadlines.’ ” Cuccia’s 109-year career continues…

See Cuccia at the 25:38 mark of the July 24 Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees Regular Meeting archival video. Join the conversation on the rich heritage of military and research service with St. Philip’s College at social media pages found at the college web page https://www.alamo.edu/spc


CAPTION: Archival images of the longest serving adjunct faculty member in Alamo Colleges District are a Veterans Day season reminder that inventor and St. Philip's College electrical department alumni faculty member James W. Cuccia---who served a combined 109 years with the U.S. Navy, St. Philip’s College, and the Southwest Research Institute---retired from St. Philip’s College and was recognized by both peers and colleagues at the college for his innovative educational, research and military service this year. While teaching 5,000 students and placing many alumni in research jobs, Cuccia’s 22 year military service, his 41 year research service and his 46 year educational service time represents a combined 109 years of service. (Archival images are SPC courtesy images by Julysa Sosa)