“If you would have told me four years ago that I would graduate from Simpson with three majors, having studied abroad twice and having completed 10 internships plus fellowships, I would have never believed you,” said Cunningham. “It’s kind of crazy, but I didn’t do it alone.”
On her first visit to campus as a prospective student, Cunningham says faculty in Simpson’s multimedia communication department instilled her with confidence that she could achieve most anything.
“I met with Brian Steffen and told him I wanted to combine my passion for international relations and journalism to become an international news correspondent. And instead of laughing at me like others had done, he said, ‘Okay, let’s make it happen.’ From that day on, I knew Simpson was the place where I could make even my wildest of dreams happen.”
She has since tweaked the focus of her career dreams, but Cunningham says the journalism skills gained at Simpson are applicable to everything she’s done and will do. Indeed, her degree in international relations, multimedia journalism and Spanish is grounded in one-of-a-kind, real-world experiences that have opened many doors.
Those opened doors included a virtual year-long traineeship with the Global Ties U.S. Emerging Leaders program, Cunningham was among 20 students selected nationwide who all aspire to pursue careers in public diplomacy and international affairs.
She was also just one of 20 students to get an inside view of foreign affairs as a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Scholar participating in a six-week program at the U.S. Department of State and Howard University in Washington D.C.
“It was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had. I met people from all over the country and diverse walks of life. We were all united by our interest in foreign policy and how to leverage it to make the world a better place.”
Making an Alumni Mentor Connection
Sandwiched in between those incredible learning opportunities were a pair of study abroad adventures for Cunningham, which she chronicled in her blog, “Globally Colbee.” She spent one semester at the University of Granada in Spain, where her deep language and cultural immersion featured a volunteer role as a Spanish language teaching assistant for immigrants and refugees.
Her other semester abroad was at the American University in Dubai, receiving full tuition support as a William Jefferson Clinton Scholar. During that experience, Cunningham had the chance to get some real-time mentoring during an in- person visit with Brandon Hyde ’12, who serves as an assistant principal at the American Creativity Academy in Kuwait. It’s all part of a student-alumni networking program established by Simpson’s Office of Alumni Relations.
“It’s nice to have another globally minded individual to bounce ideas off,” said Cunningham. “Just seeing everything he’s done— he’s lived in Mexico, Italy and now Kuwait —shows that someone from Simpson can make that happen. And knowing that I have the potential to do that, too, is awesome.”
On the Move Everywhere
When she wasn’t studying around the globe or gaining world-class career preparation through prestigious national programs, Cunningham also found time to take advantage of opportunities close to home. Her resume includes internships with the Iowa United Nations Association, Iowa International Center and the City of Des Moines.
She also savored life on campus — making great friends, working for Simpson student media, and encouraging others to be engaged global citizens. Most importantly, Cunningham says, her advice for any current or future Simpson student is to get moving.
“Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself beyond your boundaries because you’re stronger than you think. Travel the world, make mistakes and you’ll come back stronger — I promise.”
On the strength of her stellar Simpson resume, Cunningham ultimately desires a career as a U.S. diplomat. Next fall, she will be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Colombia. For now, she just wants to catch her breath.
“My time at Simpson has been a whirlwind, in the best way possible. First-year Colbee was not the same person I am today. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve gained more confidence than anything. I know now that I can do anything I put my mind to.”