Phyllis Cunningham considers the graduate students with whom she has worked as her primary legacy. In the last 20 years, as a professor of adult education, she has been one of the first women in modern adult education who has been admitted to key professional positions. She was the only woman in the second "mentor series" of films produced by the University of Georgia on adult education professors.
A concern for social and ethical responsibility has marked her life's work. Twenty-five years ago, she, along with several friends, established the Urban Life Center. It brought college students into the south side of Chicago to learn to appreciate diversity and to develop careers in fighting oppression. Faculty from the colleges came to the city for seminars and worked hard to fight racism, sexism, and violence. The graduate program she helped foster at Northern Illinois University is, in 1996, the leading adult education doctoral program graduating African Americans.
Through her work within the International Council for Adult Education, she grew in her understanding of the importance of an international perspective. Under her leadership, professors from the U.S. and U.K. exchanged visits, organized the highly successful TransAtlantic dialogue, and established a collaborative grant program.