Most students involved in the social work department will know exactly who you are talking about if you mention Steve Cunningham. A non-traditional student who gives new meaning to the term, Cunningham bridges the gap between adult education and traditional students in a way few have done before.
“I had a blast getting to know all of the traditional students,” says Cunningham, who is in his junior year double majoring in social work and psychology. “A lot of them will call me up and ask for help with certain subjects or how to do a project.”
Cunningham was not always considered for academic advice. As a high school student, he dreaded going to school and rarely went to class. “I always made bad grades. It came down to the day before my graduation before I found out if I was actually going to graduate.” After high school he didn’t even consider continuing his education.
“I worked in a prison for about five years trying to work my way up the ladder and saw that there were no opportunities for me,” says Cunningham. “Then my superintendent told me that I needed to either leave my faith at the door when I came into work or leave the job. After that I felt like God was calling me to change something, but I kept trying to run away from the idea of school because in my mind I felt like I was a failure and school wasn’t for me.” But God had a way of showing him that school, particularly Anderson University, was where he needed to be.
“I wanted to go to AU, but I thought that my grades were too bad. So I applied to Ball State, and got rejected.” Cunningham took this as a sign that God was telling him to go to AU. “It was always my choice to go to a Christian college. I wanted to be trained in a way where I can apply my Christian values to my career.”
Jim King, director of admissions, talked to Cunningham about being accepted into AU. “I knew he was different,” says King. “The interview left a deep impression on me. He seemed to be ‘worth the risk,’ and he understood that it was a long shot, with no guarantees. I don’t know that anyone, not Steve or myself, would ever have dreamed he would be a dean’s list student!”
After being accepted into Anderson on probation, Cunningham received all A’s in his first semester. “I proved to myself that I am capable of achieving and doing my best,” says Cunningham. He then went on to make the dean’s list, became a member of the Psychology Honor Society, and was nominated to the social work advisory committee by the traditional students in the social work department.
Cunningham was also able to talk to the students who were in the ALPHA program, a group of students coming into AU on probation. ALPHA students are required to participate in a workshop before classes start in August to acclimate them to the college community. The students are encouraged to enroll in 12-14 credit hours for the fall semester and are required to take a college survival skills class that focuses on academic, study, and life skills necessary for success in college. Cunningham told the students that he understood their situation because he did not make good grades in high school, and he was admitted into AU with standards that he had to meet. He told the freshmen about the challenges he overcame and encouraged them to do their best. “I taught them tools they could use to help them study better, to take good notes, and to apply themselves,” says Cunningham.
By getting involved in the campus community and helping students like himself, he has become close to many traditional students. “At the end of the year I had all of the social work majors over to my house for a cookout,” says Cunningham. “Some of the girls in the department love to come over and baby-sit for my wife and me. The friends that I have made have been truly a blessing.” His experience at AU has been more than he ever thought it would be. He thought he was only going to go to class and do the homework when he came to AU, but he has ended up changing his attitude about education, and changing his mind about himself.
As Cunningham continues to impact the AU community, he knows why God put him here. “God gives us talents and a lot of times, we are too afraid to use them. One of the things that I’ve learned is that God has given me a lot more talents than I was ever aware of, and I’m still just beginning to tap into those.”
— Amanda Steiner [Signatures: Fall, 2006]