Adventurous professor likes to grab the bull by the horns

By Paul Harris

“I’ve never been bored in my life,” says Donita Whitney-Bammerlin. But then why would she be? A professor in the College of Business Administration at KSU, Whitney-Bammerlin has ridden a Brahma bull, has been an astronaut candidate, participated in the university’s Dancing With The Stars program, advises five student organizations, has been superintendent of a school district in Nebraska, and has taught in a one-room school house.

Whitney-Bammerlin’s thirst for adventure started at an early age.

“My parents are my first and greatest teachers,” she said. Growing up on a farm northwest of Manhattan, she said her father would find interest in the smallest of things.

“He would turn over a leaf and just look at the veins,” she said.

Whitney-Bammerlin was taught other important lessons growing up.

“My mom would always tell us, ‘I’m gonna tell you they can take everything away from you besides your experiences and memories, no matter where you are’,” Whitney-Bammerlin said. They also taught their daughter that she was neither better nor worse than anyone else. Her parents, who are in their 80s still work on the farm, despite having survived cancer.

These principles have carried Whitney-Bammerlin throughout her life and have made her a favorite among students.

One student on the website, said, “She was an awesome teacher! Every time I see her in the hallway, she remembers everything I have ever told her. She connects on a personal lever with each student.”

The business professor will even help clean up the bathroom after an event, flabbergasting her students.

“Students will say they can’t believe I’m cleaning the bathroom,” she said.

It’s not only her principles that her students relate to, but her experiences.

She was a state finalist for the teacher in space program, which trains teachers as astronauts, worked as a superintendent for the Keyapaha County schools in northern Nebraska, taught for six years in a one-room school house early in her career, and participated in “Dancing with the K-State Stars” in 2009.

The five programs she advises are Students in Free Enterprise, Collegiate Agri-Women, Golden Key International Honor Society, and two fraternities, Phi Kappa Theta and Phi Gamma Delta.

Whitney-Bammerlin also has first-hand experience with both rural and urban lifestyles, having lived in large cities including Omaha, Chicago, and St. Louis, as well as small towns in Nebraska and Kansas.

“If I have a student who hates the city, I can relate,” the professor said. “I can also relate to a student who says, ‘I hate the farm.’”

She suspects other professors often have a narrower window of experiences to draw from. 

By relating to her students, Whitney-Bammerlin is able to develop relationships that go beyond the classroom.

“I still receive Christmas cards from students,” she said. “I want to create a family atmosphere in my class.”

If a student misses class because of an illness in the family, Whitney-Bammerlin will follow up with that student to make sure everything is ok.

“I will just do that because I care,” she said.

Her goal at the end of each semester is not to have a certain number of A’s, but she wants to “make heroes out of every student.”

“You want them to be successful,” she said. “One of them may be our defense attorney or ... our brain surgeon.”

Despite Whitney-Bammerlin’s positive energy, her life has not been without setbacks.

She worked as a volunteer firefighter in Nebraska and responded to her own house fire.

The house was so badly burned that the fire chief and the assistant never got out their hoses. Once Whitney-Bammerlin got to the house, the fire chief and his assistant took a hard swallow and said, “I’m sorry, Donita.”

The only thing she had left were the clothes on her back.

Her response: “People fled to this country to be free and worship as they please and the only thing they owned was the clothes on their backs. Well, I’ve got the clothes on my back and I’m in a free country and I worship as I doggone please.”

The tragedy helped reiterate to her the unimportance of wealth.

“Money would not have stopped the fire,” she said. “We are not here on this earth to earn money, we are here to be servants to others.”

It also helped develop a strong sense of determination that never allows her to say I can’t.

Despite all of her experience, Whitney-Bammerlin is still learning.

“I never know what experience I can come across tomorrow,” she said. “My students have world experience and talent I will never have.”

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