When Columbus, Ohio, native and 2011 Ashland graduate Alan Dunson started looking at colleges, he had never even heard of Ashland University. Fortunately for him (and the school), a recruiting coach who promised Dunson he could participate in both football and track at Ashland caused him to take a look at the school that would help put him on his current path. Settling into his freshman roles as a wide receiver and hurdler was easy for Dunson; adapting to the academic rigors of university life, however, was not. “My first year was my worst academic year ever,” he says. “But it was also a big learning experience. I struggled and prayed a lot, but I didn’t give up.”
Dunson credits both his mother and his Ashland academic advisor for encouraging him to keep going, even when things got really tough. “My mother never let any of us give up on anything,” recalls Dunson who is one of five children. “She always told me there was nothing I couldn’t do. And my advisor at Ashland kept re-encouraging me whenever I wanted to quit.”
Despite his struggles, Dunson hung in, and things really began to click when, realizing that he was passionate about numbers, he changed his major from biology to math education. “I had the most phenomenal experience at Mapleton High School,” he says of his student teaching experience. “It’s a really small school, and all of the kids there really want help. I got to work with eighth- and ninth-graders, and loved how excited they’d get when I’d teach them math tricks or they’d learn how to solve problems.” Pretty soon, Dunson was staying after school teaching the kids not just how to learn, but also how to run and jump and be better athletes.
Oh, and he also found time to start a math club.
In his senior year, Dunson took part in Ashland’s Southern Internship Program, developed by a partnership between Ashland’s Office of Field Experiences and school districts in Florida and South Carolina. Dunson spent six weeks in Sarasota, Fla., then another six weeks teaching at Bluffton High School outside of Hilton Head, S.C. Remarkably, while Dunson was at Bluffton, five teachers – all in math and science – announced their retirements, and Dunson jumped at the chance to fill one of the spots. He got the job but, not one to sit around waiting for things to happen, he also decided to teach summer school before the official school year began in order to hone his class management skills.
“Many of the kids I work with are unmotivated,” says Dunson. “They don’t want to be in the classroom, and they tend to give up too quickly. A big part of my job is to tell them to
stick with it until they eventually succeed.” Dunson acknowledges that he was fortunate
to have had people who kept reminding him of what he was capable of doing and becoming,
and hopes he can be that person for many of the kids in his classroom. “Success is all about
attitude,” he muses. “If you want to do something badly enough, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen. And the kids I work with need to have someone they see every day telling them that they are capable of doing anything they put their minds to.”
That said, Dunson doesn’t believe that pushing kids to succeed in school necessarily means pushing them into college. “I believe in helping kids find their own definition of success,” he declares. “Success is subjective; it’s different for everyone. And it’s our job as role models to help them find what they’re passionate about, encourage them to put 100 percent of their effort towards it, and do their very best.
Dunson credits his experience at Ashland as key to his current success. “If you go to Ashland,”
he says, “when you graduate you’ll be a completely different person. Everyone I know who started at Ashland and transferred to another school, regrets that they left. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it hadn’t been for my professors, my academic advisor and Ashland’s
president. Experiences are everything, and if you learn from them, you’ll be powerful and the future will be bright.”
As to his own future, Dunson has a big vision. He’d like to move his way up in the educational system from teacher to principal to superintendant and beyond – wherever he can make the biggest difference. We have no doubts that he’ll succeed. As he chuckles, quoting Alex on the Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “‘When I act like something is going to happen, it just happens.’”