Philanthropic grad/retiree supporting next generation of students
by Mike Cunningham
Administrate Program Integrator (Casual Pt)
An award-winning alumnus with a decades-long family connection to Williamsport Area Community College and Pennsylvania College of Technology has the perfect vantage point from which to view his personal accomplishments and the institution that helped shape them.
James E. Cunningham repeatedly drew upon his two academic degrees during more than 20 years as a college employee, during which information technology grew from a novelty to a necessity. And through it all, he and his siblings generously shared their success, establishing a scholarship fund to give future students the same opportunities they had.
In the following Q&A, Jim offers his appreciation and his advice:
How & why is Penn College an important part of your story?
My educational experience at Penn College was an important factor in the success of my career. The A.S. degree in Computer Science launched my career as a programmer/analyst, and the practical hands-on knowledge and skills I received from outstanding faculty members like George Wolfe helped me to advance quickly. Later in my career, after I had achieved some success and moved up into an IT middle-management role, I went back to Penn College part time to improve my management skills. The B.S. in Technology Management helped me immensely with the skills I needed in my new role as a manager. Thanks to the education I received at Penn College, and a lot of hard work, I ultimately went on to a long successful career in IT senior management.
What is your most memorable Penn College moment?
The path of my career brought me back to Penn College as an employee working in the Information Technology Services department and ultimately to my final role as a member of the college’s senior management team. In that role, I had many memorable moments; it is difficult to pick only one. I think the most memorable moment happened toward the end of my career. Shortly after I retired, I was honored to be selected for the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. The award was presented to me on stage by President Davie Jane Gilmour at a summer commencement ceremony, where I gave a few remarks in front of the graduating students and my entire family. A special day and special moment that I will never forget.
Scholarship funding truly transforms tomorrow. As a scholarship donor, how have you seen this statement come to life?
Success at “transforming tomorrow” means sending students out into the world with the technical skills and academic preparedness needed for lifelong success. Scholarship funding ensures that the financial burden of a college education does not deter any student from the opportunity to achieve a degree and go on to success in life. On a personal level, supporting today’s students through scholarship funding gives me a wonderful sense of giving back, that I am helping them achieve their life’s goals.
Why do you believe Penn College is a sound investment? What has been your return?
I believe any type of education is a sound investment in the future, some better than others. Penn College’s unique focus on practical, hands-on technical education, along with a solid background in traditional academics, was an excellent investment that prepared me for my career and gave me the academic skills needed to be a lifelong learner, something especially critical in today’s fast-moving world.
When you hear that the Penn College community is “Transforming tomorrow, together” what do you envision?
I envision that, similar to what has happened with my life and thousands of other Penn College alumni, “Transforming tomorrow, together” means the college will continue its commitment to excellent hands-on focused technical education sending graduates out into the world prepared to make their own mark. Those alumni, recognizing the important role the college played in their ultimate success in life, will one day begin to give back through scholarship funding and other alumni activities supporting the college as it continues to transform tomorrow with the next generation of students.