Robin L. Cunningham ‘78/ M.A.E. ‘84/ Ed.S. ‘96

"It's not where you start; it's where you finish."

Published in October 2020

Robin L. Cunningham ‘78/ M.A.E. ‘84/ Ed.S. ‘96The first woman recruited to Seton Hall on a basketball scholarship, Robin L. Cunningham currently serves as an Associate Vice President and the Dean of Freshman Studies within the Division of Student Services. Her journey to becoming a Pirate started when her brother was a sophomore at Seton Hall, and she was a senior in high school. After her brother drove her to campus and showed her around, Cunningham discovered the institution would be offering athletic scholarships to women. She applied and wrote a letter to the athletic director at the time, Richie Regan. "That's how it all began," she says. Cunningham graduated from Seton Hall in '78 with her bachelor's degree in English and went on to complete her master's degree in Counseling Psychology in '84. She then began working full-time at Seton Hall as the Director of Academic Support Services for student-athletes before receiving her degree as an Educational Specialist in '96.

For nearly 20 years in her role as Director of Academic Support Services, Cunningham began working with the men's basketball team, eventually garnering the attention of other coaches. She began extending her tutoring and support services to an array of teams including women's basketball, baseball, track, soccer, and others. In 2004, she transitioned over to Freshman Studies to work with the general freshman population. Though her responsibilities became more administrative over the years, she sustained involvement with first-generation students, Fast Forward students, and peer advisors saying, "I am so grateful that I can remain involved in their first year and beyond experiences. Involvement with students is really what motivates me every day… I am committed to making sure that their opinions and suggestions are heard!"

Reflecting on her time in athletics at Seton Hall, Cunningham explains, "My athletic experience really built the foundation of everything else I did here." Involved in both basketball and tennis, she was a pioneer in Seton Hall athletics having been the first to score 1,000 career points, as well as the first singles player on the women's tennis team, and ultimately the first female student-athlete to have her uniform number (32) retired and to be inducted into the Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame, which it was in 1984. "I was one of the first two women to be here… I think we got more attention because we were the first, and people wanted to see if we could walk and chew gum at the same time." Cunningham has admired both her time spent playing the sports that she loves, as well as her coaches for their dedication and belief in their teams and players. “These experiences created my philosophy of work and leadership as I have grown,” she says. "Unity of purpose, hard work, teamwork and loyalty are the characteristics I endeavor to demonstrate the most, and the ideal of being a good teammate is what I have tried to build in my professional environments."

When asked what being a Pirate means to her, Cunningham responds, "Being a Pirate means you care about the people around you, you are eager to learn more about those who are different from you, and you believe that the 1989 men's basketball team was robbed of a national championship." Beloved by generations of Pirates, Robin Cunningham has been able to meld her two passions at Seton Hall with her involvement in both athletics, as well as teaching and advising students through their own college journeys. She has noted that one of the most important things that she does is listen to students and to help give them the tools necessary to make their dreams come true. One of Cunningham's favorite sayings is, “It's not where you start; it's where you finish." She explains,

I am attentive to process; I don't get too wrapped up in outcomes. As human beings we usually need some transition time to get acclimated to anything new… Life is no different. Beginning any new task may be awkward in the beginning - that's not what matters. What matters is that we stay the course and learn to master the process.

Cunningham has been recognized many times for her service to the University such as the retirement of her basketball jersey, her induction into the Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame, and being honored in 1991 with the Outstanding Adviser Award presented by the National Association for Academic Advisers. In 1994, she received a Distinguished Service Award from the Ernst & Young Law Symposium at Seton Hall University School of Law, and the President's Award for Outstanding Service to Students in 1996. Cunningham was presented with the Most Valuable Person (MVP) Award for her service to the Seton Hall men's basketball team in 2002, and in 2005, she was honored as the University's Woman of the Year. She later received the 2008 Many Are One Humanitarian Award, as well as the University's McQuaid Medal in 2011. In 2019, Cunningham was honored to be one of ten first-year administrators to be nationally recognized an Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience.