Giving to the Bigger Picture

Retired professors make planned gift to support student-athlete scholarships

Professor Emeritus Jim Cunningham has seen a lot of change at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus since he first came to the university in 1969 as an instructor of humanities and communications.

“My first salary was $6,900, and I had to teach a summer term,” he recalls. “On the campus, we had three buildings — A, B and C — and there was a doublewide trailer for the library connected to another for the student cafeteria.”

Jim and his wife Cheryl (’96), who was an assistant professor of information systems in the College of Business for 18 years, became fast friends with Steve Ridder, the university’s longtime basketball coach and athletics director. At the time, Ridder was starting Embry-Riddle’s fledgling athletics program and advocating for student scholarships.

“We were just drawn to Steve Ridder’s ‘student-person-player’ philosophy,” Cheryl says. “We have also taught many student athletes over the years, and we got to know them quite well; the quality of those students was impressive.”

That is why the couple, who both retired in 2014, recently decided to make a planned gift to create both term and endowed scholarships at Embry-Riddle, benefitting men’s and women’s soccer and basketball student athletes at the Daytona Beach Campus.

“When we were looking over our future finances, we really wanted to give Embry-Riddle a gift,” Jim says. “We know the coaches and students and wanted to focus our gift there.”

The Need for Student-Athlete Scholarships

Steve Ridder’s “whole package” philosophy is the foundation of Embry-Riddle’s Athletics program, which equally emphasizes developing a student-athlete’s character, leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as their athletic excellence.

That ideology impressed Jim and Cheryl, who often attended the Eagle soccer and basketball games with their son Shamus.

“We really began to see the bigger picture of how athletics were so important to the students’ lives and to the university,” Cheryl says.

They also saw the need for scholarships. During his tenure, Jim had served several years as dean of academics and director of international exchange programs.

“Especially during the economic crisis in 2008, the cost of a college education escalated, making the need for economic support acute for both American and international students,” Cheryl says. She also served as the university’s Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) for over six years.

Jim continues to serve on the Eagles Athletic Association as chair of the Steve and Vicky Ridder Scholarship Committee, and he is also co-chair of the Daytona Campus Faculty Emeritus Committee.

Sports — particularly sailing — have been an important part of Jim and Cheryl’s lives. Jim helped start the campus’ sailing club, and the couple has sailed together competitively and internationally.

“Embry-Riddle is just one of those great schools. It’s been very good to us,” Jim says. “Some of my best friends are the faculty members I’ve worked with and the students I’ve taught.”

Cheryl agrees, saying they are happy to give back to the place that has been such an important part of their lives.

“Our hearts continue to be with Embry-Riddle,” she says.