As part of the Southeastern Conference’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the conference will highlight alumni-athletes who have gone on to successful careers outside of athletics.
Courtney Cunningham is a builder. Playing volleyball for Ole Miss from 2009–11, Cunningham helped make the Rebels an NCAA Tournament team while earning a BS in civil engineering from the University of Mississippi in 2013.
During his collegiate athletic career as the team’s middle blocker, Cunningham earned three letters while playing for coach Joe Getzin. Cunningham saw action in 48 matches during his three years with the Rebels, before tears in the ACL prematurely ended his sophomore and junior season.
While attending the University of Mississippi, Courtney also worked with the Mississippi Department of Transportation in Elliot and Britt Engineering (2012–2013) and their Planning Division (2012) at Oxford. Opportunities were provided both through the strong alumni community and athletic academic mentors at Ole Miss.
“The biggest benefit I ever got from playing the sport was my first engineering job,” Cunningham explained. “On top of being qualified for the job, volleyball was the connection that made me stand out. My boss’s daughter at the time also played and made my interviews easier because that was something I could talk about. It’s not like in the engineering world that there are not many athletes, not many social people, and very few minorities so being able to do volleyball to help me stand out was a bonus and a surprise I didn’t see coming.”
Cunningham is also helping build the dreams. He spent two weeks with Engineers Without Borders in Togo in August of 2013, where he helped with the first phase of a five- to 10-year project to build a school for a community in the West African nation. While the group faced many obstacles, they were able to lay down two slabs for each classroom, put all the columns at the correct height and install an L-shaped concrete beam for one of the classrooms.
After earning an engineering degree from the University of Mississippi, Cunningham has become a licensed professional engineer. She currently works in transportation at Freese & Nichols in Pearland, Texas, having spent nine years as a roadway design engineer, and manages projects as project lead under a client manager.
Cunningham was recognized as the 2020-21 Young Engineer of the Year by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Houston Professionals and honored at the 2022 Young Engineer of the Year banquet. She is a part of the Houston Engineers Week committee that bridges the gap between each Houston STEM-based organization and has established herself as a valued member of NSBE Houston Professionals.
“I can’t say that I focused directly on Title IX while playing,” Cunningham said. “I know that because of this I was able to play the sport I love and get a degree in a career I don’t know how I would have paid if it were not for my scholarship. Title IX provided me with an opportunity that I am so grateful for each day. I know I discussed how it differentiated me by giving in the interview process but being a college athlete prepares you for the real world. Combining different personalities, being a team player, training hard (in my case learning new programs), and always showing up to do your best. Connecting and communicating is key in volleyball. You hit the floor. Read and signal back to your teammates. You’re tied to the court and perform together on the floor with your teammates. I’m so glad those parts of my athletic career transferred to my engineering career.”