In his eighth year at Salt Lake Community College, math teacher Ron McKay takes on the responsibility of teaching a subject that every college student must take to graduate.
Although math has always been interesting to McKay, he realizes it’s a subject dreaded by many students, so he makes efforts to increase students’ interest.
“[Math] itself is interesting when you start thinking about the history of the subject. You can’t talk about the development of civilization without also thinking about the development of mathematics; they kind of go hand-in-hand, and to me, that is fascinating, so I try to convey that to students,” says McKay.
McKay is an SLCC alum himself. He graduated from the school with an associate degree before continuing on to the University of Utah to get his master’s degree in Math.
“When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be an English major; I still actually really enjoy writing,” says McKay, who has even taken some continuing education writing classes for fun in his free time.
McKay, who was born in Philadelphia, originally dropped out of college after one semester at a community college in Pennsylvania and one semester at Penn State. He moved west shortly after to pursue his love of rock climbing, which he still does regularly.
After originally settling in Oregon and working some jobs in the climbing industry, including putting together climbing walls and doing demonstrations for JanSport, McKay eventually was drawn to Utah’s mountains and climbing opportunities and moved to Salt Lake City in 1996.
At that point, he still didn’t know that teaching was in his future, so he took jobs that included working at Snowbird Ski Resort and Wasatch Brewing. At age 28, he decided it was time to go back to school so he enrolled at SLCC.
Upon transferring to the University of Utah, McKay still wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to pursue, but eventually his interests in math and physics led him to become a math major. Time working at the SLCC math tutoring lab also helped him realize he had a knack for teaching.
He now teaches full-time at SLCC and is a math department coordinator for Calculus I and Calculus II.
McKay knows that there are stereotypes that come along with being a Math major but says he has a wide variety of interests that don’t fit the stereotype. When he was younger and living in Oregon, his love of writing led him to be the lead singer of a punk/funk band for about a year.
He also only recently picked up chess last year because an injury temporarily stopped him from rock climbing.
“People were like, ‘Oh, you like math, you must like chess,’” says McKay.
And while he does usually beat his friends at chess, he says it’s because he’s been playing more than them, not because of superior math or logic skills.
McKay knows the average person might find difficulty applying college-level math to their lives, but is an advocate of its usefulness.
“Math has made me a much sharper critical thinker,” says McKay.