When Jared Dittmer enrolled in Union College’s education program, he felt he had discovered his calling. But upon taking the Concepts of Wellness course, Dittmer changed—for the better.

He went from being too self-conscious to even walk into a gym to twice running the 13.2-mile Lincoln half-marathon. And, he lost more than 60 pounds while at Union.

“I had this ah-ha moment in Concepts where I realized everything just came down to taking care of myself,” he said. “I remember being told to treat my body like a temple. I realized being unhealthy wasn’t being true to myself.”

Dittmer first learned about Union College from a coworker. In 2009 Dittmer was studying at Southeast Community College and wrestling between two choices: continue at SCC and become a surgical technician, or enroll in a bachelor’s program to become a teacher.

While discussing his dilemma at work, Union College alum Dylan Wren suggested looking into Union’s education program.

“When he told me how personal the school was, that people actually knew each other, I was hooked,” said Dittmer. Although he wasn’t familiar with the Adventist faith tradition, Dittmer appreciated Union’s Christian values.

Learning healthy living

His first year, Dittmer took Concepts of Wellness, taught by Health and Human Performance Director Dr. Nancy Petta. After seeing his blood test results, Dittmer decided it was time to make some changes. “I just didn’t realize how unhealthy I was,” he said.

First, he cut out soda. Living right across from the gas station, Dittmer used to drink four 52-ounce sodas a day.

“I couldn’t believe how much pure sugar I was drinking till I saw it,” he said, referring to Dr. Petta’s class demonstration showing 10 teaspoons of sugar in one soda.

From there the healthy living concepts started to click. As part of the class, students are required to exercise for 12 weeks. Dittmer decided to try running.

At first, Dittmer couldn’t run for five minutes. By the end of the semester, he was doing cardio and lifting weights at Larson Lifestyle Center for 60 minutes at a time during study breaks. To date, Dittmer has run several 5k races as well as two half-marathons.  

Changing body equals changing mind

Dittmer also started paying more attention to food labels and portion sizes. “I try to teach practical concepts students can use long after they graduate,” said Dr. Petta. “Healthy living is all about balance. It’s important to be mindful, but not obsessive.”

Dittmer’s mental health also improved as a result of becoming healthier. “I gained more self-esteem and felt I could accomplish other things in my life,” he said.

He relied on the discipline developed in Concepts to keep him motivated to finish school. Between working full time and studying part time, Dittmer kept telling himself, “Don’t give up.”

While at Union, Dittmer continued to stay in contact with Dr. Petta, sending photos of his progress and speaking to other Concepts classes about his lifestyle changes. He even hired a personal trainer to keep him accountable.

“I wanted Dr. Petta to know what a difference that class can make,” he said. “My education classes made me a better teacher, but Concepts made me a better person.”

Living a calling

After graduating in 2016, Dittmer taught kindergarten in Nebraska for two years. He now teaches second and third grade in Bazine, Kansas. “I’m the person I am today and get to do what I love thanks to Union. I may not be able to have Jesus in my classroom while working in a public school, but I can shine Jesus through myself,” he said.