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How Boise State prepared alumna Shawna Dunn for a career as a prosecuting attorney

Alumna Shawna Dunn in front of the Ada County Courthouse

To help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Honors College, we’re profiling select alumni on how an honors education helped shape their personal and professional successes. Submit your own memories of the college by visiting: Honors College: Share Your Story

Boise State alumna Shawna Dunn knew with the kind of conviction unique to childhood that she would grow up to be a lawyer. For the past 22 years, Dunn has worked behind the scenes to keep Boise residents safe as an Ada County prosecuting attorney – most recently as the chief criminal deputy of Ada County.

“Every aspect of being a trial attorney appealed to me from an early age,” she said. “The debater in me loved the public speaking, the adrenaline burst before you talk in public.”

Dunn, a Boise native, chose to attend Boise State in 1989 because of strong connections she made with the university’s speech and debate team, the Talkin’ Broncos. “I was debating in high school and I was lucky enough to be embraced by the Boise State debate team. It made the transition a ton easier,” she said.

When she was invited to join Boise State’s Honors College, acceptance was a no-brainer. “I always liked to challenge myself and I saw honors as another opportunity to do that – having that relationship with other people who will challenge you and push to make you think.”

Dunn now oversees a team of attorneys that collectively handled almost 7,000 criminal cases last year. Her team deals with cases that concern the most brutal aspects of humanity: domestic violence, child abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault and homicide. They strive to provide compassion and dignity for the victims they serve, as well as justice. They accomplish this by leveraging meaningful partnerships with law enforcement, local nonprofits and other stakeholders.

For instance, the office is part of a holistic model for victims of interpersonal violence. Victims visit the Faces of Hope Victim Center to meet with the detectives, nurses and the prosecutor that will oversee their cases. The one-stop approach prevents the stress and chaos of visiting multiple offices for related interviews. The Ada County Domestic Violence Court – which offers expedited case processing and a more personalized approach to domestic violence cases – made Dunn’s office a national model for similar programs.

Dunn’s unwavering sense of humanity for her colleagues, for victims and for the individuals she prosecutes, helps her excel. “There’s no reason we need to abandon humanity while we work,” she said.

Dunn joined the prosecuting attorney’s office in 1997 following graduation from Willamette University College of Law in 1995 and a clerkship with the Honorable Judge Darrel R. Perry of the Idaho Court of Appeals. She noted that Boise State’s honors seminars helped prepare her for the rigors of law school.

“I remember that first day in law school, wondering if I wasn’t going to keep up,” she said. “But I figured out pretty early on that with my work ethic and the education I got at Boise State – I was just fine. I had a perfectly solid foundation to compete with people from expensive private schools, coast to coast.”

This fall, Dunn stepped back on campus in a new role: as the mother of an incoming freshman, living in the Honors College dorm. Following family tradition, her son has joined the Talkin’ Broncos.

For more information on the Honors College 50th anniversary, visit: Honors College: Inspired