New $2.7M gift establishes leadership academy for science students

Susan Cunningham, smiling and speaking at a podium

The Susan Cunningham Leadership Academy will offer a year-long, intensive leadership program designed for undergraduate and graduate students identified as emerging leaders in their fields.

McMaster graduate Susan Cunningham, BA ’79, has gifted $2.7 million to the university to create personalized programming that will train the next generation of science leaders within the Faculty of Science.

The Susan Cunningham Science Leadership Academy will offer a year-long, intensive leadership program designed for undergraduate and graduate students identified as emerging leaders in their fields.

“Leadership is not something that scientists are usually given the opportunity to develop, yet it is through leadership that we can often have the greatest impact and success on things we care about,” said Cunningham, a leadership coach, McMaster volunteer and retired energy executive.

 “I am excited to contribute to the learning of brilliant students who are in the midst of receiving a world-class science education at McMaster by helping them develop their leadership capabilities as they start their journey.”

The academy will provide a cohort of 25 science students with professional coaching and multi-session workshops dedicated to building leadership competencies.

Students will then take what they learn and apply it to their specific leadership journey, all while networking with other like-minded and motivated science peers.

Through this academy, Cunningham and McMaster aim to shape how aspiring scientists collaborate, uncover new knowledge and share their discoveries with the world.

“Having strong scientific leaders who can effectively lead teams and organizations, inform government policies and communicate clearly will create a world where science-based perspectives and solutions more readily reach those who need them,” said Cunningham, who graduated from McMaster with a degree in geology and physical geography in 1979.

Her leadership journey began in the early years of what would be a successful 40-year career in the energy and technology sector.

Cunningham quickly developed a passion for leading teams dedicated to scientific innovation, exploration and new ventures.

She has been recognized for her leadership contributions to the energy industry by groups like the National Diversity Council and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Cunningham is a long-standing advocate for science leadership at the university. In 2009, she endowed a $1-million gift to establish the Susan Cunningham Chair in Geology, a position that has enabled geological exploration and research in the School of Earth, Environment and Society.

Since 2019, she has volunteered as chair of the dean’s external advisory board, a group dedicated to advising and counselling the Faculty of Science on topics such as student growth, learning and experiences.

Cunningham’s latest gift embraces the university’s commitment to leadership education. By nurturing future leaders, McMaster can provide students opportunities to realize their potential and have transformative impacts on Canada and the world.

“McMaster University and the Faculty of Science are tremendously grateful to Susan for her generosity and visionary leadership,” said Dean of Science Maureen MacDonald.

“This is a meaningful opportunity for our students to grow and to accelerate McMaster’s contributions to the global scientific community.”

In addition to its unique impact, the academy will amplify and complement other leadership programming at McMaster, most notably at the Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement.

The goal is for students to emerge from programs not thinking of themselves as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders of today, MacDonald explains

“We do not simply arrive at a moment and become leaders. It is a lifelong journey of making decisions that puts the collective before the individual,” she said.

“It mirrors what we do in science. We seek answers to questions that will advance human and societal health and well-being.”

Applications for the first cohort of the Susan Cunningham Science Leadership Academy will open in fall 2024.

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