Dr. Denise Cunningham, childhood education and family studies department head, and all her hard work has not gone unnoticed. Missouri Educators of Family and Consumer Sciences and Human Services (MoEFACS) recently selected Cunningham as the recipient of the 2020 Champion Business Leader award.
The news came to Cunningham in a letter from Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
“When I first saw the letter, I thought another faculty member, Debra Price, had won an award for post-secondary teaching,” Cunningham said. “I had no idea the award was for me. I didn’t think I had done anything worthy of being recognized.”
MoEFACS felt differently, as do her colleagues.
“A leader is a person who empowers and uses the strengths of others in order to yield positive results. Dr. Cunningham is that type of leader,” Dr. Stefanie Livers said. Livers is an assistant professor in Cunningham’s department. “She effectively supports faculty in their individual teaching and research, orchestrating a synergistic body that provides students with quality programs.”
Creating a legacy
Cunningham began at Missouri State in 2005 as an assistant professor in early childhood education. She has since “demonstrated a sustained commitment to improving career and technical education.”
“I have been intentional about working with family and consumer science teachers to develop dual credit opportunities in child development, human development and family studies, as well as education-specific courses, such as Introduction to Elementary Education,” Cunningham said.
She has also invited FACS and Career Pathways teachers and interested students to campus to learn about related MSU programs.
In addition to creating opportunities, Cunningham led the development of two master’s degree programs: Master of Science in Child Life Studies and Master of Science in Early Childhood Special Education. Cunningham also expanded the College of Education’s Internship Academy to include opportunities for early childhood education candidates.
“I have also been involved in Bear Partnership, a summer, week-long immersion experience for high school students interested in the field of education,” Cunningham said.
One of Cunningham’s favorite memories in her 15 years at the university is when she implemented the Abundant Books for Children project across schools in Stone County.
The project culminated from her own research, and she put it to use in an early childhood methods course as a service-learning assignment. She and her undergraduate students went to five school districts to provide workshops for families with preschool students. The workshops taught families how to use an interactive, shared book experience with their young children.
“The work with the families was so enjoyable, but I was thrilled at what students learned from the experience,” Cunningham said. “It was so cool to have my research, teaching and service so connected.”
Cunningham said she looks forward to the rest of her time at Missouri State. She will be recognized for her work July 22, at a MoEFACS luncheon and awards ceremony. Additionally, MoEFACS will forward an application for Cunningham to the National Association of Teachers of Family and Consumer Sciences (NATFACS), to compete for the Champion for Family and Consumer Sciences award.