Communication Connection

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Events and Happenings

Mimi Cunningham Makes Lecture Series Possible at UNCW

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

By Thomas Blake

Mimi Cunningham was the official spokesperson for the University of North Carolina Wilmington from 1982 to 2006, during which the student body grew from 4,391 to 12,000.  Since her retirement, she has continued to show her love for the university she worked for by sponsoring an amazing lecture series and being an active member of the UNCW community.  Her interest in developing UNCW, as well as Wilmington, into a thriving environment for people intent on learning is something that sets her apart.

For the past three years UNCW, alongside the Mimi Cunningham Endowment, have had a high-profile speaker come to campus. In 2013 Donna Brazile was the guest of honor. Brazile was named one of the top 100 powerful women by the Washingtonian that year and worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 to 2000. Eileen Collins, the first female pilot and commander of the NASA space shuttle, came the next year.  This year, critically acclaimed author of memoir-turned Netflix series Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman spoke. Kerman is an advocate for change in the prison system, speaking to groups that include federal probation officers, public defenders and formerly incarcerated people.

At the beginning of each school year a board made up of people from every department on the UNCW campus meets to decide what speaker will come that year. The committee looks at many different factors when selecting a speaker. They consider the obvious timing and cost, but they also pay close attention to who has already presented in past installments of the series.

“The goal of this series is to cover as many departments as we can,” said Frank Trimble, Department of Communication Studies, representative on the speaker selection board.  “Piper Kerman appeals to writers, people majoring in film, marketing, anyone who has seen or read ‘Orange is the New Black.’  This is such a great series and it could not be done without Mimi Cunningham.”

The consistency of the endowment is what keeps people coming back every year. “I plan on going to next year’s too.  I just trust who they endorse,” said COM major, Jocelyn Henry. “An astronaut, now the person whose memoir I have read multiple times. I’ll probably attend even if I have no idea who the speaker is beforehand.”

Each year this amazing series has continued to bring very interesting and gifted people to our campus.  Next year, we should expect nothing less than another entertaining and informative presentation by another speaker sponsored by the Mimi Cunningham Endowment.  For more information about this and other UNC Wilmington program endowments, visit

Update: The Mimi Cunningham Endowment continues to sponsor the Leadership Lecture Series. This year’s speaker was award-winning director Vikram Gandhi. Gandhi has also worked as a video journalist covering terrorism, natural disasters and social unrest throughout Asia and as a cinematographer and producer on documentaries, television and narrative films. In addition to his lecture, Gandhi’s documentary Kumaré was screened on campus in Lumina Theatre.