New math prof starts at KBC

Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC) in Homer welcomed to its ranks this year Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jeffrey Johnson.

Johnson succeeded Sara Reinert, who retired at the end of the spring 2017 semester after teaching mathematics at KBC for more than 30 years. According to Carol Swartz, director of KBC, in their search for a new professor of mathematics, the University of Alaska Anchorage/Kenai Peninsula College (UAA/KPC) wanted someone who could teach a broad range of undergraduate and developmental math courses, both distance-delivery and campus-based. They also wanted someone who would be engaging with students in the classroom and who was embracing new technologies to enhance students’ learning of mathematics. Johnson absolutely meets all of these qualifications, Swartz said.

“Like Sara, Jeff is extremely committed to student success and has a teaching style that is genuine in helping people enjoy learning math and seeing how it applies to everyday life and people’s personal and academic goals,” Swartz said.

Throughout this fall semester, Johnson has taught several math courses for KPC students, most of which are offered at the Homer campus, including prealgebra, intermediate algebra, and college algebra for calculus. A section of college algebra for calculus was also video-conferenced to students in Soldotna. Additionally, Johnson taught algebra for managerial and social sciences online.

“For most of the students here in Homer, I teach intermediate algebra and prealgebra. It’s very foundational, but I enjoy it because we get to talk about all of the things that are usually taken for granted in later math classes,” Johnson said. “The way I think about it, I get to teach those parts I recognize as building blocks for the students to understand later down the road.”

Johnson arrived in Alaska at the end of July, a week before his family. They drove to Homer from Anchorage two weeks before the beginning of KBC’s fall semester. Johnson appreciates the quality of small town life he has found with his family in Homer.

“Homer is more my style,” he said. “It’s small and quiet and peaceful. It’s beautiful no matter where you go. ‘Relaxing’ is the word I’d put for it.”

Johnson and his family had previously lived for three years in Egypt, where Johnson taught as the assistant professor of mathematics at the American University of Cairo.

“I’ve taught a wide range of math classes before even going to Cairo, in Montana and California, where I got my undergraduate degree,” he said. “In Cairo, I taught the standard calculus courses for engineers. I had mostly engineering students there. I taught calculus 1, 2 and 3, and differential equations. I also taught a few senior-level math major courses, such as abstract algebra.”

Johnson received his undergraduate degree in 2004 from Humboldt University in California and taught college algebra and precalculus for one year in a graduate program.

“It was actually very similar to what I teach here,” he said. “That was my first teaching experience.”

Johnson and his wife went into the Peace Corps from 2005-2007, serving as education volunteers, or “teacher trainers,” in South Africa. They worked in rural primary and secondary schools, helping the principals and teachers plan the new post-apartheid national curriculum that the government was trying to implement in the schools.

After they returned from South Africa, Johnson spent five years as a graduate student at the University of Montana in Missoula. He earned his doctorate in Mathematical Sciences in 2013. In his sixth year at the University of Montana, he held a post-doctoral lecture position.

For the spring 2018 semester at KBC, Johnson is scheduled to teach elementary algebra, college algebra for calculus, trigonometry, and elementary statistics. The two algebra courses are continuations of the classes that Johnson taught this semester for students who are taking the next step toward their degree. College algebra for calculus is being offered online, while the other three courses will be taught face-to-face.

A new class, Art of Mathematics, is being introduced to KBC in the spring, having only been previously taught at University of Alaska Anchorage.

“It’s contemporary topics in mathematics that are not focused on algebra,” Johnson said. “It’s intended to be an exploratory class, where we look at some situations and think about the kind of mathematical approach that would work. I’m excited about that class because it’s a lot of math topics that most people don’t see until they are either a math major or a graduate student in math. It doesn’t mean that the topics are hard, it’s just a completely different perspective.”

In his classes, Johnson has embraced the technology made available to him by the campus. He appreciates the SMART Boards and the capability to record his lectures and video conference his classes to other locations like Kenai River Campus in Soldotna. He also has access to a tablet that allows him to answer students’ math questions electronically through email by writing out a solution, creating it as a PDF, and sending it out to students.

“I feel like, in that way, the resources here are helping me be a better teacher. I can communicate better,” he said. “Working at a small college like Homer, I really like that I get to know the students. I can see their approach to problems and I can give them more tailored help.”

Beyond the classroom, Johnson is excited about the potential for community involvement in Homer and at KBC. Every Friday, he goes to Homer Middle School to tutor kids in math and coach them in preparation for the annual Kenai Peninsula Middle School Math Meet. He also is looking forward to participating in weekly game nights hosted by the Kachemak Bay Campus Student Association.

“He’s become so integrated in the community, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been here longer,” Swartz said.