Finding applications for math in interesting places: Kayana Hoagland


Kayana Hoagland, mathematics instructor at South Puget Sound Community College, is trail blazing the way for a new attitude towards mathematics.

As she draws out the mathematical explanation for the yearly growth lines on a nautilus shell (a mollusk found in tropical waters), she tells me that while at first she found math “dry and all about memorization,” she now appreciates the diverse nature of mathematics.

“Math helps scientists explain what they’re observing. No matter what career you’re pursuing math will open doors for you that you could never predict,” she tells me, finishing the sketch. I look at her drawing and think to myself that these hands on applications are just what I need to be shaken out of my math-is-useless mind set.

Hoagland grew up in Washington State and received her undergraduate double major in math and economics from University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

Later, in a display of adventurous flair, she took a job over the phone that would move her to California for an economics internship for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

She took her education further with a K-12 teaching certificate and a dual masters degree in mathematics and fisheries from Humboldt State University.

As part of that degree she traveled to Baja, Mexico to meet with government officials and scientists to develop a fishing policy for abalone that would maximize the abalone harvest for fisherman, and yet protect the abalone population from overfishing.

She shows me the shells she collected while she was there and explains that math should be thought of as a foundational tool that can be taken out of the class room and applied to some thing as interesting as sea life.

In 1994 Hoagland got a job at SPSCC, and then as if in a movie, met her husband at an employee meet and greet on her first day.

They met in the mail room of the school and decided to kayak together that weekend. When I ask her what she enjoys most about teaching at SPSCC she tells me that she appreciates the beautiful campus and that during the salmon spawning season she enjoys viewing the salmon from Percival Creek, the river below the bridge connecting the East and West sides of campus.

If you have had the pleasure of taking a class with Hoagland, you know that she uses a whole new comprehensive approach to learning math.

She also teaches the classes for prospective K-8 teachers and believes “future teachers need to be able to differentiate instruction, taking the same activity and making it easier for some and more challenging for others.”

She accomplishes this by integrating hands-on activities that allow for better memorization. In addition, she takes the extra time to answer the “why” questions as well as “how”, that in my opinion, is invaluable to helping students understand complex math.

When I ask her what advice she has for a student like me, one that hopes to find a career I’m passionate about, she says, “if you’re in school stay there and take it seriously…take initiative and ask questions.”

While Hoagland is very busy bettering the math department at SPSCC, she also finds time to relax by gardening, hiking, collecting rocks, and coaching volleyball. Her face lights up when she tells me that, on top of every thing else, she is a foster-mom to kittens as a volunteer for Animal Services in Lacey.