This sixth-generation Texan is quick to tell any woman that if you want something bad enough, you can go out and get it. As the Outreach Coordinator for the Engineering and Computer Science Department at WTAMU and the President of the Amarillo Women’s Network, Rhonda Dittfurth is living proof that a mother of three can achieve higher education, a place of position and personal achievement as long as there is drive and determination.
“You know, my dad said, ‘You’re never too female to do what you want,’” says Rhonda. “I remember when I was in the eighth grade on a Friday Daddy bought me a shotgun and on Saturday my mom bought me a formal dress. It reminds me of that quote that women can do anything men can do but we can do it in heels dancing backwards.”
It is this philosophy that carried Rhonda through raising three children, going back to school in later years to get her master’s degree in communications (and currently working on a second master’s degree in history – just because she wants to), and going after a job in a department she knew little about, engineering.
Her career history is diverse, starting with a part time position as a reporter for a newspaper in Higgins, Texas, upon graduating from West Texas A&M University in 1982. Rhonda spent 23 years in Higgins raising her children, Loyd, 26, Joe, 23 and Mary, 18, writing part time and working at the Quickstop. By 2001, she was ready for a change.
“I decided I wanted to teach on the college level, so I started driving to WT two to three days a week and kept working at the Quickstop,” she says. “I got my master’s and moved to Amarillo in September 2005 so I could be closer to higher institutions.”
Before the Outreach Coordinator’s position landed in her lap in 2008, Rhonda held a sales position with the Amarillo Dillas, a perfect marrying of her professional abilities and love of baseball. Yet, in keeping with her long-term goal to teach, Rhonda moved on to the Engineering and Computer Science Department at WTAMU three years later.
Her role within the department requires only basic understanding of the subject matter since Rhonda is responsible for improving communication between engineers, talking to prospective students and organizing an annual summer camp. She also teaches a number of speech classes, which by fall semester will be geared specifically for engineering majors.
“I basically talk to people about engineering. I help others to see what careers are available in engineering, especially in the Panhandle,” says Rhonda. Her responsibilities within the department also require grant writing and weaving in the importance of effective communication within class curriculum.
It was while Rhonda was still with the Dillas that she encountered the Amarillo Women’s Network. She was on a sales call with now-fellow member Irma Heras and was invited to attend a lunch. The AWN began in 1980 with a group of ladies who met for lunch during the work week. The number of attendees grew quickly and the starting members knew they were onto something.
“In 1980, women weren’t recognized for anything but being secretaries,” says Rhonda, who became the president of the organization in May 2009. She’s currently starting her second term. “The first mission they had was to spotlight was women were doing in the workplace with achievement awards. Networking is so valuable but not just for work. Now, the network is like a family unit.”
Rhonda has a passion to impact the lives of women not only through the AWN but also at WT. Studies have shown that by age 10, girls start to shy away from math and sciences, but that door, according to Rhonda, is wide open for them.
“In today’s world, a girl can triple her chances for a scholarship in these fields,” she says. “Amarillo has progressed, but women still shy away from jobs they perceive to be male-dominated. I still hear students say that only men can do this or that. But there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the light bulb go off. It’s a challenge and a responsibility.”
When I get in my car, the first thing I listen to is… depending on the time of day, either the EAGLE or HPPR.
My friends and family call me… either Mom or Rhonda. My dad always called me Baliver B (seems I wiggled a lot when I was learning to walk).
My favorite meal to make from scratch is… bread. I love making bread. The kneading is therapeutic for me and there is nothing better than fresh, hot, homemade bread and butter. Add a glass of buttermilk and it’s a meal.
In an alternate life, I would’ve been… an engineer. Working with engineering students at WTAMU has really opened my eyes to all the possibilities there are out there. If I was ten years younger, I would be headed back to school to pursue engineering as a career.
The most famous or interesting person I’ve ever met is… I actually didn’t meet him but when I was in college at WTSU, I did a phone interview with Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, a true gentleman.
If I had an open plane ticket to anywhere, I would go to… Chicago, to see another Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field.
After a long, hard day, I love to… sit on the porch and listen to the sounds of sunset.
One of my favorite childhood toys was… I guess I am not grown up yet because it is still books! At four I carried one everywhere, at fifty – there’s one in my car, one by my chair and one in my briefcase. If I have five minutes, I am reading.
One movie I could watch over and over again is… ”For Love of the Game” with Kevin Costner.
If I were a character in a book, I would be… if it was a murder/mystery I would probably be the first victim.
The greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received is… ”No matter how you feel when you walk out the door, put a smile on your face and keep it there. You will find that in 30 minutes, it’s “naturally” there and your day will be a lot better.
When my children grow up, the one thing I want them to always remember is… whatever you do in life you should enjoy doing it at least 70 percent of the time. If you don’t, then find something else to do. Life is too short to be miserable.
You may be surprised to know that I… do pastel paintings. Someday I will get brave enough to try oils.
One habit I wish I could break is… speaking before I listen.
My guilty pleasure is… one word – chocolate!
I know every word to the song… “American Pie.”
If I had the time, I would… drive down every road in Texas and stop in every town.
My favorite bad-for-me-food is… hands down, the Texas Enchilada’s at Leal’s. Well, that coupled with those awesome chips, forgive me Victor, I leave nothing on the plate!
When I get online, I always go to…email first.
The most unique place I’ve ever traveled to is… New Orleans.
The thing I love the most about living in Amarillo is… the people. They are not just friendly but more than willing to lend a helping hand to those in need and to worthy causes. If you need it, ask! Someone will help.
by Jennie Treadway-Miller
Jennie was a columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press for eight years prior to moving to Amarillo in 2008. She is an avid reader, runner and writer.