“Poetry, because it’s artistic and not just this logical, rational, scientific way of describing things, gives opportunities to suggest things and to present nuances and implications and to subtly make connections between things that if you were going to try to do it by just writing it out in terms of linear words, you’d have to write a book,” Dunning said. He said he also applies his knowledge and interest in the mind to his daily tasks in University Career Services when he sits down with students to help them with a common concern – what to do with their lives.
Senior psychosocial kinesiology major David Bellinger said: “He sees a lot of students who have come through there, and he can gauge kind of how people are after spending just a little bit of time with them.”
Bellinger said he thinks listening is one of Dunning’s unique skills.
“By him meeting me after he has met thousands upon thousands of students, he knows where I’m at in the range of the students he’s met,” Bellinger said.
Dunning’s campus involvement does not stop at University Career Services, however.
He also helps out with Frog Camp, trains orientation student assistants, serves as an adviser to the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and contributes wherever he sees an opportunity, he said.
“He’s one of the most student-focused staff members on campus,” said Carrie Zimmerman, director of the First Year Experience. “He is the first person to volunteer for anything that has student contact.”
Laura Elliott, a senior nursing major, said she thinks Dunning volunteers so much around campus because it is the best way for him to connect with students in order to do his job well.
“To get on their level you have to get involved in the same activities that they’re doing,” Elliott said.
Bellinger said Dunning makes a point to connect with freshmen in particular because establishing a relationship with students early on makes him a continued resource for the student all the way through college.
“From our relationship over time I have developed a lot of respect for him and for his ability to help in a lot of ways in whatever I possibly needed,” Bellinger said. “I wouldn’t just take any advice, but from my experience, he hasn’t given me any bad advice.”
Dunning’s experiences with students and with life in general are what senior advertising/public relations major Charlie Stephan said make Dunning a counselor he can relate to and trust.
“He understands what people in general are looking for, what students are looking for,” Stephan said.
Dunning said his understanding of people has come from watching and listening during the variety of job and life experiences he has had.
“You learn to pick up on lots of patterns and to understand people’s motivations for why they are doing what they’re doing,” Dunning said.
When asked just how many jobs he has had over the course of his life, Dunning sat in contemplation for about a minute. His clock ticked relentlessly in the background, but Dunning’s mind was too focused to notice.
He decided he has had jobs in 12 to 13 different fields, including too many jobs to count.
“I feel settled for the first time in my life,” Dunning said. “I’ve had all these different jobs and different occupations and different careers – even once I became a counselor there was some shifting around.”
From the fall of 1979, when he originally went off to college, to August of 2000 when he joined the staff at TCU, Dunning has searched for the stability he now has.
“That’s what I was hoping for when I came to TCU – that I could settle down and this would be a place where I could work throughout the rest of my career,” Dunning said. “I’d like to retire from TCU.