Director for diversity and inclusion for Finance and Business named

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has announced the appointment of Emil L. Cunningham as the University’s new director for diversity and inclusion in the Office of Finance and Business, effective Oct. 26.

Reporting directly to Senior Vice President for Finance and Business/Treasurer David Gray, Cunningham will provide leadership and strategic direction on a wide range of diversity and inclusion initiatives in support of the Office of Finance and Business.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have Emil as our new leader of diversity and inclusion efforts in the Office of Finance and Business,” said Gray. “He brings to the position a wealth of experience, and a commitment to championing diverse and under-represented groups in higher education. His expertise will serve him — and Penn State — extremely well as he takes on his new role in overseeing our office’s strategic priorities related to diversity and inclusion.”

Cunningham’s position was formerly filled by Lydia Abdullah, who retired from the University in June.

“I have devoted my entire professional career to both understanding the definition of diversity, equity and inclusion within higher education, as well as how to use that understanding to influence the lives of the communities in which, and for which, I work,” said Cunningham. “I’m passionately looking forward to working with colleagues across the unit to provide Finance and Business with the tools needed to both espouse and enact the core values of inclusion, equity and diversity in all that we do.

“I’m truly humbled to have been chosen to follow the leadership and vision of my predecessor, Lydia Abdullah, who built this office and position,” he added. “I’m eager to continue to grow this office and further outreach to all members of the Finance and Business team.”

A Penn State alumnus, Cunningham received his doctorate in higher education from the University in 2015; his dissertation research focused on how underrepresented groups within predominantly white institutions utilize safe spaces to develop a sense of belonging with their universities. He received a master of education in college student affairs from the University in 2010, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Vassar College, New York, in 2004.

Cunningham comes back to Penn State from a position as the senior executive associate at Rankin & Associates Consulting, where he served on the senior leadership team for the company and personally worked with more than 20 colleges and universities across the country to create and foster inclusive campus climates where all members are valued, respected and appreciated. Working collaboratively with campus partners, he served as an advocate to give voice to often underacknowledged populations, including hourly staff, contract staff, and disenfranchised or underrepresented students, at all levels of the institution, as a means to create systemic and systematic change.

While a doctoral student at Penn State, Cunningham was a research associate and graduate assistant to the vice president for Student Affairs, sitting as a member of the leadership team and working collaboratively with units across the University to develop new partnerships and provide guidance to select student organizations and support to underrepresented populations. He supported and mentored students and served as an advocate on matters related to diversity and inclusivity; and worked closely with the Office of Educational Equity on these and other initiatives.

In his time at Penn State, he also helped to establish the University’s Student Alcohol Advisory Committee and was instrumental in creating, and served as the primary adviser for, the scholarship program Project Cahir: Penn State Students United Against Poverty, for three years. He was a mentor at the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes for three years, as well as a Residence Life Coordinator from 2005 to 2010.

He served on numerous committees, including the Fast-Start Mentoring Program for First-Year Students of Color; the First Eight (F8) Weeks Partnership Gathering; the Student Leaders Roundtable; the Vendor Equity Task Force; the Living in One Neighborhood (LION) Walk Steering Committee; the State Patty’s Day Task Force; and several institutional search committees.

He currently is a member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (since 2016); the American College Personnel Association (since 2006), most recently as a mentor in the Pan-African Network of the Coalition for Multicultural Affairs (since 2014); Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (since 2011); and the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education (since 2014).

Last Updated October 06, 2017