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Steps to success

Steps to success

Cara Gfroerer ’24 March 27, 2024

On a summer day in 2007 when the rain had turned the ground to mud, students from the three Marianist universities worked together with local students in Veracruz, Mexico, to lay cement for a building nearby. It was part of the two-week service trip hosted by a Marianist parish in Coatzacoalcos.

Their first day in Mexico, though, was full of sun, and during a trip to the beach the students pushed past the language barrier and bonded over shared experiences, including listening endlessly to the song “Hotel California.”


Michelle Cunningham
Dr. Michelle Alissa Cunningham ’09 photo by Jamilla Yipp

One of those students was Dr. Michelle Alissa Cunningham ’09, who recalled this experience as her favorite memory from her time at UD.

Cunningham is now a pediatrician, working with the UChicago Medicine Medical Group.

Citing how a UD education prepared her for her profession and how it cultivated a sense of belonging, Cunningham pledged $10,000 to the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center last June. She is among the donors during the We Soar campaign who are moving the University toward its fundraising goal of $400 million.

Cunningham decided to pledge her first gift of this size.

“I received a full scholarship to UD, so I feel like the least I can do is give back to a place that gave so much to me,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham attended UD in the early 2000s at a time when MEC was known as the Office of Diverse Student Populations, or by its acronym, DSP.

Smiling students
Students enjoy a meal together at MEC. Photo by Brigham Fisher

“I loved that going to DSP felt like going to visit a relative’s home,” Cunningham said. “... Being a student of color at a PWI [predominantly white university] can feel isolating sometimes, so it was really nice to have a safe space at DSP.”

Cunningham admits that she hadn’t heard of UD until her senior year of high school, but after visiting the campus one time, she made her decision.

“When it came down to it, it was something about the feeling that I got at UD’s campus, the spirit of the place,” Cunningham said. “I just fell in love with it, so I ended up going with UD, and I’m so glad I did. Some of my closest friends to this day I met at UD.”

At UD, Cunningham, a chemistry major, got involved with the pre-medicine program, and she sought out volunteer opportunities at Dayton Children’s Hospital. That’s how her journey in medicine began.

She credits her work there and the mentorship provided by her professors in the chemistry and biology departments at UD to her being accepted into Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also gives credit to her role model.

“I was inspired by my own pediatrician. I had a wonderful pediatrician, Dr. Lerner,” Cunningham said. “I actually went to my own pediatrician until I was about 21 years old.”

Cunningham, who has practiced pediatrics for the past eight years, said she still loves her job and her patients as much as the day she started.

“The least I can do is give back to a place that gave so much to me.”

“I love my current work. I love that kids are brutally honest,” Cunningham said. “...You get the truth and nothing but the truth. I just love that earnestness.”

As an active alumna, Cunningham looks back fondly on her time at UD and keeps in contact with the friends she made, whom she considers to be some of her closest friends to this day.

“I made so many friends there, attended so many great events and made many great memories,” Cunningham said.

Through her gift, she hopes to make such memories for many more Flyers.


Hero photo by Jayonna Johnson ’25. Card photo by Jamilla Yipp, courtesy Michelle Cunningham.

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