Humans of St. Thomas introduces us to some of the incredible members of the St. Thomas community. Read about more of our fellow Tommies here.
Hayley Dunning has wanted to be a teacher since she was in middle school. That dream brought the senior from Littleton, Colorado, to St. Thomas. As an elementary education major in the School of Education, Dunning has gained firsthand experience in kindergarten, second- and fourth-grade classrooms around the Twin Cities. As she’s developed her teaching skills at various elementary schools, Dunning has connected with dozens of children.
“I love little kiddos,” Dunning said. “I enjoy their curiosity and how they want to learn. I want to help people, and I know I can do that in the education world. And that really excites me.”
Not only does Dunning bring positive energy and a sense of commitment to the classroom, she also spreads it across campus in her many roles as a Tommie Ambassador, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes member and a softball player. Dunning is coming off a softball injury that kept her from pitching most of her junior year, but she hopes to be back strong for her final season. When thinking about the end of her college softball career, she reflects on the many things she’s learned on the field that go well beyond the game, especially self-confidence and a strong work ethic.
“Coach [John] Tschida takes a lot of pride in not only teaching you how to be a softball player, but also how to be a better person,” she said.
I spent some time with Dunning recently and asked her about everything from her journey to St. Thomas and her favorite place on campus to advice for first-year students.
You’re originally from Littleton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. What drew you to St. Thomas?
I wanted a midsized Catholic university that wasn’t too close to home. Between my junior and senior year in high school, my dad, my sister and I went on a weeklong road trip to 10 schools in the Midwest. When we came to St. Thomas and I walked around campus, I loved it. I felt comfortable. My tour guide was pointing out things, and I was imagining myself doing them. It was so fun. Then I met the softball coach and we had a really good conversation, and he said, “Yeah, I think she’d be a really good fit.” I came back in fall of my senior year of high school, and I did an overnight where I stayed with some softball players. After that, I knew this is where I should be.
What does softball represent in your life?
Coming into college, I was very quiet and shy and not quite sure I could handle everything. Softball has taught me to have confidence in myself. It’s taught me how to be efficient in life and what a work ethic does for you. It’s brought me some of my closest friends – people that will be in my life forever, people I could see being in my wedding one day. I don’t think I would have met them had it not been for softball. They’re all in different majors, but we all come together on a softball field, and it’s something super special.
What’s your advice for first-year students?
Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid of rejection or failure because there will be some of both, but also with that comes a lot of rewards. I would not have met half the people I have if I didn’t say “hey,” give a wave, sit by somebody I didn’t know in class or create a study group for one of my theology classes. It’s scary, I know it is, but if you do it the rewards will come.
What’s something you’ve discovered about yourself at St. Thomas?
I can be my confident, bubbly, excited self and people will accept me for who I am. In high school it took me a while to come out of my shell, and as soon as I got to college I was like, “I can’t let that happen again.” Through St. Thomas, I have really accepted who I am. It’s a “take it or leave it, this is me” kind of thing. I found people also accepting of themselves and are like, “That’s who you are and this is who I am. Let’s be friends.” I’ve really taken ownership over, “This is me and I can do what I want and be who I want,” and there will be people who love it.
Who inspires you?
I’d have to say my sister, Meghan. She’s had some knee injuries that have really set her back, but she continually pushes through. When I’m overwhelmed or stressed, she calms me. She brings me peace. She’s my best friend. She brings out the best in me and does it in such a subtle, beautiful way.
What makes you smile?
I think it’s talking about the people and the memories in my life. Talking about my sister, talking about my softball team, talking about my second-grade classroom, talking about all the people in my life. It makes my heart so full to have people who love and support me, and that I can do the same for others.
If you could have dinner with one person – dead or alive – who would it be?
Mother Teresa because of how selfless she was. I just want to ask her, ‘How did you do it? That is not an easy feat that you did.’ I would love to hear how she was touched by her calling and how she cared for all these people who needed help.
I have this vision of having my door for my classroom say “spread kindness around like confetti” and having a bunch of little confetti pieces because I just think it’s so important to spread kindness, and that’s what she did in such a big way. If I can have my students do simple acts of kindness, imagine how big that could be every year. I would love to pick [Mother Teresa’s] brain and see how she did it. ‘How did you get through those struggles? How did you get through those obstacles? When you were exhausted, what pushed you through? Because we will get exhausted, we will get tired and how did you push through that?’
What’s the last app you downloaded?
This is going to be so silly. It’s called Magic Puzzles. It’s like jigsaw puzzles and you pick the amount of puzzles you want. You can pick if the puzzles rotate or if they’re normal, and you do sections at a time. I love puzzles and like solving things, so it’s fun at night to do some puzzling.
What’s the last TV show you binged?
“Grey’s Anatomy” all the way. It’s so good. My sister got me hooked. I was like, “I’m not going to follow the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ trend – I cannot do this.” But then she said I needed to watch, so we watched a couple together and I was so in. I’m loving it.
What’s your favorite place on campus?
It’s kind of weird to say, but I feel like the softball field. It’s my place to go and everything else in the world stops or I don’t think about it. I get to just focus on my sport, getting better in the moment, working hard with my teammates and sweating through our drills. That world is so special to me, and the fact that it’s coming to an end soon, makes it even more of a special place. There are moments on the field I will never forget.
If you had a free Saturday afternoon with no commitments, what would you do?
I love to explore the Twin Cities. I love Minneapolis and some of the old architecture and the museums. I’ll go with my softball friends, I’ll go with my teacher friends, anybody who wants to go, but I love to go explore the cities. I also love to go to brunch. Brunch is one of my favorite things ever.
What’s your favorite brunch spot?
The Buttered Tin in St. Paul.