Former Francis Marion student now a professor

Photo by: Hannah Maltry

Mary Dittman, a marketing instructor at FMU, gives credit to serendipity for bringing her to Florence and the university, and says that she would not have it any other way.

Alexis M. Johnson, Staff Writer

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Serendipity is defined as a “seeming gift for finding good things accidentally.” It was exactly this phenomenon that led FMU Instructor of Marketing Mary R. Dittman to where she is now.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., Dittman’s youth was different from many others because her father was in the military.

“Because we moved around every three or four years, I never grew up around a set of kids,” Dittman said.  “Some of my friends say, ‘We’ve known each other since kindergarten,’ but I don’t have that.”

After graduating from high school in Fla., Dittman spent her first post-secondary years at Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Niceville, Florida. Like many other college students, Dittman changed her major several times, initially starting out as a pre-law major.

While attending community college, she experienced a serendipitous moment while channel surfing one day at home.

“I was watching a TV show, and it was about this woman who was a buyer at Macy’s department store,” Dittman said.  “She went to market to figure out what kind of clothes and shoes they’d have, and I watched that TV show and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be a buyer!”’

As a result of this epiphany, Dittman changed her major to fashion merchandising. However, a few disasters with a sewing course, a core class for the major, put a brief hindrance in her plans, but another core class for the major was where she found her forte.

“Part of that fashion merchandising major was taking a marketing class, which is kind of equivalent of our Marketing 331 here,” Dittman said. “And I took that marketing class, and I was hooked.”

Finally settling on a major, Dittman attended the University of Nevada at Reno, where she pursued a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in marketing.

Out of college, Dittman took a job as a promotion representative for Up With People, which according to her is “a non-profit education program that is best known for its international music show.”

Following her promotion to Special Projects Manager at Up With People, Dittman accepted a job as marketing manager at the Florence Morning News.  Following this opportunity, Dittman secured a job at Esab Cutting and Welding as a marketing manager. However, chance showed itself again, and her life was changed for a second time.

Dittman learned that the corporation had an education program that allowed employees to receive their master’s degree fully paid. However, Dittman’s strong dislike of school nearly prevented her from starting the MBA program at Francis Marion University. It was a personal acquaintance that finally convinced her in the end.

“The guy I was dating was starting the MBA program, and he said, ‘You should do the MBA program,'” Dittman said. “I said, ‘I hate school!'”

Despite this reaction, further convincing that the program was free and that she would have mutual support finally convinced her that she should enter the program.

Drawing closer to the completion of the degree and planning to make a move to the west coast when she finished, Dittman’s life course was changed yet again during her last class of the degree.

During a conversation with a classmate and dean of the business school, Dittman learned that the department was in need of new marketing professors, and as graduation grew closer, she was encouraged to turn in her résumé.

Dittman was offered a one-year position to teach a class at night, and after much hesitancy because of her vow never to become a teacher, among other factors, she finally accepted the job.

After her first year, her job was at risk two times, once because of a budget and hiring issue, and again due to the chance of someone with a doctorate degree replacing her. After a third offer to teach Business 150, she finally settled into her current position.

“A one-year contract, and I’m finishing up my eleventh year,” Dittman said.

Dittman has a unique perspective of FMU because she has been both a student and an instructor. She says the open door policy of the professors, unlike that of her undergraduate institution, is one of her favorite things about the university.

“One of the things I like about FMU is that the faculty is a lot more accessible,” Dittman said.  “And I think that gives the students more opportunity to connect, get help if they need it or have a listening ear.”

As far as teaching, Dittman enjoys interacting with students and watching them transform over the course of their college years.

“I really enjoy getting to know the students, and it’s really fun for me because I teach a lot of freshman,” Dittman said. “So I meet them their first semester on campus, and I get to watch as they grow and develop.”

Dittman also interacts with many students outside of the classroom. As director of the internship program at the school of business, faculty advisor of Zeta Tau Alpha and founder of the FMU chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, she is continuously reaching out to students.

Dittman became faculty advisor of the sorority around 2003 when they were in need of a new advisor. While she is not a member of Zeta Tau Alpha, she enjoys being advisor for many of the same reasons she enjoys teaching.

“I really enjoy working with that organization because I get to interact with a whole group of students who aren’t business majors that I would never get to interact with otherwise,” Dittman said.

Dittman started the FMU chapter Delta Sigma Pi, which according to her is the “largest co-ed business fraternity in the world,” as a result of her own experiences.

“I was in Delta Sigma Pi in college, and it was the best part of my college experience,” Dittman said. “When I came to FMU, I wanted to start a chapter; there were only two other South Carolina chapters: USC and Clemson.”

Dittman hesitated about starting the chapter because of the uncertainty of her holding her job, but finally decided to take the chance.

“It took us about four years from the time I wrote the first letter of inquiry to the time we were installed as a chapter,” Dittman said.

As with her teaching, Dittman loves seeing students emerge as leaders in the organization.

“I’ve seen so many of our students grow and change and really develop into really good leaders,” Dittman said. “It’s almost like watching a caterpillar and a butterfly.”

Dittman is also very active in the community. Besides volunteering her time around Florence, serving on the board of directors for the Young Professionals of Florence and the new performing arts center, she also spends a great deal of time writing for the Pee Dee Business Journal, She Magazine and Pink Magazine, located in Hilton Head.

“I enjoy it because it’s kind of a way to plug into the community,” Dittman said. “I can’t write a check for $100,000, but maybe I can write a marketing plan.”

Outside of her busy academic life, Dittman enjoys going to the symphony, baking, exercising, hanging with friends, going to the movies and sports.

She loves sports so much that she plans to spend this year’s Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by it.

“My goal is Thanksgiving Day, I’ll be sitting in Cowboys Stadium,” Dittman said. “My Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a pretzel in the stadium, and the next day, I’m going shopping in Dallas.”

Dittman also loves FMU sports although she admits she does not always know the rules.

“I like going to our basketball games,” Dittman said. “I love our volleyball games, but I don’t understand anything I see. I will sit there with my iPhone and pull up the NCAA volleyball regulations.”

Dittman has not had much free time because of her consulting work in marketing, advertising and sales training.

“I have got more work right now than I can almost do, but I love it,” Dittman said.

She has a wide range of businesses and institutions that she consults for.

“I have two restaurants I’m doing marketing for right now, a financial institution in Columbia, writing a business plan for a business that wants to expand from Florence into Myrtle Beach and a major corporation has hired me to help them with their social network strategy,” Dittman said.

Dittman has also found the time to learn French for an upcoming trip to France in May with some of her business students and other FMU students.

The serendipity effect has played quite a role in the life of Dittman. Without it, she may have never gone from aspiring fashion merchandiser to teacher. And as fate would have it, Dittman is not only where she is destined to be, but where she wants to be.

“Someone asked me if I couldn’t do marketing what I would do,” Dittman said. “I said, ‘Nothing.'”

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