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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Laura Dunn gives back to MSU

Lindsay Pace | The Reflector
Laura Dunn

Every morning Laura Dunn walks briskly into her office, preparing for another day to impact the Mississippi State University community.

Dunn, the assistant director of the MSU Center for Student Success, has befriended numerous students and faculty, who are familiar with her energetic spirit and optimistic attitude. She has had a long and impactful history with MSU, having established herself as a campus leader and mentor.

Dunn was born in Central Pennsylvania, and moved to Hattiesburg when she was in junior high.

Dunn credits Hattiesburg High School for helping her develop an understanding of various student backgrounds. Dunn said she attributes her personal growth to surrounding herself with a diverse set of friends and mentors.

Dunn graduated MSU in 2008, with a degree in public relations. She said she majored in public relations because she enjoys talking to people and writing. She said her role in student affairs certainly benefits from her public relations background.

Dunn was highly involved as a student at MSU. She was a member of a sorority, Roadrunners and the Montgomery Leadership Program and worked each summer as an orientation leader. 

Her first job out of college was as a sales and catering representative for the Royal Sonesta hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, she and her husband were drawn back to Starkville after they realized how much they missed the atmosphere of the campus and the town.

“I saw that I could be successful while at Mississippi State,” Dunn said. “This university had given me so many great opportunities. People invested their time and energy in me, and I knew I could give back.” 

In 2011, Dunn and her husband returned to live and work in Starkville. Dunn first worked as an admissions counselor while earning her masters in student affairs.

As part of the student affairs masters, students are required to complete a 300-hour internship. Dunn chose to intern with Rodney Pearson, director of the newly-established Center for Student Success.

As part of her internship, Dunn created an inventory of all the resources available to students on campus. She said her internship was a “beefing-up” of her institutional knowledge. At the end of her semester, Pearson requested Dunn stay on as assistant director of the center.

The center was established as a support service for MSU students as they transition into campus and college life. One large component of the center is the freshman navigators, a group of students dedicated to mentoring and guiding freshman as they settle into MSU’s campus life.

Dunn supervises the freshman navigators and conducts her own communication with freshman, frequently checking in to make sure they are adjusting well both inside and outside the classroom.

Dunn firmly believes in the value the navigator program brings to MSU.

“Students need navigators because so many students feel like nobody has their back,” Dunn said. “We had a lot of students that were falling through the gaps and every freshman should know that they have someone that is there for them.”

Darby Rich, a first-year graduate student assigned to the center, said she sees Dunn as a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. She also said Dunn is incredibly adaptable to all types of situations she might experience professionally.

Dunn said her favorite part of working at MSU is the people. As someone who works extensively with the campus community, Dunn cannot cross the Drill Field without running into someone she recognizes.

“I feel like we have a very genuine university filled with amazing faculty and staff,” Dunn said. “I love the community.”

Cat Balsam, a senior business administration major from Memphis, Tennessee, is in her second year of “navigating.” Balsam worked closely with Dunn in selecting new navigators for this academic year and came to realize a lot about Dunn’s commitment to the university.

“Laura is basically superwoman,” Balsam said. “She does so much for her family and the community outside of Mississippi State and I honestly don’t know how she does it all.  If you’ve ever seen her calendar, you know that there’s not a free time in her day, but she makes it work.”
When Dunn is not at the center, she spends time with her husband and three children. She admires Starkville for its walkability and special events hosted throughout the year. Her family’s personal favorite event is the Pumpkin Palooza festival held every October in downtown Starkville.

Dunn is also actively involved with her children’s school PTAs, the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and her church.

Some of Dunn’s favorite Starkville establishments include City Bagel, Restaurant Tyler and Aunt Marti’s bakery.

Dunn said she sees herself staying at MSU and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree at the university. She said she loves the college and cannot see herself anywhere else.

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Laura Dunn gives back to MSU