…My fellow math faculty at the community college where I teach are inspirational. They love what they do - even when things get frustrating - because they care deeply about our students. We aren’t afraid to change - whether it’s rethinking how we approach developmental math or integrating lower-cost materials in our classes.
Dina Yagodich, Professor at Frederick Community College
Dina Yagodich (DY): I’ve always loved math. In ninth grade, I told my math teacher (who I still keep in touch with now and again!) that I wanted to teach math. He advised me to head to engineering, and if I wanted to later in life, I could always choose to teach. I did that - I went to school at Cornell University in Electrical Engineering, got a job working with air/ground communications with airline companies, and then completed a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
When I started having kids, I opted to stay at home. But, not wanting only to be able to write “PTA Treasurer” on my resume, I started teaching part-time at Montgomery College, a community college in Maryland. Soon I realized that, although I enjoyed my job as an engineer, teaching was what I loved to do!
After hitting a few roadblocks in getting full-time work teaching math, I started working on another Master’s degree - this time in Applied Mathematics, again at Johns Hopkins. About two weeks into my coursework, I got a full-time job at a community college that included “or equivalent” in the job posting. But, never one to quit what I’d started, I completed the Applied Math degree.
MAA: How has MAA impacted you?
DY: When I was working as an adjunct, my Chair encouraged me to go to the MAA Section sessions. The first dinner was a bit awkward - I didn’t know anyone and sat by myself. Soon enough, people wandered over, introduced themselves, and I found myself a part of a math community that reached outside my college campus. I have great memories, skills, and even a rhombic dodecahedron from those meetings.
After a few years, our school co-hosted a section meeting with Hood College. Getting to know faculty beyond just your own department is one of the best parts of being an active member of your local MAA Section. When another group I work with – SIMIODE for modeling first in teaching Differential Equations – asked me to host a student contest, I had local contacts I could reach out to. The MD-DC-VA MAA Section is a fantastic community.
MAA has helped me more than just finding local colleagues. I have vastly improved my teaching strategies based on conferences I’ve attended, both nationally and locally.
MAA: What is the best advice you have ever received?
DY: Don’t try to copy someone else’s teaching style. Before I taught for the first time, I observed two other instructors. One used chalk and a chalkboard and was not very engaging. Another used PowerPoint slides and WOW was engaging. He let me use his slides for my class. My first class was at 7 PM - a once-a-week developmental math class. I can… click through slides really, really fast. By 9 AM the next day, the Chair had 3 complaints about me.
My Chair, instead of giving up on me, recommended I sit through another professor’s class. That professor used chalk and a chalkboard but was one of the most engaging instructors I’ve witnessed. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, but I’ve never forgotten the experience of being in her class. She taught me it’s not the tools or technology that make a good teacher. It’s teaching in a way that works for you, your personality, and your style.
When I taught the class the second week, the students who had complained told my Chair it was like I was a totally different professor. I was - I had found my own voice. Luckily, I had a Chair who didn’t give up on me.
But I still don’t use PowerPoint slides :-)
MAA: What advice would you give to someone who also wants to be a math educator?
DY: Sit through classes from a bunch of different instructors. Chat with students. Read articles in the MAA publications. Find an instructor or two who has a blog that makes you think. And – if you are like me, thinking of switching career tracks, test out teaching a semester or two as an adjunct. It’s a great way to get a feel of the profession and to help you decide if you have a passion for it. It’s tough to be great in the classroom if your heart isn’t really in it, so try it out first to see if it fits.
MAA: Who inspires you and why?
DY: This will sound corny, but my fellow math faculty at the community college I teach are inspirational. They love what they do - even when things get frustrating - because they care deeply about our students. We aren’t afraid to change - whether it’s rethinking how we approach developmental math or integrating Open Educational Resources (lower-cost materials) in our classes. Our decisions revolve around the impact on students.
I’m proud to work in the mathematics department at Frederick Community College.
MAA: From the perspective of a Community College educator, what does the MAA Community provide for you?
DY: A community of like-minded folks. Whether following MAA Connect messages, going to MAA MathFest, or hanging out with local colleagues at MAA Section meetings, what makes MAA important to me are the people, the connections, and the community.
Even after I retire, I plan on keeping active in the MAA community because it’s been a big part of my teaching career for the past 19 years!