College of Design Community Members Receive UMAA Awards

September 16, 2021

The College of Design is thrilled to have three award recipients featured in the 2021 Alumni Award Affair presented by the University and the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA). All three recipients will be recognized during the UMAA Alumni Awards Affair on Thursday, September 23.

UMN Alumni Service Award — John Cuningham, FAIA

The Alumni Service Award is the top award presented by the University to alumni volunteers and recognizes the service of volunteers who have had a major impact on the University.

John Cuningham earned his bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Minnesota in 1962. In 1968, he founded Cuningham, one of the most awarded architectural firms in Minneapolis and a top employer of College of Design alumni. A dedicated volunteer and supporter of the University of Minnesota, School of Architecture, and College of Design for over 55 years, Cuningham has offered insights, leadership, and strategic guidance as an alumnus and practitioner through service on numerous boards and committees including the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture National Advisory Board, UMAA National Board, and School of Architecture Centennial Planning Committee. He is currently serving on the College of Design Dean’s Advisory Board, and College of Design 15th Anniversary Committee.

John Cuningham, FAIA
John Cuningham, FAIA

Passionate about learning and careers in design, Cuningham has fostered the development of countless future professionals through mentoring, teaching, project and portfolio reviews, internships and employment, fostering the advancement of women and architects of color in the profession, and by promoting design education and careers for K-12 students, including underserved communities and populations. Cuningham’s contributions have shaped the architectural landscape in Minnesota and around the world, fostered a love and understanding of architecture as a means to uplift the human experience for students and mentees, and have paved the way for hundreds of current and future architects to enjoy successful careers in architecture and design.

UMAA U40 Alumni Leader Award — Li Ren, AIA, NCARB, NOMA, LEED AP

The UMAA U40 Alumni Leader Award celebrates an exceptional individual who has excelled in a career and/or public service and is 40 years of age or younger.

A bright example of alumni making a difference in their communities, Li Ren (M.Arch ‘15) puts people first when it comes to design thinking. With a focus on senior living and urban regeneration in his practice, Ren says the best part of his work is the opportunity to meet with seniors, community residents, and government officials, doing survey walks and learning about the religions, cooking habits, family sizes, and cultural backgrounds of those he designs for.


Ren works as a licensed architect at Perkins Eastman in Washington, DC. He also serves as a director at large, member, and volunteer with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) DC Chapter, is a volunteer at the National Council of Architectural Registration, a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and more. He is passionate about advancing new generations of architects and engineers as an educator, researcher, and personal mentor. With a special lens on fostering greater diversity, equity, and inclusion for minority and Asian American designers, Ren is a vital advocate and leader in his field.

UMAA's Program Extraordinaire Award — Design in 7

The UMAA Program Extraordinaire Award celebrates exceptional alumni programs sponsored by a collegiate unit, alumni society, or alumni network.

This is the second time that the Design in 7 program has received this recognition and was singled out in 2021 for its adaptability in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organized yearly by the College of Design’s Design Student and Alumni Board, Design in 7 features seven professionals from the fields of apparel design, architecture, graphic design, interior design, landscape architecture, product design, and retail. During this event, each professional is given seven minutes to share thought-provoking, inspiring, and often humorous tales from the design trenches.

Design in 7: 7 stories, 7 minutes

For the 2021 event, DSAB not only moved the program online, but added new elements to allow attendees to engage with speakers after the event. This award will be accepted by 2020–2021 Student President Kayla Boogren (Architecture) on behalf of DSAB.

The next Design in 7 event will be Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

The University of Minnesota’s Alumni Association Awards are presented each fall to recognize outstanding alumni and alumni networks across the University of Minnesota.

For the second year in a row, an alumnus from the College of Design will receive the University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s U40 Award.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently elevated four Minnesota architects to the AIA College of Fellows in recognition of their contributions to the profession and society.