Anna Cunningham returns to Southern to teach


Molly Schons

Anna Cunningham, adjunct professor of biology, teaches a lecture over atoms and bonds on Monday, January 27, in Reynolds Hall.

Anna Cunningham, a Joplin native, Southern graduate, and now Southern adjunct professor, had a hard time deciding what to major in when she started college.

“I love writing, literature, and Spanish, so I was pretty sure I was going to try to be a literature professor with a minor in Spanish,” she said.

Cunningham graduated from McAuley High School in the Spring of 2004 and was accepted into the Honors Program at Southern for the following fall.

After taking a few classes and receiving encouragement from Dr. James Jackson, professor of biology, Cunningham decided to give biology a try. She said Jackson and Dr. Mel Mosher, former professor of chemistry, were great motivators who inspired her and her career choices.

“I saw how happy and wonderful my advisers’, Dr. Jackson and Dr. Mosher, lives were and I said to myself, ‘I want THAT job!’”said Cunningham.

She graduated from Southern with honors and a bachelor’s degree in biology in the spring in 2008. She was named one of three outstanding biology graduates in her class.

“Anna was a delightful student,” states Jackson. “Her academic ability was outstanding and her ethical and moral values were superb. Most importantly, she has a gracious and engaging personality.”

Following graduation at Southern, Cunningham started graduate school in June 2008 at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), enrolled in a program entitled molecular microbiology and immunology. At MU Cunningham also met her husband Cody during the summer of 2009. 

While pursuing her doctorate she began to realize that graduation was near. She then started applying for jobs at pharmaceutical companies, but says she knew this really wasn’t what she wanted to do.

“But teaching has always been a passion of mine,” she said. “Even when I was a little girl, I would make my little sister and cousins pretend they were my students and I was their teacher. I would read to them out of the encyclopedia and I used a clothes hamper as my podium!”

Remembering this passion for teaching and the deep connection she felt for the biology department at Southern, she contacted Jackson about possible teaching opportunities.

Jackson led her to Dr. Jennifer Dennis, the biology department chair. Cunningham says she offered to teach whatever classes were in need of an instructor. Shortly after, she was assigned an adjunct professor position teaching one day and one evening general biology class for the spring 2014 semester.

A month into her teaching career she said, “I love coming to class every single day and really hope that I can inspire interest in biology or at least an appreciation for life around us.”

Jackson said working with Cunningham “is so very nice … We have a four [year] established friendship that can only be a real asset to our working condition. I thought of her as a colleague frequently even when she was my student.”

Cunningham will graduate officially from the University of Missouri in May with a PhD in Immunology from the Department of Molecular Pathogenesis and Therapeutics, but she keeps a soft spot in her heart for Southern.

Among her many memories as a Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority member, she recalls hanging out with fellow Honor’s College friends, doing “magic shows” put on by the Chemistry Club, and traveling with other students to present research at the American Chemical Society or Missouri Academy of Sciences meetings.

 “I have so much pride in MSSU and in the education I obtained as a student here,” she said. “I am so happy to be back. Lion pride forever!”