Like many who grew up in Merced County before her, Jill Cunningham said distance helped her gain perspective.
Cunningham was ready to see what the rest of the country had to offer upon her graduation from Merced College, leading to stops in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dallas and the Bay Area. While she enjoyed her experiences, each new city confirmed something that Cunningham never suspected. Merced County was where she wanted to be.
So when the position of Director of Advancement and Public Relations/Executive Director of the Merced College Foundation became available, Cunningham seized the opportunity. She was confirmed in the position by the Merced College Board of Trustees on Tuesday, Jan. 23.
“As I progressed through my career I started to realize what was important and who was important,” Cunningham said. “I decided what’s important to me is this community. The community of Merced County has meant so much to my trajectory, and a big part of that was my time at Merced College.
“I’m excited about this position because it combines two things I feel strongly about; telling the stories of the students, teachers and alumni who have changed this community for the better, and building support around Merced College and its many contributions to this region.”
Cunningham grew up in Merced County and attended Merced College before transferring to American University in Washington D.C., where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with an emphasis on public relations and strategic communications.
She returns to the College with more than 15 years of experience in marketing, public relations, communications and fundraising. Cunningham spent the last year serving as the campaign manager for Congressman Jim Costa. Before that, Cunningham worked four years as the Director of Business Development at KTS Associates Leadership Consulting in San Francisco, where she helped bring in thousands of dollars in new contracts.
She simultaneously served as a board member for a number of Bay Area organizations over the last few years as well as a consultant in both public relations and fundraising sectors.
“I am thrilled to welcome Jill back to Merced College and Merced County,” Merced College Superintendent/President Chris Vitelli said. “She is the right person for this job and will bring renewed vigor and energy to our public relations and fundraising efforts.
“Jill is a talented marketer and fundraiser with an already established presence in this community. I cannot wait to see where she leads the Merced College Foundation in the next several years. She is going to do big things for Merced College and the students we serve.”
With family roots that extend over five generations, Cunningham has deep ties to the Merced community and a vested interest in seeing both the College and Foundation thrive.
“If we want Merced College to succeed, we need to build financial support,” Cunningham said. “I’m a believer that people don’t give to institutions, they invest in ideas and people. There are a great many success stories in Merced right now that started right here at Merced College.
“When we start to share those stories, I know people will invest.”