As part of the Southeastern Conference’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the conference will spotlight former student-athletes that have gone on to successful careers outside of athletics.
Courtney Cunningham is a builder. While playing volleyball for Ole Miss from 2009-11, Cunningham helped build the Rebels into an NCAA Tournament team while also earning her BS degree in Civil Engineering in 2013 from the University of Mississippi.
During her 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 throughout her three years with the Rebels before ACL tears ended her sophomore and junior seasons prematurely.
While attending the University of Mississippi, Courtney also interned with Elliott and Britt Engineering (2012-2013) in Oxford, and the Mississippi Department of Transportation in their Planning Division (2012). Both opportunities were provided through the strong alumni community and athletic academic counselors at Ole Miss.
“The greatest benefit from playing sports I received to date was my first engineering job,” explained Cunningham. “On top of being qualified for the job, volleyball was the connection that made me stand out. My boss at that time’s daughter also played and made my interview go smoother because that was something I could talk about. In the engineering world there’s not a lot of athletes, not a lot of social people, and very few minorities so to be able to have a volleyball to help me stand out was a bonus and surprise I didn’t see coming.”
Cunningham is also helping to build dreams. She spent two weeks in August of 2013 in Togo with Engineers Without Borders where she helped with the first phase of a five to 10-year project to build a school for one of the communities in the West African nation. While the group faced many obstacles, they were able to pour two slabs for each classroom, put up all the columns to the correct height and set up an L-shape concrete beam for one of the classrooms.
After receiving her engineering degree from the University of Mississippi, Cunningham has gone on to become a licensed Professional Engineer. She currently works in transportation at Freese and Nichols in Pearland, Texas, having spent nine years as a Roadway Design Engineer, and manages projects as the task lead under the 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 was honored at the 2022 Young Engineer of the Year banquet. She is a part of the Houston Engineers Week Committee bridging the gap between each Houston STEM-based organization and has established herself as a pivotal member of the NSBE Houston Professionals.
“I can’t say that I directly paid attention to Title IX while playing,” said Cunningham. “I know because of it I was able to play the sport I love and get a degree in a career that I don’t know how I would have paid for if it hadn’t been for my scholarship. Title IX afforded me an opportunity that each day I’m so thankful. I know I discussed how it set me apart by giving in the interview process but being a college athlete does prepare you for the real world. Juggling 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 are key in volleyball. You read the floor and communicate the signs back to your teammates. You bond off the court and perform together on the floor with your teammates. I’m so glad those parts of my athletic career transferred over into my engineering career.”