Carolyn Dunn Reflects on Time at NC State, Leadership and What’s Next

Woman with glasses, red background

2021 has brought many changes and transitions globally and throughout NC State University. The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS) embarks on yet another change as Carolyn Dunn, says farewell and retires from her role as department head on June 30, 2021.

Dunn began her journey with the AHS Department in 1990. Since that time, the department has gone through multiple transitions during her tenure, including 5 department name changes, multiple department heads, and many a colleague who have transitioned in and out over the years.

Despite these transitions, Dunn says, “What has not changed is a commitment to our students, stakeholders and the people of North Carolina.”

With a passion for nutrition, food, and cooking, this William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor had thoughts of pursuing medical school back when she started her career. But that all changed with inspiration from New York Times Nutrition Columnist, Jane Brody’s book.

“Her book was one of my inspirations to change my major to nutrition,” Dunn shared. “I went to the registrar’s office and asked if they had any majors that included food – they had nutrition, so I changed my major immediately,” Dunn says of the experience.

As AHS Department Head since 2014, Dunn says that the most rewarding aspect of being department head has been the ability to help faculty figure things out. “It may be how to get something funded or how to get a project through IRB, or a personnel problem, whatever the issue if I can help even in a small way, I feel that my day is made.”

Amongst her many career accomplishments since her time in the department, being named a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor (recognized as the highest honor awarded to faculty members in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and the creation of the Dinah E. Gore Teaching and Research Kitchens are two of which she is most proud.

Dunn says she has learned many lessons along the way. As a leader, she says it is important to be available, present, and focused. As a woman in leadership, she faced significant struggles having to overcome others’ doubts in her ability to do the job, but her advice to other women in leadership is to take advantage of good mentorship.

“I find that having multiple mentors, each of whom brings their own specific strength, is very helpful. Depending on the issue, I can call on one of my mentors to advise me,” Dunn says.

So, what’s next? While Dunn plans to step down as AHS Department Head, her work will still continue as she plans to do a phased retirement with a singular focus on grants for the Eat Smart, Move More Weigh Less Program and Eat Smart, Move More, Prevent Diabetes. She is going back to where it all started more than 30 years ago, with food, cooking, curriculum development, and staying up with the latest science in nutrition.

“I hope to travel, be active, and, of course, cook. I will be cooking A LOT.” Dunn says.