Celebrating Black History Month – the Story of Purdue Veterinary Medicine’s First Black Graduate, Dr. William Dunn

Friday, February 19, 2021

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In celebration of Black History Month, the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine highlights one of its own history makers – Dr. William Dunn. When he earned his DVM degree in 1971, Dr. Dunn became the first Black male graduate of the college.

Dr. Dunn said his interest in veterinary medicine began at the age of 8 when his family took their dog to the local veterinarian and he was amazed at the fantastic work the veterinarian did to get their furry friend feeling better again. He knew from that moment he wanted to be a veterinarian and never once changed his mind all throughout his childhood and education.

Dr. Dunn grew up in Indianapolis and attended Shortridge High School where he said he was blessed with the ability to take two years of biology from a teacher with a PhD in the field. This experience not only increased his interest in veterinary medicine, but also prepared him for the rigorous education at Purdue University.

At the time, there were only about 19 veterinary medicine programs in the entire country and Dr. Dunn said he was fortunate to live in a state which had one, with Purdue offering the only DVM program available in Indiana.  During his time at Purdue, Dr. Dunn was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and also served as an advisor at McCutcheon Hall, a position that covered his tuition. Dr. Dunn encourages any college student in any major to take any kind of resident assistantship, work study position, or other job opportunity to be able to graduate with less debt.

When asked about advice for students studying veterinary medicine, Dr. Dunn explained that when students see any open door they should not be afraid to walk through it, and that sometimes you never know how your education may help you.  He recalls that while he was in veterinary school, students were required to study all varieties of animals regardless of their own interests. For example, even students who wanted to be small animal veterinarians had to take classes on treating livestock, which proved useful for Dr. Dunn because of the various fields he worked in later.

After graduation, Dr. Dunn took a position with Merrick Animal Hospital in Brookfield, Ill., where he worked from June 1971 to October 1972.  He then returned to Indianapolis to work for Eli Lilly and Company, where his father also had worked. His employment at Eli Lilly enabled him to serve in a myriad of positions and work with all sorts of animals from dogs and cats to pigs and horses. Dr. Dunn said he was well prepared to work with all of these creatures due to the diverse curriculum at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

After 28 years in the workforce, Dr. Dunn retired in January 2000 at the age of 52.  When asked for a final piece of advice for soon-to-be-graduates of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dunn replied that while being devoted to your career is important, enjoying life is equally so. “I got where I am by working hard when I needed to and playing as hard when I needed to,” said Dr. Dunn.


Writer(s): Jonathan Martz, PVM Communications Intern | pvmnews@purdue.edu

Category: Alumni, Our People

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