Professor incorporates political science, humor into lessons


Phillipson, an assistant professor of mathematics, ties humor and politics into her classes to make them more engaging.

Kaitlyn Phillipson, assistant professor of mathematics, bustles through a fully packed classroom in John Brooks Williams – South (JBWS) minutes before class begins. She warmly clarifies her student’s names as she passes out handouts titled “Mathematics and Politics.”

Phillipson made the handouts, consisting of both problems and history lessons, in an attempt to appeal to her students by connecting a lesson to an aspect of their majors, though she is not personally interested in history or political science.

While discussing a process known as apportionment, Phillipson jokingly makes comments such as “Hamilton’s method was crap” in order to instill humor to liven up the classroom. Afterwards, she challenges them to solve a problem on their own and carefully surveys the room, looking for students who have questions about solving it.

While Phillipson’s students may have entered her class with the mindset that math is difficult and boring, her lessons aim to help them see that math can actually be quite beautiful. “There is feeling and emotion in mathematics,” says Phillipson.

Diving into a career, even a lifestyle of sorts, in which she regularly connects math to real life issues, she has found the subject can often be strange and uncomfortable.

An example of this uneasiness occurred when her class solved a problem that claimed that, in order to fairly divide computers amongst various schools, each school would receive their given amount, as well as a third of a computer. Frustrated that receiving a third of a computer is useless, her class decided one school might as well receive an extra computer.

While Phillipson originates from Madison, WI and has cultivated a new home in Austin with her husband and fellow professor, Mitch Phillipson, who also partakes in her math motivated lifestyle.

“She probably underplays herself and underestimates what she does, but she does a lot of work,” he said.

Receiving a mentor award as a graduate student, Phillipson feels confident she could adapt to teaching any age group.

In fact she did when she worked for Math Circles with middle school children.

Such an intimate background in teaching and connecting to students allows Phillipson to thrive in environments like St. Edward’s University, hence her eagerness to learn every student’s name and cater to their interests.

For now though, Phillipson teaches those who have had years to develop disdain for math and excitedly shows them that it is much more than a subject they think they will eternally struggle in.

However, she also reminds them that they can hate their lives while doing math if they procrastinate doing their homework.

“Start it right now. Well not right now, we’re in class right now,” Phillipson said to a roomful of laughter.