A Long and Winding Road to Commencement

By Donna Emert

 

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – In a perfect world, students finish four-year degrees in four years or less.

 

But the real world is a much more demanding, heart rending, complicated place. It is a place where, arguably, an education should happen alongside a career, because a job is where the intellectual rubber hits the “Why do I need to know this?” road.

 

LouRinda Buttrey and Gina Dingman, who will graduate from University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene May 9, are very much of the real world.

 

Buttrey, who is the family and community partnership coordinator for the local Head Start program, will receive her bachelor’s degree in child development and family relations after 11 years of classes. Dingman, local Head Start Center supervisor, will receive the same degree after starting her associate’s degree program in 1991.

 

Both pursued their degrees as they worked fulltime in early child care and education, and sometimes, as they worked a full time job and additional part time gig.

 

Their simultaneous coursework and careers have allowed them to apply and test the knowledge they acquired.

 

As they pursued their education over the decades, they have experienced tragedy as well as triumph in their lives.

 

Dingman began taking courses at North Idaho College in 1991 and worked at the Children’s Center there as a preschool teacher, finishing her associate’s degree in child development during that time.

 

Tragically, the Dingmans lost their son, P.J., to a car accident in 1994. She took the following two and half years off. Dingman enrolled at University of Idaho in 2007.

 

In the last decade, her daughter and granddaughter moved into her home, and back out, a few times. Dingman, along with her husband of 29 years, Pat, have now opened their home to her sister and her sister’s 16 year-old son as they rebuild their lives.

 

Dingman relates these events with emotion, and summarizes with wistful understatement, “It’s been a tricky couple of decades,” she said.

 

Buttrey has two grown children and over the course of this last 10 years has welcomed two grandsons. She also is helping her partner, Mike, raise his son, now 18.

 

Dingman’s husband and Buttrey’s partner have provided them consistent encouragement.

 

“Mike has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, so he knows what that’s like to have homework at night and exams to study for, and he’s been extremely supportive,” said Buttrey.

 

At the beginning of her college career, Buttrey served as a family service coordinator for Head Start, serving as a preschool classroom teacher and providing home visits to work with families. In 2006, she was hired as Head Start center supervisor. In 2009, she moved up to her current family and community partnership coordinator position.

 

Their fellow students have been an asset along their journey, said Dingman.

 

“In many classes, there are freshmen, working child care professionals, people with far more education than I have, and others in different roles in child and adult care,” she said. “Bringing all of those perspectives together is so much more valuable than only getting other supervisors’ views.”

 

Their professors also have helped them navigate.

 

“Janice Fletcher, my adviser, has been extremely supportive in the guidance she has offered, even in the recommendation of particular electives that might best suit the field that I’m in so that the learning is relevant to my daily interactions,” said Buttrey. “She is aware of the practical application of the knowledge that I’m receiving.”

 

The admiration flows both ways.

 

“These two women are such good stewards in our community,” said Fletcher, University of Idaho professor of early childhood development at Coeur d’Alene. “They participate in the food bank, child abuse prevention, strengthening family efforts, homeless initiatives, art programs for children, foster parenting programs, and on and on. They represent what the University of Idaho hopes for our graduates in Family and Consumer Sciences.”

 

Dingman is the second of nine siblings to earn a college degree. Buttrey is the first of five. Neither have regrets about their education, or its duration.

 

“I would recommend it over doing a four-year program,” said Dingman. “I think the opportunity to put into practice what you’re learning embeds that knowledge deeper.”