Northwest dean of students earns doctorate in higher education

  Northwest Mississippi Community College officials are pleased to announce that Northwest’s Dean of Students Tara Dunn recently earned her doctorate in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University. Dunn completed her degree in August 2018 and participated in commencement ceremonies in December.

Her dissertation was entitled, “The Impact of Learning Communities on Student Engagement Efforts at Community Colleges.” Dunn says her motivation for pursuing this topic was her work in student affairs. “I enjoy student affairs, and student engagement is intriguing,” she said.

She defined “learning communities” as a group of people who share common academic goals, and meet regularly to collaborate on academic endeavors. An example might be students who live in an honors residence hall or nursing students who take the same courses together.

“The pursuit of the academic endeavor is the commonality, and the opportunity to learn with each other creates the community.  I wanted to prove that learning communities impact student engagement levels for community college students; and if proven, make recommendations on how learning communities can be successful at community colleges,” Dunn said.

She sought permission to use data collected from The Center for Community College Student Engagement. The data was collected from an existing survey, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). She used it to look at student engagement practices at community colleges around the nation. The data she used measured students who participated in learning communities, those who intended to participate in learning communities and those who did not participate in learning communities. Dunn’s study concluded that learning communities do have an impact on student engagement levels at community colleges.

Dunn is a native of Picayune. After graduating from Picayune Memorial High School, she received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Delta State University and a Master of Science in Higher Education from Mississippi College.

Dunn’s passion for student affairs and higher education began when she was a sophomore at Delta State. “My freshman year, I planned to go to school, do homework and come home on the weekends. That changed my sophomore year when I became a resident assistant. It sparked my interest in housing and student affairs, which led to me getting involved in student government, recruitment and honor organizations. I had no idea that my involvement with student activities would be the basis of my future career,” Dunn said.

As dean of students, she oversees housing, student conduct and educational programming for students and the Northwest community regarding safety, security, relationships, cultural awareness and substance abuse. She also teaches the college’s Leadership and Organizational Skills courses. Dunn also oversees Project Gateway, a grant program administered with the Northwest Foundation, from the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi (WFM.) The purpose of Project Gateway is to “alleviate financial burdens that hinder women by covering expenses outside of tuition that are not covered by other financial aid, but are associated with completing their degree.” Dunn’s other responsibilities include student activities, intramurals and student support services.

For more information on what Northwest has to offer, visit the college’s website at

Pictured: Northwest Mississippi Community College Dean of Students, Dr. Tara Dunn, right, recently earned her doctorate in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University. JSU President, Dr. William B. Bynum, Jr. hands Dunn her diploma in a December ceremony.


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