Northern Michigan University senior Olivia Dunn has defied her self-described anxious and introverted nature by actively seeking out leadership opportunities and new experiences, including a year of study in Germany. From the moment the West Bloomfield native stepped foot on campus as a freshman, Dunn adopted an “embrace uncertainty” mantra to guide her decision-making. It has obviously worked well. She will receive an Outstanding Graduating Senior award from the NMU Board of Trustees before her May 6 commencement.
As a high-achieving student, Dunn had applied to many universities and visited a couple of campuses downstate before making a trip to the Upper Peninsula and choosing NMU.
“I wanted a learning and teaching institution where I was going to be fostered in education and supported by faculty, staff and the community,” she said. “I felt that instantly when I came onto Northern's campus. It truly felt like I had everyone on my team and they were here to support me. That wasn't the case at other schools. I could see the rigor and excellence, but I got the air of ‘You're lucky to be here.' At Northern, it was more like ‘We're so excited for you to be here.' Everyone was so welcoming.”
Dunn originally wanted to be an audiologist, but changed her major to international studies with a minor in political science. Growing up with a mother who taught high school social studies, she had developed a love of geography and was eager to learn about world cultures and languages.
In fact, if Dunn could choose one superpower, it would be omnilingualism, a mouthful term for the ability to speak and decipher any language. “That way, I could help and communicate with as many people as possible to do good in the world,” she said, adding that the interdisciplinary degree she settled on connects all of her passions and still allows her to achieve her ultimate goal of helping people.
Dunn had no advance familiarity with the German language, however, when she was attended a European studies and global perspectives exchange program her junior year in Oldenburg, Germany.
“It was a deep dive into a new culture, but I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I only met one other American student when I was there. It was an amazing way to learn about different cultures and ways of life while embracing uncertainty to a new extreme.”
Over the course of her NMU experience, Dunn logged an extensive list of activities. She was involved with ASNMU student government starting in May of her freshman year. She held multiple roles with the organization: Arts and Sciences representative; chair of both elections and academic affairs; and head of some ad hoc committees. Dunn also was a member of house and hall government.
As a participant in the Student Leader Fellowship program, Dunn's community service internship involved working for the United Way of Marquette County on its Yoopers United platform, which connects area nonprofits with volunteers willing to assist with their needs. On a related note, Dunn served as one of the coordinators of the Volunteer Center and the Superior Edge program through the Center for Student Enrichment.
“I've also enjoyed being part of the Black, Latinx and Asian Student Union groups,” she said. “They have taught me about the intersectionality of diverse identities on campus and how they impact one another, while also allowing me to check my own power and privilege. All three have wonderful student leaders.”
After graduation, Dunn plans to pursue a master's degree in international education at George Washington University in the nation's capital. Her career goals are to work in international education development or equitable education for all because of her firm belief that “education is power.” She said her dream job would be to work for UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
NMU's commencement begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 6, in the Superior Dome. It will be streamed online at nmu.edu/commencement.