Jon Mark Beilue: From Cafeteria Worker to Engineer

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From Cafeteria Worker to Engineer

It was a long winding road for Myriah Chambless to get her diploma


When Myriah Chambless, freshly graduated from West Texas A&M University, starts to work at Pantex as an associate core engineer in mid-January, it won’t be the first time she’s drawn a paycheck from the governmental site that is the nation’s primary nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility.

Go back about six years and she previously worked there—in the Pantex cafeteria.

She was nicknamed “The Happy Lady” because of her constant smile, but the Happy Lady also lost her job after three years because of some complaints by co-workers that she was a bully.Myriah Chambless

“At first, I was really upset because I knew none of those charges were true,” she said. “I had never been fired from any job before. But my grandmother said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll be back there again, but with a much better job.’”

That was hard to see at the time, especially with another setback in pursuit of her educational goals, but her grandmother, Rosa Perez, was right.

“It’s a little surreal,” Myriah said. “In some ways, I can’t believe it’s happening.”

As Myriah Garcia, she always thought she’d take the direct route through college and graduate at age 22 to forge her own career. But life was not straight, not easy, and obstacles challenged her tenacity and perseverance in a way not many confront.

At age 7, she moved from Dumas to Amarillo. Her relationship with her parents was a rocky one for the next 10 years, she said. What may have seemed like a traumatic move—she was kicked out of the house at age 17 to live with her grandmother—was actually a blessing.

“That was one of the best days of my life actually,” she said. “No one was yelling at me. No one was putting me down. It was great.”

Myriah was a senior at Palo Duro High School. She was in band and orchestra where she played four instruments. She was in as many extra-curricular activities as she could join previously just to keep her from coming to a home she dreaded.

Her grades were excellent. School came easily for her. She graduated 27th in her class in 2009. Her hope was to become an engineer after a career day at Sam Houston Middle School when she was in the seventh grade.

“They had this PowerPoint about engineering and told about all the professions and how much they paid and what they entailed,” Myriah said. “Since that day, those men and that PowerPoint, I’ve wanted to be an engineer.”

A long delay before restarting college

Money was tight for college. She left behind boyfriend Richie Chambless to live with an aunt in Austin and attend Austin Community College. Myriah said she was making A’s and B’s, but the grades were not good enough for her aunt. Myriah said she was booted out of the house.

“I begged and pleaded to let me finish the semester, but she wouldn’t let me,” Myriah said.

In mid-semester 2010, with no place to live, she returned to Amarillo with Richie, who was there visiting relatives. In effect, she dropped out of school. As Myriah would soon discover, because she left school during the semester, any financial aid was suspended for two years. She couldn’t go to school without financial help.

She needed a job, and that’s when a friend told her about the Pantex opening in the cafeteria. MMyriah Chamblessyriah worked there three years until she was dismissed.

But it soon worked out. She re-enrolled at Amarillo College after again qualifying for financial aid. Her classes were in the morning, and she could not have attended those had she still worked at Pantex.

Myriah graduated from AC in December 2015. She took no time off before entering WTAMU. But her obstacles were still plenty.

She was now a young mother to Rosalia. Richie had severely broken an ankle in an ATV accident, and staph infections would require three surgeries. He had been laid off his job, and his surgery prevented him from finding work right away.

So Myriah found herself as a young mother and a full-time student. To support the three, she worked full-time as a cashier for three years at Grand Discount in Amarillo and was also a tutor.

A demanding full-time load in mechanical engineering, two jobs, a mother to an infant, and a girlfriend. (Richie and Myriah would marry on their 11th anniversary of meeting in September 2018).

“My troubles before helped me overcome the struggles I faced in school,” she said. “I had worse. I knew I’d be fine. It helped my husband was always there for me and has been there, ever since high school. The hardest part for me was the sacrifice of not being able to spend more time with my family. I’ve missed time seeing my daughter grow up.”

But coming into the fall of 2018, the end was in sight. Graduation finally loomed. Myriah is almost apologetic about her 3.0 GPA, but it didn’t matter to Pantex. As good as graduating, Myriah has known since April she had a job waiting.

She went to a career fair at WTAMU in the spring semester of 2018. It wasn’t to learn about any job fields, but, as an officer in both mechanical and civil engineering groups, to see if a Pantex official could speak at a later date.

She never heard back on a speaking engagement, but three days later, got a call from Pantex on a job interview. It was the first of four interviews. By April, she got a contract offer with a salary that almost made her giddy.

The woman kicked out of two homes, working manual jobs, putting her education on hold, having a child, now pregnant with another, graduated from WTAMU on Dec. 15. One month later, she will start as an engineer at a plant where she once served food.

“I cannot believe it’s here,” Myriah said. “It’s going to change my life. It’s going to turn it upside down. We don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck wondering if we will have enough for the next week. All of this has given me a stronger mindset. And it’s taught me another lesson too—‘Always listen to your grandmother.’”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at

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Post a Comment



Pam Tyler
on 1.7.2019

What an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing Myriah's amazing journey! Trying to keep from crying! Excellent example of how when one door is closed, a bigger and better door opens for you. Praise God!

Mike Jordan
on 1.4.2019

The eye allergies really went full bore at the end of this article. I'm not crying... you're crying!!!

Betty Stocker
on 1.3.2019

I say she looks like the Happy Lady now!!!!