Charles "Chuck" Cunningham

In the seventeen years that Omicron Delta Kappa has been honoring people from JMU with the All Together One Award, Mr. Chuck Cunningham is our second posthumous recipient. Mr. Cunningham taught in the Math Department and served as the Math Coordinator for the Science and Math Learning Center (SMLC) here at JMU. He was a Math Instructor and also highly involved in the Math Placement Exam process.

Though I never had the honor of meeting Mr. C, I feel I've met him through those who did know him. Everyone I talked to about Mr. C commented on his open, caring, encouraging, and enthusiastic personality. He was always ready with a joke and always treated everyone with the utmost respect. Katherine Brown said "Students would often come in feeling embarrassed or discouraged, and Mr. C treated them like old friends. He asked each person's name and sought to build a relationship with them, just as he had with me." Joan Fahrney adds to that—He treated everyone...with respect, like they were the only other person in the world." Further, Lane O'Brien commented that Mr. C "built a very strong team at the Science and Math Learning Center by treating [everyone] with kindness and respect."

Mr. C also acted as a role model for the tutors in the SMLC. Brandon Strawn said, "With his extensive knowledge and skill set, paired with his natural enthusiasm, affability, and impeccable people skills, Chuck Cunningham led an organization at James Madison University that not only provided invaluable support to undergrads in some of the most challenging STEM courses the university had to offer, but also fostered a love of education and philanthropy among the student tutors he trained and supervised." Traymon Beavers noted that "He made the learning center a great place for learning and made me a much better person simply from being there to observe him." Mr. C understood math so deeply that he could take complex concepts and communicate them in a way that students could understand. Lane O'Brien and Katherine Brown said of Mr. C's tutoring style that he didn't give students the answers; he gave them confidence. "He drew pictures and asked questions that led [them] to the solution... on [their] own...He did all of this while making [students] laugh and letting [them] know that it was okay to feel confused and seek help." Drea Ewen commented that "Mr. C had such a passion for math and could solve any problem handed to him," but also that he "had a kind heart and truly cared for every student." She has never met another professor so passionate about his subject field and so caring towards his students.

In addition to being a great tutor, Mr. C was also a very impactful person at JMU. Joan Fahrney counts that between the Math Placement Exam, his classes, and his work with the Science and Math Learning Center, Mr. C individually impacted well over 100,000 students, including herself. She reflected that "it was because of a personal conversation with him in 2010 that she decided to return to school. He said, "no matter what, never let go of a dream and never stop learning. It’s not about the paper, it's about the journey and the people you meet along the way."

Ms. Fahrney is now a junior here at JMU. Mr. C's passion for learning and helping lives on around our campus and extends even further. Though I only spoke to a handful of past tutors from the SMLC, two of them, Brandon Strawn and Katherine Brown, commented that Mr. C inspired them to become math teachers themselves. As Mr. Strawn and Ms. Brown emulate in their classrooms what they learned from Mr. C, they share his legacy with the far-reaching community.

The All Together One Award recognizes those around our campus who impact it in a positive way, bringing people together and fostering a community in which everyone feels cared for and in which learning is valued. Today, we honor Mr. C's impact on JMU and our community with the All Together One Award. Ms. Fahrney acknowledged that "he truly lived [the All Together One] idea and demonstrated it in all he did while with us and it lives on even now." In the words of Brandon Strawn, "He lived his life the way we all should: with intellect, bountiful support, and shameless cheesy humor. He left an indelible mark on literally tens of thousands of students at James Madison University and will never be forgotten." It is my pleasure to present this year's All Together One Award to Mr. Chuck Cunningham. Here to accept his award is Mr. Jim Cunningham, Chuck's brother.

-Megan Hines

 

 

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