Westmont Magazine The Start of a New Science
The biggest challenge Dale Ritter ’64 faces is getting students interested in the sciences. Many are re-entering the education system after being laid off from the timber industry. Some have little expectation of graduating because they performed so poorly in high school. But once students take his chemistry classes at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Roseburg, Ore., Dale hopes they seize the opportunity to change their lives for the better. Dale wants to help.
As a full-time chemistry professor and chair of the science department, Dale enjoys watching students turn their lives around.
“To see their faces when a light bulb turns on about a subject they never thought they could handle is like, ‘Wow! This is what God really wanted me to do after all!’” Dale says. “I enjoy watching their faces turn from scared-to-death to triumphal.”
Many of his students come from families without college educations or the financial resources to attend college. Through a federal program called TOP, Dale tries to instill a sense of wonder and self-worth, encouraging students to continue their education.
TOP (Transfer Opportunity Program) provides services and peer mentoring to eligible students who plan to transfer to a four-year university. This year Dale became the first professor to receive the TOP Spirit award from UCC students.
To make classes interesting, Dale uses demonstrations and experiments with practical applications. Students get hands-on experience with real-world science to dispel the stereotype that science is little more than memorizing boring material from a dry textbook. Humorous stories garnered from 40 years of teaching add to the appeal of his classes.
Dale didn’t start out at a community college. After graduating from Westmont, he earned a doctorate in chemistry from Oregon State University in Corvallis. He spent nine years teaching at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, before discovering UCC.
Roger Dejmal ’63, Dale’s classmate, taught at UCC and suggested that Dale and his wife, Toni, visit the campus. They loved it and have been there ever since.
“Westmont provided good training,” says Dale. “Dr. Floyd Rawlings allowed me to teach in a lab setting. That’s when I found out I’d rather teach than do research.”
Working in higher education is a Ritter family tradition. Vernon Ritter, Dale’s father, served as Westmont’s librarian and a religious studies professor. Dale’s eldest daughter, Debbie, taught at Seattle Central Community College and the University of Washington. Sadly, she recently died of breast cancer.
“Our family was hit hard,” Dale says. “We’d have been really hurting if it hadn’t been for our Christian roots.” Dale has spent 25 years as a youth and college group sponsor with the First Conservative Baptist Church. “The college group backpacking trips in the mountains have really helped with the grief and loss,” he says. “Serving is a main influence in all our lives.”
Dale and Toni have two sons. David ’99 and his wife Mary Easley Ritter ’02 both graduated from Westmont and attend Loma Linda University Medical School. Mark, who went to Seattle Pacific University, is an assistant manager for a store in San Diego.