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Graduate combines passion for trolleys and sustainability

May 03, 2010

When she was 19 and a sophomore at Arizona State University, Margaret Dunn took a part-time job driving trolleys. The job became her life's passion, and a year later Dunn left school to start her own trolley business, promising herself that she would one day complete her degree. That was 1985.

Fast forward to 2010. Dunn is graduating May 13th with a Bachelor of Arts degree from ASU's School of Sustainability, and her venture – Ollie the Trolley – is preparing to celebrate 25 years in business. What began with one trolley for hire at special events is now a Local First transportation company with a fleet of trolleys and motor coaches serving a ridership of more than a quarter-million annually. Dunn Transportation, as the company is now known, offers city tours, holiday lights excursions, corporate outings, fundraisers, and – of course – trolley rides for private events. The company also serves as the official trolley operator of the City of Scottsdale’s Downtown and Neighborhood Connector Trolleys with more than 500,000 boardings in 2009.

When Dunn decided to come back to school two years ago, she was managing a growing business and raising her 7-year-old son. Two things that required a full-time commitment.

"Coming back to school seemed crazy," Dunn said. "At first, I just wanted to check an item off my 'bucket list,' get a degree. Who would have known that my dream of acquiring a degree would turn into my second lifetime passion, sustainability?"

And a passion it surely is. During the past two years, Dunn has managed to carry a full course load in the School of Sustainability while completely redesigning her business model. Her fleet now runs on bio-diesel. The company has implemented water-saving measures and a recycling program.

But the initiative Dunn is most proud of began as a paper for a sustainability class. The assignment was to create a grassroots sustainability initiative and was inspired by the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

Thus began "Rosemary: Connecting Inner-City Kids to Nature."

Named for Dunn's mother, who suffers from advanced dementia, the program transports inner-city youth from Phoenix on nature outings to locations such as the Desert Botanical Gardens and the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center. For some of the kids, it is their first field trip ever. Dunn has seen firsthand how Rosemary has become "an incredible gift to the kids in the Valley."

As a business owner, Dunn currently serves on the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, and as a board member for Valley Forward, where she will chair the transportation committee. She formerly served on the city’s Ethics Committee and held commissioner’s posts on the city’s Tourism Development Commission, Planning Commission and Transportation Commission. In 2009, Dunn was selected as one of the Top 25 Women Businesswomen of the Year by Phoenix Business Journal as well as a Woman of Excellence by Phoenix Woman magazine.

As a new sustainability graduate, she promises to carry the sustainability torch through her continuing education – Dunn will begin the Executive MBA program at ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business this fall.

"The School of Sustainability has opened my mind to a new world of possibilities and opportunities," she said. "Dreams have come to fruition. I never thought I would actually be wearing this cap and gown."