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SLU’s New Vice President for Student Development Ready to Listen, Learn

by Maggie Rotermund on 02/19/2021
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Sarah Cunningham’s first day at Saint Louis University was a day off for others. Cunningham, Ed.D., SLU’s new vice president for student development, started Monday, Feb. 15. The University was closed that day due to inclement weather. 

Sarah Cunningham, Ed.D.
Sarah Cunningham, Ed.D. 

In her role at SLU, Cunningham will oversee Housing and Residence Life, the Student Health Center, the University Counseling Center, Academic Support Services, the Student Involvement Center; Campus Recreation and Wellness, the Center for Service and Community Engagement, Disability Services, the Department of Public Safety, and Student Responsibility and Community Standards, among other areas.

Cunningham will report to the University’s provost and will serve as a member of the President’s Cabinet.

Her appointment was announced in December following a national search led by a committee of students, faculty and staff.

“I’m starting with a lot of listening,” Cunningham said. “I’m using these first few days to get to know my staff. I’ve met with the SGA president and I look forward to connecting with students in a safe and inclusive manner.”

Cunningham previously served as the assistant vice provost for student life strategy and policy at Johns Hopkins University. She also has served in student affairs leadership roles at the University of Chicago, the University of Florida and George Mason University.

As a champion and advocate for students, she will work closely with students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees to strengthen a collaborative, University-wide effort to provide holistic support to students.

“I’m excited to be at an institution where we are leading in an intentional manner, guided by the compass of the Jesuit mission,” she said. “I’m thankful to be leading a Division where our mission is to advocate on behalf of the holistic development of students.”

SLU checks off several boxes for Cunningham – a Jesuit mission at an urban, research university, close to family and friends in the Midwest. She said it was the students who participated in her interviews which sold her on SLU.

“They asked me tough questions and shared what their priorities were around the student experience,” she said. “I was already impressed with the dynamic leadership at SLU and hearing from involved students about how they were dealing with the pandemic and what they wanted out of a college experience gave me the greatest insight into what my role would be.”

In her role at Johns Hopkins, Cunningham oversaw programs focused on improving the student experience across the institution, designing effective systems for responding to student crises, championing student success and retention, and enhancing student health and well-being.

Additionally, she chaired the Johns Hopkins’ Integrated Student Health and Well-Being Working Group and the Student Retention Working Group, and co-chaired the Safety and Security Student Advisory Committee. 

Cunningham said she is eager to start to meet different students and constituent groups, as pandemic protocols allow.

“That is a priority for me – to figure out how to connect in ways that are safe and meaningful,” she said. “It is really important that I and my staff understand what it means to be a SLU student at this moment.”

Cunningham earned her doctorate in higher education and organizational change from Benedictine University. She also earned her MS degree in college student personnel services from Western Illinois University and her bachelor of arts from Youngstown State University. 

Cunningham succeeds Debra Rudder Lohe, Ph.D., who served as interim vice president for student development since Jan. 1, 2020. Lohe is temporarily serving as a special assistant to the provost through Sept. 30  In this role, she will work closely with colleagues from Information Technology Services and the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, as well as faculty, staff and students, to ensure the successful rollout of Canvas next fall. 

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.