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Carina Cuculiza poses with a golf club at Stillwater Country Club.

Fairways to finance: Carina Cuculiza’s journey to success in golf, academia

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Media Contact: Stephen Howard | Manager of Communications | 405-744-4363 |

To the average person, the worlds of golf and personal finance might seem completely unrelated, but Spears School of Business assistant professor Dr. Carina Cuculiza disagrees.

“In both finance and golf, you have to strategize and make a plan, and you have to commit to that plan,” said Cuculiza. “You always have surprises that you must be ready for, so adaptability is a very important skill to have. You have to be confident in your plan, but you have to be aware that you may not always be able to execute the full plan.”

Executing a plan has always been Cuculiza’s specialty, and she’s navigated the surprises pretty well too. It’s that skillset that helped her rise from Managua, Nicaragua’s lone golf course to being one of the NCAA’s top all-around student-athletes at the University of Miami.

She clearly has a plan for academia as well. Cuculiza is in her first year on the faculty at Oklahoma State University, and she’s attacking the field of personal finance like it’s the back nine at her home course.

“Golf is won between the ears, and that’s why Carina was so successful,” said Jorge Pallisso, President of the Nicaraguan Golf Association and a mentor to Cuculiza. “She was always so calm and focused. Her goal was to be the nicest person on and off the golf course, but she always had a killer instinct during a competition. She is such a beautiful person. I think we should clone her.”

Cuculiza learned that demeanor and killer instinct on the fairways of Managua’s Nejapa Golf and Country Club, which, in 2001, was the first course in Nicaragua to open. Cuculiza remembers the newly-planted trees on the Nejapa course being about the same height as her when she took up the sport as an 11-year-old. She was never the longest hitter off the tee, but her short game and her ability to think through the course made her a natural.

Being talented and one of the only young female players in the nation, Cuculiza caught the attention of Nicaragua’s golf community. Her family and Pallisso encouraged her to expand her horizons by traveling to tournaments throughout Central America and the United States. In 2009, she won the Junior Central American Tournament and the Central American Amateur Championship. She repeated as the Central American Amateur champion in 2010.

Cuculiza was also the valedictorian of her high school, which made her resume stand out to American college coaches. But there was only one place she wanted to play – Miami. Her mother, Teresa, earned an MBA from Miami in the 1980s, and the city became a summer vacation spot for the Cuculiza family from that point on. The golf coaches at UM didn’t have to put up much of a recruiting effort to get Cuculiza in orange and green.

Carina Cuculiza playing a golf shot out of a sand trap during her career at the University of Miami.
Carina Cuculiza competed in 30 career events for the University of Miami golf team before earning her master's degree and doctorate in Coral Gables, Florida. Today, Cuculiza is a member of the finance faculty at the Spears School of Business.

“Miami, in a sense, it's home away from home because we spent so much time there growing up,” said Cuculiza. “So, when I joined the school it was just an extension of home. Plus, it’s close to Nicaragua; only a two-and-a-half-hour flight. My family has a combined eight degrees from Miami. We never imagined we would be, but you could say we’re a big ‘Cane family.” 

Miami quickly found out that Cuculiza was talented and driven. In her first season, she earned a pair of top-10 finishes and posted the 10th best stroke average among all freshmen in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 78.27. She and the Hurricanes won the Edwin Watts/Kiawah Island Classic — the nation’s largest tournament field that year — and handed first-year head coach Patti Rizzo the first championship trophy of her tenure. Later that season, she would help Miami punch their ticket to the NCAA postseason for the first time in eight seasons.

Cuculiza would go on to compete in 30 events over four years for the Hurricanes, but it was her work in the classroom that was most impressive. She was an Academic All-ACC selection in 2013, as well as a Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar. That same year she was inducted into the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the highest decoration that can be bestowed on a Miami student. She was also named to the list of Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

In recognition of these achievements, the Miami coaching staff renamed the team’s annual academic award, which is now known as the Carina Cuculiza Award for Academic Excellence.

 “My senior year was very rewarding, because I worked hard for four years, and about three weeks before graduation I started receiving all of these awards,” said Cuculiza with a laugh. “It was like one after another and I didn’t know what was going on. 

“But honestly, I think I’m on the path that I am because of golf. I always enjoyed the academic side of being a student-athlete, and I think the two sides complement each other really well. I think golf teaches you a lot of skills that are useful in life; perseverance, withstanding pressure and dealing with surprises. So, I think they go hand-in-hand.”

Cuculiza didn’t go to Miami to pursue a career in academia, but the vocation found her anyway. She realized quickly that she enjoyed teaching golf lessons and counseling at summer camps, and her side job as a teaching assistant while she pursued her master’s degree in finance helped her get a taste of what it might be like to work with college students in that setting. She said the decision to get her doctorate couldn’t have been easier.

“My mentors told me that a Ph.D. is about teaching and doing research, and I said, ‘that sounds wonderful,’” said Cuculiza with a bright smile. “I love teaching. Where do I sign up?”

She gravitated toward personal finance, which examines how we all make financial decisions and the tools we use to attain our goals. Cuculiza’s research interests incorporate aspects of behavioral finance and the social, cultural and psychological factors involved in financial decision making. For Cuculiza, she ultimately hopes to guide individuals through making better financial decisions by potentially developing tools that can help maximize their financial health.

After earning her doctorate in 2021, Cuculiza bought the biggest winter coat she could find and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she was named an assistant professor of finance at Marquette University. Despite the chilly weather, Cuculiza spent two rewarding years at Marquette, where she enjoyed teaching, living across from Lake Michigan and experiencing the four seasons for the first time in her life. 

In the fall of 2023, she came to Stillwater to join the faculty at Spears Business as an assistant professor of finance.

“I was immediately impressed with Carina's versatility and talents in many areas,” said Dr. Betty Simkins, head of the Department of Finance at Spears Business. “Not only does she have a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm about being a finance professor, but she is also well rounded with many talents and interests. We couldn’t be more excited to have her here.”

Despite arriving on campus just seven months ago, Cuculiza has produced some noteworthy research in her short time at OSU. Management Science, one of the top journals in her field, recently accepted her paper, “Sleep Disruptions and Information Processing in Financial Markets,” coauthored with William Bazley and Kevin Pisciotta. Prior to joining OSU, she also published in Management Science “Terrorist Attacks, Analyst Sentiment, and Earnings Forecasts,” along with Constantinos Antoniou, Alok Kumar and Anastasios Maligkris. Moreover, she has a promising pipeline, with four more papers under revision for publication at premier journals.

All of that research doesn’t leave much time for golf, but Cuculiza hopes to change that when the weather warms up. She looks forward to playing OSU’s famed Karsten Creek Golf Club once construction at the course is complete. 

Cuculiza has relished the opportunity to live in a college town for the first time. She has enjoyed getting to know the students and her colleagues, who have made her feel welcome despite the distance between Stillwater and Managua.

“They have made me feel at home since day one,” she said. “Stillwater has been lovely. It feels like I belong here, which is very special.”

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