Originally from the northwest suburbs, Cunningham will graduate with majors in Chinese, English and philosophy this June. She entered DePaul as a freshman double majoring in Chinese and English, and chose the university because it offers both areas of study as majors.
Cunningham initially added philosophy as a minor between her sophomore and junior years, but it wasn't until her final year at DePaul that she added it as her third major.
"I'm also planning to pursue graduate school for philosophy," Cunningham says.
It's hard to believe that philosophy was almost an afterthought for Cunningham, since she received DePaul's Summer Undergraduate Research grant as well as the Doctoral and Undergraduate Opportunities for Scholarships grant for her research in the subject. Work under both of the grants is independent, with guidance from a faculty advisor.
In 2017, Cunningham also was a fellow in Chicago's Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar research program. As part of the program, she had a personal research carrel and access to extended hours at the Newberry.
Balancing the coursework of three majors is no easy task - Cunningham typically took five classes per quarter to ensure she completed all of the requirements for her majors, and is still set to graduate after only four years of study. If that was not challenging enough, she also typically worked 25 hours a week at a part-time job.
"I write schedules and I stick to them," she explains. "The key is setting deadlines for yourself."
Cunningham also managed to complete a language immersion program in China during her sophomore year. During the trip, she traveled extensively and became close to her roommate, who she is still in touch with today.
"My freshman year was a little disheartening, because I didn't really know what to do or where I was heading," Cunningham says. "That trip boosted my interest in school again."
David White, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, notes Cunningham didn't expect any special treatment or praise for her arguably stellar achievements.
"She gives the impression, and does so effortlessly, that what she has accomplished is simply what undergraduate students should do if given suitable opportunities," White shares. "However, it seems unlikely Kelly's accomplishments in this area occur even on an infrequent basis."
Following her graduation this spring, Cunningham is ready to take a moment to breathe.
"I'm going to take a year to relax a little and figure out what I want to do," she says.
Though she still is contemplating her options, Cunningham is leaning towards going to graduate school for philosophy. When she begins to apply to programs this fall, she will be looking at schools that specifically have a continental philosophy program.
"Unlike analytic philosophy, continental philosophy takes a literary and historical approach to the subject," Cunningham shares. "I'm hoping this field will allow me to integrate my English and Chinese degrees into my studies."
Although Cunningham probably doesn't want to be held up as a prime example of how much a young adult at DePaul University can achieve in a short period of time, she certainly deserves the honor.