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Mar 31
Math instructor encourages students to dream big

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Joanna Jacobs, mathematics instructor, explains an equation to students in a math class at North Platte Community College. Jacobs started out in meteorology. 

The possibilities for a lucrative career in a math-related field are endless. They are also the wave of the future if you ask Joanna Jacobs, mathematics instructor at North Platte Community College.

"Climate change, technology, robotics, space exploration, national security – math is needed for all of those," said Jacobs. "It's pretty much a given that if you have any kind of math training, you will be able to get a high-demand job and earn a good paycheck." 

The theory can be backed by data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The organization predicts employment in math occupations will grow 28 percent, or by approximately 42,900 new jobs, by 2024. 

It also lists a median annual wage of $81,360 for math occupations in 2015 – much higher than the $36,200 median annual wage for all occupations.

That kind of information is what Jacobs likes to share with her classes. She believes it is her job as an instructor, not only to teach her students math skills, but also to advise them of opportunities. She does that, in part, by letting them know where she came from. 

A Milwaukee native, Jacobs has always been good at math. She pushed herself to take advanced courses in high school and, as a junior, took both trigonometry and accelerated science classes. 

It was her older sister's fascination, however, that ultimately set Jacobs on her path of study. The two would watch videos about the processes and phenomena of the atmosphere and dream of becoming meteorologists. 

That initial excitement was what prompted Jacobs to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee with a bachelor's degree in atmospheric sciences. 

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Jacobs then transitioned to graduate school at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D. where she obtained a master's degree in atmospheric sciences and met Shawn Jacobs, her future husband. 

When the National Weather Service offered Shawn a position as a meteorologist, the couple moved to North Platte. 

The year was 2008, and Joanna still wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life. Fortunately, life decided for her. 

Shortly after relocating to Nebraska, Joanna took a job as a math tutor in NPCC's Student Success Center. She was asked to teach an adjunct math class the following year. 

"Teaching was never something I thought was in the cards for me," said Joanna. "But, I had the tutoring background and found that I could relate well to students. I did the best I could." 

Eight years later, and now a full-time instructor, Joanna can't imagine doing anything else. In addition to teaching math, she draws on her meteorology skills to teach a severe weather course. 

"I really enjoy that moment when I can show students how to be better problem solvers and engage their minds," Joanna said. "I just want them to have an appreciation for the world of math because it's hidden in so many different fields." 

Regardless of whether the students pursue a math-related profession or not, Joanna hopes they all leave her class with an open mind. 

"I started down an entirely different path from the one I landed on," said Joanna. "Anything can happen in life. You just have to be open to the possibilities."

Heather Johnson
Area Communications Specialist

Heather produces and distributes press releases for the college. She began work at MPCC in 2014. Prior to that, she spent five years as the news director/web manager for Eagle Radio in North Platte. From 2009-2014 she worked as a reporter/photographer for The North Platte Telegraph. Heather has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Chadron State College.

Brent L. Cobb
McCook Community College News Bureau Coordinator​​​