WC Alumnus Builds Career as Civil Engineering Professor on a Firm Foundation
By Laura Fitzpatrick, Staff Writer
David Dittenber (WC ’03) fondly remembers playing the role of beloved WC math teacher Mark Pifer in a chapel skit during his senior year, complete with fake mustache and his thumb hooked through his belt loop while working at the board. Just five years after that humorous skit, Dittenber found himself feeling as if he was playing Mr. Pifer all over again, only with a class full of students of his own.
After graduating from WC, Dittenber moved to Longview, Texas, where he completed an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at LeTourneau University (LETU). He credits the academic rigor of WCHS, particularly the math department under the leadership of Pifer, with setting him on course for success in his studies at the university level. He spent an unexpected year after graduating from LETU teaching high school math and science at a private Christian school there in Longview. It was there that he discovered his love for teaching.
Dittenber’s year of teaching high school inspired him to pursue teaching at the college level. He moved to West Virginia where he earned a master’s degree in Civil/Structural engineering and a doctorate in Civil Engineering from West Virginia University. While earning these advanced degrees, he was funded as a Graduate Research Fellow with the National Science Foundation, which supported his research developing natural fiber reinforced composites for structural applications. It was also during this time that Dittenber married his wife, Rachel.
He and Rachel moved from West Virginia back to Longview in 2013, returning to his alma mater, LeTourneau, to be a civil engineering professor. Rachel works as a nurse as a local hospital there. Since that time five years ago, Dittenber has taught courses ranging from Structural Analysis and Dynamics to Design of Wood Structures and Cornerstones. He is now a tenured associate professor and the Chair of the Civil Engineering program. He also works with some students on undergraduate research projects, such as an initiative called “The SafeHome Project,” dedicated to finding housing solutions for use in the wake of disasters.
As an engineer, Dittenber has had the opportunity to travel to India, Kenya, and Senegal to host professional training and troubleshoot local engineering problems there. He is hoping to visit some refugee camps in Lebanon this summer as a part of his disaster relief housing work.
Of his career field, Dittenber says, “Civil engineers get an opportunity to share in the creative experience with Christ the Creator, participate in God’s redemptive work on the earth, and serve people by helping provide them with safe solutions to their most fundamental needs.” For his students, he strives hard to display the same balance of academic rigor and caring he saw modeled by teachers at WC.
He also does much to invest in students outside the classroom. An active member of his local church, he has led many small groups for students over the years. He and Rachel enjoy opening their home to LETU students. He is also a faculty sponsor for several student activities on campus, including the American Society of Civil Engineers chapter and the Habitat for Humanity student club.
Dittenber credits God’s faithfulness and guidance with leading him to where he is today. Although he had no idea that playing a math teacher for a skit as a high school senior was somewhat prophetic, he knows the LORD laid out that course for him. He explains, “I couldn’t have come up with this plan on my own, but God made the path straight for me, and I do my best to walk it faithfully.”
Among Christian universities, LeTourneau was the first to offer accredited engineering degrees and has one of the largest engineering programs. The university was founded by R.G. LeTourneau, a Christian inventor and businessman, who was responsible for many innovations in construction equipment and was a huge proponent of the idea that God needs businessmen and technical professionals. Anyone interested in learning more about opportunities at LeTourneau can email Dr. Dittenber.