Three generations of YVC alumni and faculty members share passion for education
Emilee Oldham grew up at Yakima Valley College. While her mother Rondi Oldham, an adjunct instructor in information technology, was teaching night classes in the Technology Complex, Emilee would sit in the back of the classroom doing homework.
Meanwhile, she’d take walks around the Yakima Campus with grandfather Lee Dibbert, an adjunct instructor in information technology and business technology.
When it came time to decide on where to go to college, YVC was the natural choice.
“I was one of those students who had no idea what they wanted to do when I started college, so doing my general education requirements here made sense,” Emilee said. “I loved the instructors here. I had the best time at YVC.”
After earning her associate degree from YVC, Emillee would go on to earn her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree while also launching her career. She’s also become the third generation in her family to teach at YVC, first as an adjunct instructor in late 2020 and then in Fall 2022 becoming a full-time instructor in business administration.
“It feels like I’ve never left,” Emilee said. “It definitely feels like home and that makes connecting with our community and students so rewarding.”
“It’s certainly a blessing to have both my father and daughter working in the same system with similar goals, values, issues and students.” — Rondi Oldham, adjunct instructor in information technology
Building a legacy
Like Emilee, both Lee Dibbert and Rondi Oldham are YVC alumni. Dibbert studied at the college from 1960 – 1962 before transferring to Central Washington University to earn his bachelor’s degree and master’s in education.
Dibbert started Yakima School District’s computer program in 1970 and taught classes for students in the district at the Skills Center on YVC’s campus. In 1983, the director of YVC’s information technology program reached out to cajole him into teaching courses as an adjunct instructor.
“It was an easy transition for me because I was already based there at the Skills Center,” Dibbert said. “I started teaching night classes and I’ve taught some class for the college nearly every quarter since I started.”
In the early years, that included an introduction to computers class using Apple II computers. Later, he started teaching classes on a variety of Microsoft Office applications for both the information technology and business technology programs.
In the late 1990s, Rondi Oldham joined her father on the college’s faculty. Also a YVC alum, Oldham was teaching Microsoft certification courses at Yakima’s Davis High School when she started teaching night courses as an adjunct instructor.
“One of the highlights of my teaching career at YVC that I have found rewarding is watching students develop skills and attitudes that will make them valuable employees in the highly competitive global workforce,” Rondi said. “Not only training them in technology but also employability skills and workforce readiness to be confident when they are applying for a job or in their careers.”
Despite her family connections, Emilee Oldham’s route back to the classroom wasn’t a straight line. After completing a bachelor’s degree at CWU, she worked as an admissions counselor and later in an alumni relations/advancement role for the institution. Emilee then went on to serve in project/program management roles for Amazon and Microsoft.
It was during that time she started teaching business technology courses at YVC as an adjunct.
“I loved the industry I was in, but I loved teaching more,” Emilee said. “There is just something about it that gives me joy.”
“Our students do not show up every week just to earn their degree; they are thirsty to learn and get connected with the community and industry professionals.” — Emilee Oldham, instructor in business administration
Contemplating her future, she decided to pursue her doctorate with the eventual goal of becoming a full-time faculty member. Then, after moving back to Yakima during the pandemic, the stars seemed to align when a full-time position opened in YVC’s business program.
“I decided to submit my application because this is my passion and felt like my life’s calling,” Emilee said. “I didn’t think making the jump to being a full-time faculty member was going to come as soon as it did, but it has been an absolute blessing and my dream job.”
As Emilee prepares her courses, she not only draws on her industry knowledge, but also through her experiences as a student and the connections she made with her instructors at YVC.
“I took several theater classes for electives and I absolutely loved Alicia Bickley’s courses,” she remembers. “They taught me a lot about communication. I still think about those drama classes and I bring in some of those pedagogies from drama into my classes.
“Dan Peters taught my English and poetry classes and I remember how he was so engaged with students. I think they are both great examples of how to interact with students and how to see people as individuals and not as numbers.”
While he retired from Yakima School District in 2000, Dibbert’s passion for teaching remains strong after more than half of century in the classroom.
“I’ve been a teacher since I was 22 years old, I just like kids. And I really like the age group from about 16 to 25,” Dibbert said. “I like watching them come into the classroom for the first time. Sometimes they couldn’t even turn on the computer and by the time the leave they’re accomplished and it is rewarding to see what your students have accomplished.”
Teaching isn’t a solitary activity, and Dibbert said the family takes advantage of that.
“We’re used to talking to each other,” he said. “We’re always planning something, trading notes on whether something worked or not. There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t trade some type of teaching technique.”
Rondi Oldham said working with family is one of the highlights of her YVC experience.
“It’s certainly a blessing to have both my father and daughter working in the same system with similar goals, values, issues and students,” she said. “We are able to share teaching strategies and educational philosophies and help each other when needed. I realize it is a rarity, but appreciate how wonderful this opportunity has been.”
Emilee said she benefits from her mother and grandfather’s expertise in curriculum development and integrating that with her own background in business management.
“It goes both ways. I was working on a final for my Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Management classes and was thinking about how to put together a rubric for that, so [my grandfather] helped me with that,” she said. “And then working with Microsoft and Amazon I would prepare weekly PowerPoint presentations, so he asked me to come in and talk to his students about why it’s so important to have this knowledge.”
Emilee agrees with her grandfather that YVC’s students make the college a special place.
“I love that YVC has so many nontraditional students,” she said. “Our students do not show up every week just to earn their degree; they are thirsty to learn and get connected with the community and industry professionals. A lot of them are working full-time and have families. These students are juggling a wide variety of activities, so I feel a real need to give my best to them every class.”