Dayna Cunningham has been appointed as the Jonathan M. Tisch College for Civic Life’s next dean, according to an email sent to the Tufts community on Monday by University President Anthony Monaco and Provost and Senior Vice President Nadine Aubry.
“To lead an institution focused on training the next generation to support and partner with communities in their shared civic work is an extraordinary opportunity,” Cunningham said in an interview with Tufts Now. “To this work, I bring my values, my commitment, and my ideas about what is needed in this moment.”
She pointed to the role Tufts University and Tisch College can play in responding to marginalized communities in urban development contexts.
“There’s a very special role for colleges and universities in providing the space—without influence from corporate or political agendas—for a fulsome exploration of what kind of knowledge, what kind of capacity we need to support our democracy,” Cunningham said. “Tufts University and Tisch College are uniquely positioned to further our understanding of what’s needed to make lasting change.”
Cunningham earned her undergraduate degree at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. Cunningham has centered her career around urban planning, development, democracy and community-based research.
As a voting rights lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Cunningham spent several years litigating cases across the American South, including in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi.
She also worked in philanthropy, serving as an associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she discovered she wanted to play an active role in supporting democratic engagement.
Cunningham began her career in higher education as the program director of the ELIAS Project at MIT, which created initiatives that supported economic, social and environmental sustainability by collaborating between businesses, non-governmental organizations and government.
She is currently the founder and executive director of the Community Innovators Lab at MIT, which promotes inclusive, environmentally sustainable, socially just and democratic economic development.
“Dayna’s experience and accomplishments are complemented by her longstanding commitment to active citizenship and community impact—values that are foundational to Tisch College,” Monaco and Aubry wrote in the email. “We are confident that Dayna will make invaluable contributions both in her leadership of Tisch College and as a member of the university administration.”
Cunningham will succeed Alan Solomont, who has served as the Tisch College’s dean since 2013 and will retire at the end of this month.
“We are grateful to Alan Solomont, A70, A08P, for eight years of outstanding service as the dean of Tisch College,” Monaco and Aubry said. “A beloved member of the Tufts community who has had a profound impact on the university, he will be retiring at the end of June.”