National group honors UofL’s Henry Cunningham

Students walk in the background with flowers in bloom.
Students walking across Belknap campus.
The Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) has awarded Henry R. Cunningham, Ph.D., University of Louisville director of community engagement, the 2023 Barbara A. Holland Scholar-Administrator Award. In its sixth year, this annual award recognizes the growing need for research-informed leadership in higher education.

“As an urban institution, community engagement is one of the pillars on which the University of Louisville stands,” said UofL President Kim Schatzel. “Since the early days of our coordinated community engagement effort, Dr. Cunningham has been the driving force behind so many of our programs and activities. He has left an indelible mark on the university, our city and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Henry Cunningham

“On behalf of our board of directors, I want to congratulate Dr. Cunningham,” said Valerie Holton, executive director of CUMU. “It’s clear that the depth and breadth of his scholarship, applied practice, and humility in leadership has helped to make University of Louisville a model for community engagement while also advancing the public mission across higher education.”

In addition to directing the community engagement office, Cunningham is the co-founder and co-director of UofL’s International Service-Learning Program, which twice has won the national award from the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals (NASPA) as best international program in the United States.

“Dr. Cunningham has been recognized for his exceptional contributions to community engagement. Through his leadership and scholarly work, he has demonstrated how academia can make a real difference in addressing important challenges facing urban and metropolitan areas,” said Douglas Craddock Jr., vice president for community engagement at UofL. “This is a prestigious honor, reserved for scholars who have shown outstanding leadership and intellectual impact in the field of higher education. It is evident that Dr. Cunningham will play a crucial role in addressing key urban issues through his ongoing academic pursuits.”

As director of community engagement, Cunningham has developed policies, programs and structures, and has collaborated with academic and administrative units and community partners to institutionalize community engagement on UofL’s campus.

“As an R1-designated institution with a health science campus, we worked to develop an approach to community-based learning (CBL) that is relevant to the entire campus. Today, there are hundreds of CBL courses being taught in every school and college, affording students the opportunity to engage with the community in meaningful activities to enhance their learning and contribute to the region,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham was instrumental in developing UofL’s Signature Partnership Initiative in 2007. Since data collection began in 2009, there have been over 21,000 instances of student engagement, and over 4,200 instances of faculty and staff engagement in hundreds of research projects, community-based learning projects, and outreach activities in the area of west Louisville, in collaboration with over 200 community partner organizations. UofL has garnered over $30 million in grants and contracts for service and research projects that directly benefit west Louisville residents. This work informed multiple publications, including in Metropolitan Universities.

The Holland Scholar selection committee, composed of emeriti CUMU presidents and chancellors, identified Cunningham as a distinguished scholar-administrator—like Holland—whose leadership and intellectual voice illuminates the transformative power of urban and metropolitan higher education in the lives of individuals and communities.

“Scholarship is an important part of my work and guides decision-making in developing practices and policies to institutionalize community engagement,” said Cunningham. “Engaging in the creation of new knowledge adds to the field and allows me to pull from research as well as personal experiences when working with faculty and others in promoting and guiding community engagement.”

In addition to his role as an administrator, Cunningham is a faculty member of the College of Arts and Sciences. Originally from Belize, he developed and continues to teach Introduction to Caribbean Studies, a required community-based learning course for Pan-African Studies minors and majors.

Cunningham contributes to the larger community of scholarship by serving on the executive board of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, where he also serves as co-chair of the governance committee. Since 2018, he is co-editor of International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IJRSLCE). Most recently, he was appointed by the American Council on Education as a reviewer for the 2024 cycle of the elective classification in community engagement.

“Receiving this award is uniquely special for me, and I am indeed honored to be walking in the footsteps of Dr. Holland,” said Cunningham.