Unity College creates, staffs student success post

Dr. Sarah Cunningham appointed to bolster, enhance student experience.

Dr. Sarah Cunningham

Unity College has created and staffed a full-time administrative position aimed at ensuring student success.

Reporting directly to the president, Dr. Sarah Cunningham will serve as Unity College’s first-ever Chief Student Success Officer.

“By consolidating a number of existing student support functions to better understand the needs of our students, Dr. Cunningham will partner with other senior leadership to ensure all our students are realizing the success they came to Unity College to achieve, to become tomorrow’s environmental leaders,” said President-elect Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “It’s another way we are helping our students and their families realize a return on their investment.”

The appointment of Cunningham fulfills a plan laid out in August as part of the transition of Khoury into his new role as president in 2016 designed to maximize “leadership in abundance” at Unity College.

“Dr. Cunningham’s passion, commitment, intellect, and ability to work across academic and support departments, as well as her familiarity with Unity’s unique brand of transdisciplinarity, separated her from the other candidates for this new, innovative position,” Khoury said. “I was also impressed with her preparation, attention to detail, and commitment to the success of our students and our staff.”

Cunningham, who has served as director of the Center for Experiential and Environmental Education at Unity College since 2013 after becoming part of the faculty in Unity’s unique Captive Wildlife Care and Education program, said the position of Chief Student Success Officer provides her an opportunity to positively affect students beyond the confines of the classroom.

“I love being in the classroom, but during the time I’ve been teaching at Unity I’ve seen that when students struggle, the things that get in their way often happen elsewhere,” she said. “It is stress management, finances, health, everything else going on in their lives. Sometimes, they need academic skills that no single class can fully address. They pay a lot of money to come to Unity College, and it is our job to give them the best chance for success.”

In creating the post and hiring Cunningham, Khoury emphasized the importance of a high-quality learning experience at Unity and formally integrating curricular and co-curricular initiatives into an experience that will provide students an innovative approach to learning.

“Bringing students here and dropping them into a classroom is not what we’re about,” he said. “Our students are as unique as the school they chose, and demand and deserve a high-quality education that will serve them in not just their first job after college, but in their fifth, sixth and seventh job.”

Cunningham expressed enthusiasm for “working with the great people in student affairs and support at Unity. I’m honored to be able to learn from them.”

She said her goal is to coordinate efforts across departments “so that we use resources strategically and effectively to help students make the most of their time at Unity.”

“My first step will be to talk to the students and hear from them. What is ‘success’ for them, as a Unity student and beyond?  What are the stumbling blocks that they’ve run into or the support that they need to achieve that success?  What can we do to help? It’s going to be fun,” she said.

Cunningham lives in Belfast, Maine, and said in her free time she enjoys training her dog, playing board games, shoveling snow, listening to electronic music, and starting various artistic projects.

Monday, November 16, 2015