The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Counterintuitive beauty

City College math professor Alex May has a unique approach to guiding his students through math’s complexities. He helps them appreciate unexpected outcomes and paradoxes, as well as finding the “beauty” of math. Photo by ||Kimberly Washington||[email protected]

Have you ever considered math beautiful? This professor hopes so.

Math professor Alex May’s class may be livelier than your average math class, as he attempts to make the subject as interesting to the students as it is to him.

“He finds a way to make the class enjoyable,” says Austin Albaugh, one of May’s students. “He doesn’t talk about math the whole hour and a half.”

May, 50, has been teaching for more than 18 years. May’s enjoyment of math is clearly expressed through various ways. His office bookshelf is lined with miscellaneous textbooks and old, interesting math books from his college days. He gets excited when talking about math, especially when it comes to math’s “beauty.”

Many students find math difficult, which May says is because math is counterintuitive. No one, he says, wakes up and comes up with something like the quadratic formula. May also enjoys other things that may not be intuitive, such as paradoxes. Math is full of paradoxes, which May says he is constantly amazed by. That’s part of what he likes about math.

During May’s classes, a common request is for students to ask questions. May enjoys students asking questions, which he says is the most useful part of his classes, because it means they are awake and want to learn more.
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May says he wasn’t always the best student. After drooping out of college as a sophomore, he worked at an insurance company for five years and became interested in math. After saving money for 10 years, May became a full-time student at Sacramento State. He says he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

“After having worked full time and working at the school part time for a couple of years, I realized being a student is the best job in the world,” May said, as he reminisced on his past as a student at Sacramento State.

May actually met his wife in a math class at Sacramento State. Virginia May also teaches math at City College. May says it’s a cool experience looking forward to what your partner has to say about her day and being truly interested in each other’s jobs.

Before becoming a math professor, May was a tutor at the college, which he describes as one of the best jobs in the world, besides the pay. While students may not want to attend classes all the time and may doze off, he says, students seeking tutoring usually want to be there and have plenty of questions to ask.

“You really have to put it on yourself to learn something,” says Enej Huseinbegovic, another of May’s students. “You really have to earn your knowledge.”

May says he hopes students can use some of the math in their daily lives. Most of all, May hopes students in his classes learn to appreciate unexpected outcomes from a problem and paradoxes, or in other words, the beauty of math.

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