2005 Alumnae Achievement Award goes to Susanna (Garner) Cunningham ’61
Research scientist, professor, and mother of two, Susanna (Garner) Cunningham ’61 is the first recipient of Crofton House School’s Alumnae Achievement Award, which commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Alumnae Association. Susanna is a Professor of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems at the University of Washington. Her multifaceted career in nursing, teaching, research, and science education has helped and has influenced the lives of many, from patients to peers.
Susanna’s nursing career, which evolved from direct patient care to research and teaching, shatters stereotypes of the profession. “I liked the clinical practice, and working with individuals is a wonderful experience,” she says. “However, if you really want to make a difference and influence change in the future, it is not going to be through one-to-one interaction, as rewarding as that is.” As a scientist and educator, she has lectured widely, published in prestigious medical journals – including the American Journal of Physiology ad the New England Journal of Medicine – and chaired numerous committees. She is currently a member of the Cardiovascular and Renal Drug Advisory Panel of the US Food and Drug Administration.
For her early research on cardiovascular risk factors and hypertension, Susanna received the Distinguished Service Medallion and Scientific Council’s Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Heart Association. In 1995 she was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, and in 1997 she received the Alvin Thompson MD Award for Science Education Excellence from the Washington Association for Biomedical Research.
As a principal investigator in several major research projects, Susanna’s career moved in a direction of science education in 1991, when she was asked to head a major project called “Making Connections.” This research focused on the involvement of women and minorities in science, understanding animal research, and the development of K–12 outreach programs. The decade of the ‘90s was the decade of the brain, Susanna notes, so her team’s work involved understanding brain function and development in order to facilitate teaching and learning. This led to research and education projects on drug addiction. “One of the most successful things we ever did was to set up a program to teach judges how drugs affect the brain and alter brain chemistry.”
In a recent project, Professor Cunningham and Dr. Lynn Young of the University of Victoria found that single mothers have a higher incidence of strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure than partnered women do. Her latest project involves advancing the understanding of science and ethics.
A great proponent of maintaining a balance between work and play, Susanna is an avid cyclist and swimmer and is currently training for a half marathon. She has obviously lived by the advice that she gives to her students: “Take a chance. Do something you are little afraid of, because if you stick to the safe and sure you are probably not going to get very far or make such a difference in the world.”