Dancing, Emmys and Oprah: Colleen Dunnegan is Living Her Dream
By Craig DeVrieze '16 MOL
It was not a serious question, but Colleen Dunnegan '02 graciously took it as such.
Question being: Which is a more significant piece of Dunnegan's LinkedIn bio? Her lead production role on Oprah Winfrey's three-time Emmy Award-winning SuperSoul Sunday program, or her status as a founding member of a powerhouse St. Ambrose competitive dance team?
"You know what?" she replied in earnest. "They are both so special in two different ways."
Nice of her to say, but let's concede upfront that her award-winning work with Winfrey's talented team definitely is more relevant to Dunnegan's growing profile in the television production and strategic communications industries.
And certainly more enriching to the lives of others-a common mission for Team Oprah and Ambrose.
"The Emmy nomination is such an honor," said Dunnegan, who in April walked the Daytime Emmy red carpet with the production team of a program nominated for Outstanding Special Class Series for the fifth time in seven years. "Our team worked so hard to create content that would inspire and be meaningful to people, help people live a better life and have more compassion for everybody around them."
SuperSoul Sunday was nominated for the same honor in 2016 and won the statue in 2017 , 2014 and 2012.
Dunnegan's professional association with Winfrey began in 2003, just a little less than a year after she graduated from St. Ambrose with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations and Marketing Communications. Her fascination with the talk show host and actress began while watching The Oprah Winfrey Show weekday afternoons growing up in DeWitt, Iowa.
It is certainly fair to call it a fascination, by the way. Dunnegan decided before she left SAU that she someday would work on Winfrey's show. She took an internship in Chicago immediately after her graduation, intent on networking her way onto Winfrey's set at Harpo Studios in the city's West Loop.
"When I first started telling people my goal was to work for Oprah Winfrey, I received a lot of strange looks since I didn't even know anyone who lived in Chicago," she said. "I ignored all of that because I felt with every fiber of my being that I was meant to work on the show."
After her determination earned that opportunity, Dunnegan's talent, creativity and abilities helped her assume increasingly larger roles in the production. She went from research coordinator upon arrival to senior associate producer when Winfrey ended her widely syndicated daytime show in 2011.
Dunnegan then put her SAU public relations degree to work as senior associate for media relations at Northwestern Medicine for two years before rejoining Winfrey and other former Harpo Studios associates as a producer for SuperSoul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
In 2016, she got engaged, moved to San Francisco and launched a freelance business as a producer and creative strategist. Producing SuperSoul Sunday on a contract basis is among the work she has been doing on her own. Most recently, Dunnegan helped create the PBS series #MeToo, Now What?
To say chasing her dream has worked out would be an all-time understatement, and Dunnegan's advice to succeeding generations of Ambrosians is to fearlessly chase dreams of their own.
"I would say aim high, have a lot of grit, and try to view your challenges as opportunities," she said.
Dunnegan found opportunity in the availability of SAU faculty during her college career. "I formed close relationships with most of my teachers and the one-on-one interaction was crucial to my development. I felt like I was constantly being pushed to do better every single day," she said. "I brought that to The Oprah Winfrey Show and I think that's part of why I was successful."
Circling back to that not-so-serious question at the outset, Dunnegan won't take credit for an SAU dance program that has won four national titles in the past seven years. But she is proud to have been there at the start and excited about the team's success.
"I know the dance team is just killing it right now," she said, adding with all sincerity, "I am proud to be in that St. Ambrose dance family. It has been really exciting watching them grow through the years."