When first-generation college graduate Dustin Bruner ’16 started his career at Centre College, he had a concrete idea of where his life was headed. But by the time he received his Centre diploma after graduating in May, his life—and his interests—had changed drastically.
Bruner had every intention of pursuing pre-med studies to become a doctor when he enrolled at Centre. But the variety of classes he took began to change his mind.
“I had a dream and wanted to make it come true and Centre seemed to be the right place to do it,” he says. “But while at Centre, I was challenged and changed. I have grown in the best ways possible and learned what my true passion is: forests and nature and how we interact with it. I find it very intriguing to understand and have a connection with nature.”
As Bruner took more environmental science courses, the subject matter continued to come to life.
“It was no longer work to study for my major classes because I enjoyed them so much—especially conservation biology and freshwater ecology,” he says. “These classes transformed my thinking about the environment we live in.”
Bruner was also involved outside the classroom as a Bonner Scholar. The Bonner Program, founded in 1990 by The Bonner Foundation, gives 60 students at Centre real-world opportunities to alleviate poverty and improve education through active community service and civic engagement.
Centre is one of 87 American colleges and universities with a Bonner Scholars Program.
Bruner credits the program and his Bonner peers with helping him become the person he wanted to be.
“While in this program, I have certainly been transformed into a more thoughtful and aware person,” Bruner says of the Bonner Scholars. “I made lifelong friends who encouraged me to never give up. In the end, it brought me back to life by reminding me of the values I carry true to my heart and allowed me to be myself without judgment.”
As if finding his calling and making best friends at Centre weren’t enough, Bruner also had the honor of becoming a first-generation college graduate when he received his diploma—an achievement he and his family do not take for granted.
“To be a first-generation graduate feels amazing. I’ve made the people around me proud and I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “Family is one of the main reasons that I have gotten where I am. If I didn’t have their encouragement, I couldn’t have done it.”
Bruner plans to earn a master’s degree in wildlife ecology and natural resource management, and he hopes to potentially work for the Department of Fish and Wildlife or the National Parks Service in the future. Whatever his future holds, Bruner knows that Centre helped get him ready.
“I feel that the faculty and staff in the biology and environmental studies programs certainly prepared me for the next step in life,” he says. “They did their part by assisting me and offering constructive criticism that has put me well on my way to being successful in the field.
“I have learned the value of a liberal arts education,” Bruner adds. “It has been worth it.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
June 23, 2016