Bonnie Dichone

If you Google “Bonni Dichone” the first page that comes up reads “Ph.D.” and “Gonzaga University.” The second is a link to an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) page with a list of all of Bonni Dichone’s works in film — past and present.

Dichone is a mathematics professor at GU who teaches a variety of math classes as well as advanced engineering math.

Her realistic, focused and relatable teaching style has made her a desired professor, said former student Grace Lilje.

While Dichone loves teaching, her first love, the arts, is what sets her apart as a professor and as an individual.

“I joke that math is my third-string career,” Dichone said.

She was originally trained as a ballet dancer but her dream of a career in dance was deferred when she fell down a flight of stairs before a large company audition and injured the right side of her body severely.

“I was young at the time so I quit,” she said.

Her injuries may have kept her out of dance, but she did not give up on performing arts as she eventually accepted a full-ride piano scholarship to Eastern Washington University. Unfortunately, Dichone broke her hand shortly after, discouraging her further from the arts.

“At that point, it was like ‘OK! I get it! I’m not supposed to be in the arts!’” laughed Dichone. “And so I started teaching during my master’s program and I just fell in love with it.”

After teaching at Eastern Washington University, lecturing at Whitworth University and then moving to Pullman to teach at Washington State University, she finally settled in at GU and has been here for seven years.

Dichone attributes her stay to the students.

“It’s a night-and-day difference,” she said. “And that difference is the students.”

According to Dichone, GU students come in with a better foundation that makes them hard-working, determined and excited to learn.

“They really are the most special group of students,” she continued. 

She also said smaller class sizes allow for a more personal environment. While teaching at WSU, Dichone taught a calculus class that has had 475 students in it.

“At that point you don’t know anyone. You go in to teach and you’re like, ‘Hi, group of people I don’t know,’” she said. “I like to know all of my students’ names and get to know them as best as you can in a math class.”

This desire for personal relationships is perhaps what makes Dichone such a desirable professor at GU. A former advanced engineering math student of Dichone’s, Lilje, felt that she found relatability in Dichone.

“She was not like a typical math professor who is like, in love with math,” Lilje said. “She was very much on the same level as her students.”

Dichone sees herself and her teaching style this way as well.

“A lot of mathematicians are like knocked in the head when they were a kid and they have this brilliance factor where they just get math,” Dichone said.

“That was never me. For me, math wasn’t necessarily easy. I have to work really hard to understand it, but once I do, it sticks.”

In that sense, Dichone said, she approaches teaching as if she were a struggling student because at one point or another, she was a struggling student.

Despite her success as a mathematics professor, Dichone’s passion for dance and the arts called her back to her original love.

“After I fell and quit, it took me awhile, but I eventually came back to dancing,” she said. “It’s just my passion.”

She now teaches adult and youth classes at a local studio, Artistry in Motion. She has danced with a small local company and choreographs for local musical theater. She has also pushed further into her love of performing by becoming involved in local acting.

“Since there are not a lot of opportunities for me to dance myself aside from teaching, acting has become my new outlet,” Dichone said.

She can be recognized in locally aired commercials for Silverwood Theme Park, and in the upcoming movie rendition of the best-selling book “Waking Lazarus.”

Dichone found that while it may not seem like it, aspects of performing arts and teaching mathematics often overlap.

“Every lecture is a performance,” she said. “You train, you practice and then you have the show. Lecturing is the same way, essentially.”

Dichone’s impact stretches even further than teaching and performing. As a woman of color in a position of prominence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Dichone became a role model and a source of inspiration for many of her students.

“Pretty much all of my engineering professors have been male so it was inspiring to have someone who was a woman,” Lilije said. “She definitely commands respect amongst her students and colleagues.”

According to Dichone, she didn’t always realize the importance of her position until students began coming to her.

“I had a student tell me that she had never seen a woman of color with a Ph.D. before,” Dichone said.

Having statements such as these brought to her attention, made her realize how important it is to be a good representation for her students.

“I’m much more conscious of that now, and making sure I represent it well so that everybody can see a representation of themselves and see what’s possible,” she said.

Thea Skokan is a staff writer.

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