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TU Alumna Sydnie Cunningham: Finding a Fit and Embracing Inclusivity

Sydnie Cunningham was a big fish in a small pond during her undergraduate studies in upstate New York. She was concerned she wouldn’t find a place in graduate school with other competitive students, but when she moved to study industrial-organizational psychology at The University of Tulsa, she learned that she has what it takes, finding purpose, camaraderie and great pizza. Cunningham graduated in May 2018 with a Ph.D. in i/o psychology and will start work soon as a research psychologist for the U.S. Army, helping to make a more inclusive environment for women in combat roles.

Moving to Tulsa

A Baltimore native, Cunningham originally wanted to be a clinical psychologist. After taking some classes, however, she realized her interests lay elsewhere. Eventually, she landed on industrial-organizational psychology and found professors with similar research interests at The University of Tulsa, cementing her decision to go west for her master’s and doctoral degrees.

Coming from a smaller bachelor’s program, she was initially worried that she’d have trouble fitting in and standing out in graduate school, which can often be competitive and cutthroat. In TU’s program, she instead found camaraderie, collaboration and friendship with her fellow graduate students. “It was awesome… It was an extremely collaborative environment,” Cunningham said. “We all hung out together outside of classes, we studied together. We’re still friends.” In this inclusive environment, not only did her friendships with fellow student’s blossom—so did her research interests and relationships with faculty.

Interested in following in Sydnie’s footsteps? Check out the TU i/o psychology program. 

An Inclusive Experience

This inclusive environment encouraged a spirit of collaboration that allowed Cunningham to collaborate on research across different labs in her program, not just with her advisor.

“That’s one of the benefits of being at a smaller school—they’re very friendly,” Cunningham said. “Their main focus is on you as a student, developing into the best person you can be.”

She continued to cooperate with several faculty members on a wide range of topics throughout her program, gaining experience, publications and presentations to add to her resume. This inclusive, collaborative atmosphere allowed Cunningham to refine her research interests, culminating in a dissertation focused on how inclusive environments affect how employees fit within their organizations, and how that can lead to better job satisfaction and lower rates of turnover. This made her a perfect fit for her next adventure.

Being All That She Can Be

As a newly minted Ph.D. hoping to move back east, Cunningham applied to several jobs in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. She eventually landed a position working for the U.S. Army as a research psychologist. “The position is focused pretty heavily on workplace outcomes that women experience when they enlist in combat positions. There hasn’t been a lot of research on that,” Cunningham explained. She’ll be working to use research data to make the workplace better for these women, making her skills and research interests a great fit for the new job.

One of the things Cunningham says she’ll miss the most about living in Tulsa is grabbing a slice at Andolini’s, which she says is better than the pizza back home. Although Cunningham will miss Oklahoma, she’s thrilled about her new job and will be making the army a more inclusive space for women through her future research.