By Bailey Deloney
Katie Dunn, the first-ever finalist for the Truman Scholarship from the Fay Jones School of Architecture, is a fourth-year student in the professional landscape architecture program. Also an Honors College student, Dunn is one of two University of Arkansas students who were named Truman finalists.
Growing up in Muskogee, Okla., a small town just outside the Cherokee Nation, Dunn had the opportunity to learn about her Cherokee heritage from a young age. With 16 siblings on her father’s side and nine siblings on her mother’s side, Dunn explained, “I grew up around a huge family, and one that was very loud.” Family gatherings at the Dunn household were anything but boring, she added.
Her mother, two sisters and several cousins are all registered nurses, so serving others always seemed to be a trait that ran in the family, Dunn said. “I am all about service,” she said. “I love doing community service and I really like fixing problems.”
Dunn still remembers the initial moment that triggered her interest in landscape architecture, when she was at the U of A’s summer orientation session. After hearing the head of the department, Mark Boyer, describe the people-centric values that this branch of design had to offer, Dunn knew exactly where she wanted to make an impact.
“I really felt that there was a means to an end, and that I would be able to directly affect people’s lives,” she explained. Dunn hopes to someday work in a big city, where her focus will be on “meshing the idea of nature within the urban factor.”
Dunn’s passions for environmental restoration and the integration of nature into urban society have been the driving forces behind her involvement in various projects. Over the past year alone, Dunn has worked to develop a plan to reconnect Arkansas’ largest wetland, Fourche Creek, to its surrounding neighborhoods in Little Rock; a plan to revitalize the port area around the Tiber River in Italy; and a policy proposal to transform the polluted city of Cleveland by using low-impact development and stormwater management strategies. In addition to her participation in theses large-scale projects, Dunn has also volunteered with a group of Girl Scouts, as she oversaw the design and construction of a rain garden and bioswale at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville.
Having received an Honorable Mention as a sophomore and then qualifying as a finalist for the Truman Scholarship this year, Dunn’s commitment to the environment has certainly not gone unnoticed. The application process for this national scholarship required Dunn to develop her own policy proposal. With Cleveland as her focus and a heart committed to instigating change, Dunn began by diving into politics and planning strategies. The preparation process quickly intensified, as Dunn started meeting with faculty members up to three times a week.
“Regardless of whether or not I receive the scholarship, this is something that I will keep going,” Dunn said. “The prospect of winning the Truman Scholarship merely legitimizes how I feel.” she added. “The fact that there are people willing to invest in this plan would prove that this is something that needs to happen and something that could actually work.”
Dunn’s passions, commitments and interests venture beyond environmental issues, as is evidenced by her vast involvement in various groups and organizations. Some of these include the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, an organization founded by her sister, Megan. Dunn has held the offices of treasurer, vice president and public relations in the school’s ASLA chapter and serves as president of AISES.
Dunn is also a graphic designer for The Arkansas Traveler. “Working as a graphic designer has really helped keep my skills in computer programs sharp,” Dunn said. “And it is cool because I am also given a sort of creative license with the job.”
For this summer, Dunn has received a unique research opportunity with the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. This highly respected 10-week program will allow Dunn to research for and directly work with a landscape architecture professor at the university. With the goal to incorporate teaching into her career as well someday, Dunn is eager to participate in the research process and see how it can be applied in a teaching position.