Convocation Profile: A chat with Anna Dunn

When Anna Dunn came to the University of Alberta in 2016, she continued a family legacy of academia and varsity sport that goes back generations.

Coming to the U of A a rite of passage for Panda’s soccer standout

When Anna Dunn came to the University of Alberta in 2016, she continued a family legacy of academia and varsity sport that goes back generations.

What brought you to the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation (KSR) at the University of Alberta?

I’m not sure anyone has watched The Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock. It is the story of Michael Oher, a high-profile college football player who is adopted by a family as a teenager after a difficult childhood, plays college football and then goes on to play in the NFL. In one scene, Michael is being questioned by an investigator who is looking at possible irregularities in the recruiting process. At the end of the interview, he tells the woman that all her questions have focussed on the reasons why other people wanted him to go to the university he chose, but he points out that she never asked him why he wanted to go to the university. She proceeds to ask him, and he says, “Because it’s where my family goes to school. It’s where they’ve always gone to school.”

The main reason I wanted to come to the U of A was because of my family history. In my mom’s immediate family (my dad is from Scotland), a total of 23 degrees are from the U of A and I wanted to carry on this tradition.

What brought me to the KSR was mostly that both my parents are professors in this faculty. I remember essentially growing up in the Van Vliet Center buildings and imagining myself being a student in the faculty. My family was a very important factor that contributed to why I decided on the U of A and the Faculty of KSR.

Tell us about your journey as a student-athlete. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome these challenges?

My family also has a rich history with Golden Bears and Pandas athletics. My sister played Pandas soccer, my dad played Bears soccer, three of my uncles played Bears hockey, my great aunt played Pandas basketball and my grandfather played both Bears hockey and football. I also remember going to Golden Bears hockey games and Pandas and Bears volleyball games regularly with my parents. I always wanted to be a Panda. Like many varsity athletes, the biggest challenge I faced was figuring out how to balance my academic studies and my varsity sport commitments. I struggled with this balance in my first year, which was reflected in my lowest GPA of any year at the U of A. When I figured out how to prioritize and organize my time, I was able to do well both in the classroom and on the soccer field.

What was your favourite class and why?

If I had to pick one class to be my favourite, I would have to say KRLS 420 with Professor Billy Strean. Activities we did in this class included going for outdoor walks in the river valley, scavenger hunts and participating in laughter yoga. Professor Strean taught me how vital it is to be in touch with your playful side, and this continues to influence how I approach everything I do. He taught me that play can mean something different to each person, but ultimately, play is something that is freely chosen, and takes you to a child-like state where you show who you truly are. I would recommend all KSR students do everything they can to be in a class taught by Professor Strean.

What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a student and how did you overcome these challenges?

The most difficult challenge I’ve faced as a student was learning to balance the different parts of my life. As a first-year student, I had no idea how to study effectively. I thought I knew, but after receiving my midterm marks back from my first ever university classes, I was proven to be very wrong. I remember the feeling of panic and thinking that I wasn’t smart enough to be in university. However, with the help of my sister—who was already in her third year at the U of A working on her business degree—and the Academic Success Centre, I learned effective ways to study that worked for me.

I think it’s very important to remember that just because a study technique works for your friend, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. You have to be willing to figure out which strategies are best for you in order to be successful.

Between school, soccer, coaching, volunteering, relationships and being a member of the University Athletics Board, it was hard not to feel completely overwhelmed at times. However, whenever I was struggling, I knew I had someone to talk to and encourage me. I am very grateful that I had, and continue to have, friends and family in my life who supported and stuck with me throughout my time at university.

What was key to your academic success?

For me, the key to being successful in university is scheduling. At the beginning of each semester when my professors’ reviewed their syllabi, I would go through and mark down on my calendar the dates for every project and exam. This allowed me to plan ahead and I ended up almost never having to cram last minute before an exam. I wouldn’t say I’m a procrastinator, but scheduling allowed me to balance my time and perform well on projects and exams.

Where did you do your practicum and what did your role entail?

My practicum was at Edmonton Scottish United Soccer Club, where I was the Girls development coach. Unfortunately, my practicum took place in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I didn’t get as much hands-on coaching experience with the players as I would have liked. However, I created and delivered a number of remote/online mental skills training sessions for players of all ages and I learned a lot from going through that process.

You and your graduating classmates are experiencing Convocation like no other students have before you. What are some thoughts and/or feelings you have about convocating during a pandemic?

I’m definitely disappointed that I do not get to experience Convocation—wearing the cap and gown, getting together with my classmates, for the last time in some cases, and cheering for each other as we walk across the stage. I’m also disappointed because my parents, being professors, were going to be on stage as I walked across. With my sister having convocation in June 2020 and with my convocation in November 2020, the pandemic means they won’t be able to watch either of us. However, I try to keep things in perspective. I am lucky and blessed that I get to graduate, let alone attend university; there are many people who do not have this privilege.

What are you most proud of in your journey as a U of A/KSR student?

I’m really proud of how involved I was, both academically and in extracurricular activities, and some of my accomplishments along the way. I was the University Athletics Board president-elect in 2018-2019 and president in 2019-2020. I was also a member of the Pandas’ soccer team for three years—playing alongside my sister for the first two—and an Academic All-Canadian in the last two years. I was also part of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, which was a fantastic learning experience, and I’m now graduating with my degree plus a certificate in Interdisciplinary Leadership. But overall, I think what I am most proud of is the courage I showed in dealing with the various challenges that I faced throughout my journey.

What was your role with the Green & Gold Sport System and why did you choose to participate?

For the first three summers of my degree, I was a coach for the soccer camps run by the Green & Gold Sport System. I attended the Golden Bears and Pandas soccer camps as a child and remember how much I looked up to the soccer coaches—who were members of the varsity soccer teams at the time—and wanting to be one of the coaches for these camps. I love coaching soccer and the Green & Gold Sport System soccer camps helped me develop as a coach.

As you get ready to convocate, what career plans do you have for the future?

I’m currently at Trinity Western University, working on a two-year after degree in elementary education and playing varsity soccer. Learning about children and how they interact with leisure and sport, and through coaching with the Green and Gold Sport System, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher.