Clemson Professor Heather Dunn works with students in the lab in the Poole Agricultural Center.

Professor Heather Dunn works with students in the lab in the Poole Agricultural Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University

One of the hardest things about going to Clemson is leaving it after graduation; die-hard Clemson professor Heather Dunn is proof that sometimes you don’t have to!

“I’m like a bad penny; I keep coming back.”

Dunn, an animal and veterinary sciences senior lecturer, received her bachelor’s degree here at Clemson and has kept returning ever since. Dunn laughed, “I’d like to think I’m not going anywhere now.” However Dunn’s experiences outside of Clemson have shaped and influenced both her teaching and life passions.

It was at the University of California-Davis — in the pursuit of her master’s degree — that Dunn fell in love with long-distance running. “There was a big running community out there and I thought, ‘I might try that.’” Dunn has since become an avid marathon runner. She plans on running her ninth Boston Marathon this coming April.

Boston isn’t just an annual marathon destination for Dunn, though.

After returning to Clemson for her Ph.D., Dunn completed her postdoctoral studies in Boston at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. Her time at Dana-Farber inspired her passion for cancer research.

When Dunn returned to Clemson as a professor, she brought her cancer research to campus. Through the study of mammary glands in sheep, beef cattle, dairy cattle and pigs, Dunn and her students use their observations to learn more about what happens in human breast tissue. Mammary tissue is constantly changing through development, menstrual cycles and lactation; Dunn explained that “some breast cancers are believed to mimic developmental growth” and that “one of the signals in the breast tissue is altered,” triggering mutated growth.

“If we can determine the cell signal development, and therefore stop development, then maybe we can stop the cancer,” she said.

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The Dunns at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Whether working alongside students on cancer research or lecturing about animal anatomy, Dunn’s goal is for her students to be able to both process and question information.

Dunn has a specific exercise with her classes that involves reading two magazines with opposing views: a vegan magazine versus a beef industry magazine, for example. “Neither of these perspectives is wrong; they’re both right, but I want my students to understand the intended audience instead of just accepting the information,” Dunn said.

Along with questioning content and forming personal opinions, Dunn hopes to help her students “speak and write in an educated voice.” She always says, “ What you cannot articulate you do not know.” Dunn wants to aid her department in giving students a solid foundation of knowledge in their industry, making them proud representatives of Clemson University.

“I always compare everywhere to Clemson. The town of Clemson and Clemson University are my gold standards.”

Dunn lives in downtown Clemson with her husband, Wally Dunn, who is a grants coordinator for the College of Engineering and Science. In the heart of her beloved Clemson, Dunn enjoys being fully integrated into campus and the community.

“I absolutely love living in town. We dine out with students and are neighbors with students, and we don’t miss out on any of the opportunities that the University has to offer,” she said. “It’s home.”