CALS Alumna Makes Her Educational Dreams a Reality
When Christina Dingman was growing up in Kingston, Idaho, she was often told that a college education was out of her reach and that the most she could hope for would be a minimum wage job.
Dingman, 41, proved her doubters wrong by earning a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
In grade school, Dingman struggled with an undiagnosed learning disorder, often being shuffled between regular and resource classes. By the time she graduated from high school she was reading at a fifth-grade level. Dingman was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, but her disability goes beyond a traditional dyslexic diagnosis. She can’t sound out words and can only read around 70-80 percent of words.
“I don’t actually read, I see things by sight and know what they mean,” Dingman said. “I can’t even sound out words. I have to hear them and hear them as I see them, then I learn sometimes how to say them, sometimes not. But I recognize a word and I know the meaning of the word.”
Determined to show her naysayers that a college education was obtainable with her disability, Dingman decided to enroll at North Idaho College after graduating from high school in 1995. But her disability prevented her from continuing on her second year.
“I was provided with more resources that helped with my disabilities,” Dingman said. “I was supplied with books on tape and extended testing times away from the other students. I may have been a C student, but I was holding my own until I had to pass the English competency exam.”
The competency exam was required for Dingman to move on to English 102 and involved writing an essay in a specified amount of time. Dingman took the exam three times but was unable to get a passing grade.
“At this point, I thought maybe I was wrong and wouldn’t be able to get a degree,” Dingman said.
Excelling in the Workforce
“I knew I wanted an education, that’s something that I have always wanted,” Dingman said. “I wanted to better myself and I wanted to have a career that I felt good about and was going to challenge me.”
Dingman withdrew from NIC and took a job in Liberty Lake, Washington, working in telephone customer service for a pharmaceutical company. Dingman worked her way up in the company and eventually began traveling to different sites to train others on the company’s customer service systems.
“I liked it, but I got bored because it was a little too easy for me,” Dingman said. “I discovered that I was far from stupid. I was quite intelligent even though that’s not how it was portrayed to me all my life. I actually had very valuable skills. I learned even more ways to work around my disabilities.”
In 2013, the company relocated and Dingman lost her job. She decided that she needed to go back to school and fulfill her goal of earning a degree. But, she was also raising her two young sons and couldn’t work full-time, attend school and be a single parent. She eventually cashed in her 401(k) to help support her family and her education.
Achieving Her Goal
Dingman enrolled at NIC again, with the intent to pursue a nutrition or dietetics degree. She developed an interest in this area while working for the pharmaceutical company and realizing how important nutrition was to help limit the need of expensive medications.
“When I went back to school, I don’t know if it was me that had changed because I had a better attitude about myself, or if the instructors changed, because school was a heck of a lot easier,” Dingman said. “The instructors were a lot more willing to help. Everything was recorded so even though I could go to class and listen to them live, I could go home and re-listen to them and pick up extra stuff.”
Dingman graduated from NIC with an associate’s degree in 2016, and applied to the University of Idaho to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences. Dingman was able to complete her degree through distance and in-person courses offered through U of I’s Coeur d’Alene center.
“All the instructors were extremely helpful,” Dingman said. “They put so much time and effort into their students that I got the help I needed at a moment’s notice, no matter if I was a distance student or not. By the time I was in the program I had learned so many words and I had fine-tuned my writing practices. There were more and more tools out there to help someone with disabilities.”
Dingman completed her degree from U of I in December 2017 and is looking for a career in youth sports nutrition or working with low-income families to improve nutrition.
“I believe nutritional education needs to be provided to communities that do not have resources to provide it to themselves,” Dingman said. “It is my goal to work with the local school systems and also the low-income population.”
Earning her bachelor’s degree has validated what Dingman already knew – that she is intelligent and has more to offer her community.
“Smarts is not always how you test,” Dingman said. “You can still do a good job even if you have reading or writing difficulties. You can never judge someone by an exam.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in April 2018