When Paulina Volosov ’14 began her job search, she did not hesitate to apply for a position in the mathematics department at Hillsdale College. After earning her master’s of science in applied mathematics and Ph.D. in mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Volosov began teaching as an assistant professor of mathematics and has come to enjoy being on Hillsdale’s campus once again.
“My goal was always to find something as close to Hillsdale as possible because the department here is absolutely wonderful, and everyone gets along,” Volosov said. “That alone is very precious to work in such an environment. And then of course the students are very easy to get along with and they’re interested and polite.”
Volosov completed her Bachelor of Science in mathematics and German at Hillsdale College and said she enjoyed being surrounded by other students who were willing to explore many different ideas. Studying both mathematics and German allowed her to broaden her worldview as a student.
“The nice thing about Hillsdale is that you can come, and even if you’re studying math, you’re still interested in creating a wider worldview of history and intellectual traditions,” Volosov said. “When I came to Hillsdale, I had some ideas, but they were definitely broadened and solidified within those four years.”
Associate Professor of Mathematics David Gaebler taught Volosov when she was a student at Hillsdale and said he is excited to have her back in the department as a colleague.
“We were all very happy to see her name on the application list,” Gaebler said. “We did our due diligence to check all of the other applicants, but she was head and shoulders above the rest of the pool.”
Gaebler said Volosov had a “high-level of maturity and poise” as a student, so her transition into the department as a faculty member has gone smoothly. Reflecting upon Volosov’s time as a student in his class, Gaebler said she was steadfast and approached her work with a smile.
“There’s one particular point that I remember in the course where I assigned this assignment that I expected to be difficult, but it turned out to be excruciating,” Gaebler said. “I was mobbed by dozens of people swarming my office hours. I got an email from one of my top students in the course saying that he just couldn’t take the mental strain anymore; he had reached a breaking point. And then I asked Dr. Volosov about assignment labor issues, and she said, ‘Oh, that was kind of fun.’”
Gaebler said he looks forward to seeing Volosov grow within the mathematics department and within the greater college community. Although Volosov has taught just two classes so far, Gaebler said he imagines that she will take on a bigger role assisting with student research and working with student groups, clubs, organizations.
“I look forward to her being networked into all of the little niches and corners of campus,” Gaebler said. “The first year we don’t give people committees, clubs, or other things outside of teaching, but she’ll be ready for all of those extras when the time comes.”
Junior Lily Vanwingerden is an applied mathematics major who enjoyed the practical aspects of her numerical analysis class with Volosov. In addition to the content of the class, Vanwingerden said she appreciated Volosov’s ability to create an enjoyable learning environment.
“She was very good at proving everything we did and then giving us the space to learn it and really use it on our own,” Vanwingerden said. “I understood the material better, and then in my struggle trying to implement it in code, I was able to work through and overcome a lot of the obstacles that came with that.”
Junior Adam Stacey is also an applied mathematics major who took numerical analysis with Volosov last semester. He is currently taking mathematical modeling with her. When he first entered numerical analysis, Stacey said he did not think of himself as a superb mathematics student, but Volosov helped boost his confidence.
“When I started taking numerical, I didn’t think in a thousand years that I’d want to get a Ph.D. in math, and now it’s my goal,” Stacey said. “I would credit her with pointing me toward the opportunities and helping me see what I could do.”
Stacey said he also enjoys learning from Volosov because she understands the mindset of being a student at Hillsdale and provides helpful guidance for thinking about graduate school.
“It’s nice when you’re looking at what you need to do to prepare for grad school because she went through all of that a couple of years ago,” Stacey said. “I really liked the fact that she’s a Hillsdale grad. It’s cool to see someone who was in your shoes not all that long ago who went to a great grad school and got her Ph.D.”
Vanwingerden said Volosov has become a role model for her and has helped her learn more about preparing for graduate school. Currently, Volosov is the only woman professor in the mathematics department, and Vanwingerden said the change has been both exciting and comforting.
“It’s been nice to have such a wonderful and elegant role model who is a woman and does understand how to communicate with other women,” Vanwingerden said. “She’s very well-educated, so I’ve been able to go and talk to her about a myriad of different topics, including talking about reading material that’s not math-related at all.”
Both Vanwingerden and Stacey said Volosov also challenges her students but provides them with a strong foundation to succeed while working through different problems.
“I had a lot of problems in numerical where I would go and ask her for help asking: ‘How do I actually do this?’ And she would say, ‘Well, you have to figure that out for yourself,’” Stacey said. “You grow a lot in the class and you learn a ton instead of just having everything handed to you. But it’s not like you’re on your own, so she has a really good balance there.”
Volosov said getting to know her students has been a delight and she looks forward to becoming more involved with different organizations on campus, helping students with research, and teaching seminar classes.
“I’m very happy to be here, and I’m just enjoying myself so much that it hardly feels like work,” Volosov said. “When I was a student, I really enjoyed when we had a personal relationship with the professor, and it’s true from this side as well.”