Mark Panaggio said he knows what it feels like to be a discouraged student. That feeling led him to become a teacher, he said.
Panaggio is a new assistant professor in Hillsdale College’s mathematics department this semester. His expertise in applied mathematics comes at a fortuitous time, as the department shifts its focus away from computer science, Associate Professor of Mathematics David Murphy said.
“We were fortunate to find him,” Murphy said. “In addition to being very good, he also contributes things to where we don’t already have a strength. It provides an opportunity for growth.”
Senior Ian Gensler is taking Panaggio’s Mathematical Modeling course. Although the students in the class have struggled with programming models in the computer, Gensler said, Panaggio has made it a point to be there for his students.
“He’s done a really good job of catering to the class’s needs and handling all of the questions and discouraged students,” he said.
Sitting in one of his first graduate school classes at Northwestern University in Illinois, Panaggio said he felt a similar sense of discouragement.
“That was the moment when I really realized that teachers make a big difference,” Panaggio said. “I realized that that’s something I want to do: to make that difference in student’s lives, to provide students with a chance to learn in an environment where a professor is enthusiastic about what he’s teaching.”
Panaggio’s enthusiasm for learning is likely unsurprising, given his background as a “missionary kid,” he said. At the age of 11, he moved from Michigan to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a year and then spent another four years in Lima, Peru. He knew little Spanish, before leaving for Central America.
“You learn quickly when you have no choice — trial by fire works,” Panaggio said. “The thing about living overseas is you appreciate both how different cultures view the world differently but also how much we have in common. It broadens your perspective.”
Today, Panaggio said he enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee on the Quad, shooting hoops on the basketball court, and spending time with his wife and two children.
“I don’t think of myself as just a mathematician,” Panaggio said. “Math is used to help us understand ourselves — why do people behave the way that they do? The idea of making these connections is what excites me about math and is a big part of what Hillsdale College is about.”