Anne Cunningham encourages everyone to have a passport.

“The best education you will ever have in your life is to just get outside of your own comfort zone,” she said.

And Cunningham would know; she does it often in her role at Case Western Reserve, where she was recently named the associate dean of external relations and associate vice president of development at the Case School of Engineering. She has been at the university since 2016, and prior to that, she served the Case Alumni Association.

Her travels have taken her to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China, introducing her to the university’s global alumni population.

“The CWRU alumni who live internationally are just the proudest alumni,” Cunningham said.

She considers it a privilege to work with all of the university’s alumni—in the U.S. and abroad—to help them build relationships to support initiatives happening at Case Western Reserve.

And one surprising common trend Cunningham has discovered? It’s often the alumni thanking her—more than she can reciprocate—when given the opportunity to give back to the university.

“It’s my privilege to build that individual trust with somebody that they want to support their alma mater,” Cunningham said.

In her role, she shows potential donors the groundbreaking discoveries happening at Case Western Reserve and demonstrates how they can be part of that.

“I get to sit in a room with researchers who are returning sensation to a prosthetic in someone who’s lost a limb,” she said. “My job isn’t to understand the technology. It’s to understand the narrative and build the narrative that makes everyone else want to learn more about it and hopefully invest in it.”

Getting started

When she started as a museum docent at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Cunningham admits she didn’t completely understand what a nonprofit was. But after graduating from the University of Akron and accepting a full-time position as a coordinator at the museum, she started to gain a better understanding of the sector.

Then, she decided to pivot toward the fundraising side of nonprofit operations, working with an educational foundation affiliated with a trade association.

From there, her career in development has grown, from annual giving to where she is now, in a role that gives her the opportunity to establish longer-term relationships with donors.

But no matter how far she’s come, Cunningham still finds connections to that first job. Recently, when working with alumnus Charles Phipps, Cunningham made the connection that Phipps worked with Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments when Kilby invented the integrated circuit (Robert Noyce is also credited with doing so independently). Phipps was closely involved on the business development side of Kilby’s work. Kilby was one of the inventors Cunningham remembered from her time at the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“Those are the happy opportunities we get by building relationships with our donors and our alumni.”

Learn more about Cunningham in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s something you don’t know how to do but would like to learn?  

I would love to learn how to make croissants because I know it’s a like a 72-hour process.

2. Who’s the best teacher you’ve ever had?

My most memorable was my junior year high school history teacher, Mr. Oswalt. I wanted to take all of his classes. I loved the class and then I didn’t realize all that I had retained until I was in a class in college.

3. Where do you most like to travel?

I love Southeast Asia. My favorite place is Jakarta, Indonesia. It is the most energizing, maddening, crazy, beautiful—everything. And it’s all right there when you walk off the plane.

4. If you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself something, what would you say?

Get out and meet as many people as you possibly can. Build on the introversion that’s inside of you, but don’t let it be you. Everybody’s scared of something; you’re not the only one.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

It’s the students that then turn into alumni. My whole job is all about alumni, but hopefully every student on this campus will one day be an alumnus, an alumna. It’s the students and then it’s the alumni who keep challenging us to do what we need to do next and what we need to do better.