Assistant Pro­fessor of Math Mark Panaggio brings expertise n applied math­e­matics to Hillsdale College. Julie Havlak|Collegian

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.”