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Tim Dunnagan’s headed to the Highlands after career highs heading up Boise State’s College of Health Sciences

Tim Dunnagan

Skilled leader. Keen listener. Fly-fishing fanatic with a taste for bourbon.

College of Health Sciences Dean Tim Dunnagan is all these things and more. What he won’t be after this school year is solely focused on student and program success — aims he’s been passionate about in his 14 years leading the college, and more before that in higher education across the Intermountain West.

At Boise State, Dunnagan — the college’s fifth dean — has chalked up win after win during a time of staggering university growth and increasing complexity in academia. He and his team have:

  • Nearly doubled the size of the college.
  • Launched three doctoral programs.
  • Created and expanded multiple programs, including online offerings, a genetic counseling path and multiple certificates geared to working professionals.
  • Established a now long-running advisory group of current and retired CEOs and leaders of major healthcare organizations who provide feedback and guidance to shape courses and majors.

Dunnagan’s got more work to do, however, as he becomes a special assistant to Provost John Buckwalter, focused on new academic programming in health sciences. And as you might expect given the college’s high-caliber administration and leadership, students and faculty members are well-positioned for success going forward; long-time Dunnagan colleague Joelle Powers, who has served as senior associate dean for the past several years following a distinguished career of progressive roles within the college, was named in mid-February to succeed Dunnagan. She will be the college’s first female dean.

Powers started her Boise State career in 2012 within the university’s College of Social Science and Public Affairs (the college was wound down in 2015 and the social work program, Powers’ field, was folded into the College of Health Sciences, as was the kinesiology program, formerly part of the College of Education) and became Dunnagan’s associate dean in 2016.

Innovative entrepreneurial spirit

“It was fantastic,” she said. “Tim’s reputation of being innovative and entrepreneurial preceded him, and it was absolutely true. It has been phenomenal to be part of that spirit.

“He was a present dean, and what he did beautifully was connect different disciplines within community health and wellbeing.”

Others echo Powers’ praise. Dave Self, now chief administrative officer and a senior vice president at St. Luke’s, was at PacificSource when Dunnagan, then early in his Boise State tenure, reached out to him to join the group of industry-associated “ambassadors” that serve as a college sounding board. Self describes Dunnagan as a “collaborator, connector and innovator.

“He is intensely interested in what others believe or think,” he said, going on to recall his experience with the ambassador group. “You were able to actually contribute. It wasn’t lip service. There was a reason to gather and discuss issues.

“He genuinely was looking for what’s next. I found that to be kind of rare.”

Letting people shine

Provost John Buckwalter, College of Engineering Dean Joanne Lightly, and College of Health Sciences Dean Tim Dunnagan
Provost John Buckwalter, College of Engineering Dean Joanne Lightly, and College of Health Sciences Dean Tim Dunnagan at the 2023 First Game Fiesta Tailgate

That openness, Powers believes, has paid significant dividends for the college and university.

“Tim is masterful and is very understated as a leader. He does not lead with ego. He does not brag on himself at all,” she said, adding that he has surrounded himself with people that come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

“He lets them shine and it’s to the betterment of the college. It’s something I have learned from him. He recognizes people’s talents and he has elevated them.

“He has been an incredible convener of community leaders,” Powers said. “We became kind of a neutral space for the betterment of the Treasure Valley, and to their credit, people showed up.”

Jon Larkin had a background in higher ed when he connected with Dunnagan about a position within the college. While that first possibility didn’t pan out, Larkin went on to both work and fly fish with him.

“It’s the best working relationship I’ve ever had,” Larkin, now at Select Health, said. “The values of the university and college lined up with mine … It was very symbiotic.

“Tim was very receptive of information,” he said. “Over time, he became one of my closest friends.

“He’s just one of my absolute favorite people. He’s remarkable.”

Self recalled a project some years ago as an illustration of Dunnagan’s openness to multiple perspectives and disciplines. Students were challenged to build the optimal crash cart — the rolling storage unit of equipment and meds used in hospitals and other care settings — and Dunnagan viewed the project as a way to put together a variety of university disciplines. Applied materials, business and economics, engineering … no vantage point was left unexplored.

“It was fascinating to see what they designed,” Self said. “Spurring that creativity and helping the students of the COHS more holistically has certainly paid dividends.”

Leader in Idaho’s online healthcare education

College of Health Sciences leadership in online programs on the Blue turf
College of Health Sciences leadership in online programs on the Blue turf

Distance learning, at which the college has been highly successful both within the university and on a national level, is another example. “I think it speaks to Tim’s process of thought, and listening, and peering around corners,” Self said.

As Dunnagan wraps up projects and tackles the provost’s list, there is talk of a long trip to Scotland; he looks forward to travel and more time with his wife, Shawn, with excitement. There’s clearly more fly-fishing in the future — the Dunnagans have a dream property in Montana (and Tim’s father is a legend among the Yellowstone anglers, so he can credit both nature and nurture for his fishing prowess). A book is rumored to be in the works.

If that’s the case, it’s unlikely to cast its author in the starring role.

“I think he’s made a bigger impact than he knows, and I think we’ll miss him, truly, more than he recognizes,” Powers said.

“I’ve had a lot of great bosses — I’ve been so lucky — but none better than him.

“I hope people give him credit for building a beautiful college that people want to be a part of.”