At the age of 16, MATC mathematics instructor Lisa Hugdahl dropped out of high school, left home, moved into an apartment with a friend and began a waitressing job. Less than two years later, she decided she wanted more from life. She realized she wouldn't be able to get a better job without finishing her high school education and getting a college education.
Enrolling in MATC's Adult High School helped Hugdahl begin to put her life back on track. Following her graduation in 1990, she continued studies at MATC, earning an associate degree in liberal arts and sciences. She went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and taught at the Milwaukee School of Engineering before accepting the teaching position at MATC six years ago. Along with her studies and work, she also raised two daughters.
Didn't Understand Importance of Finishing High School
"I can still remember what I was thinking when I decided to drop out of high school," Hugdahl said. "No one had ever told me I could go to college. Everyone around me had jobs that didn't require a college education. It didn't seem like finishing high school would make a difference in my life."
But Hugdahl was motivated to return to school by watching how hard her mother worked all her life. "She worked in a job that didn't offer sick leave benefits so she went to work no matter what was happening or how badly she felt," she said. "I thought more advanced education might offer me a chance at a better job."
Inspired by MATC Instructors
Hugdahl loved attending Adult High School classes. "I had no fear of going back to school," she said. "I loved learning new things." She also was inspired by MATC instructors.
She considers former MATC mathematics instructor Margaret Harris her role model. "She was a great teacher. She could explain things to us and make them make sense," Hugdahl said. "I told her I wanted her job – not to take her job, but to do exactly what she did at MATC. Now I'm doing it. I used to get help in the math lab that I now work in. I took math classes in the classrooms that I now teach in. I'm so glad I went back to school. I really love teaching at MATC."
Hugdahl teaches all levels of mathematics at MATC – introductory algebra, 200-level calculus courses for associate degree students and "Tech Math" tailored to students in a variety of academic programs. "I love teaching both entry-level and high-level math," she said enthusiastically. "I love showing students that math is accessible and fun, that it makes sense and it all fits together. It's so excellent."
She knows that many students are apprehensive about taking math classes. "Often people equate ability to do math with a certain level of intelligence," she said. "If they fail, they get anxious and they think they are not smart. But sometimes you get stuck on just one concept in math. Once you figure out what that problem is, it's like a floodgate opens and everything makes sense."
"No matter what happens in your life, no one can take your education away from you."
Helping Students and Daughters Understand Value of Education
Hugdahl said she studied morning, noon and night when her children were growing up, even fitting in studying during small breaks during their school activities. She believes that watching their mother strive so hard for her education inspired her daughters. Older daughter Megan saw her mother struggle early in her academic career.
"I don't know what I vocalized to her but she got it deep down inside," Hugdahl said. Megan participated in a special program that allowed her to take her senior year of high school at Milwaukee School of Engineering. She went on to graduate from Brown University, an Ivy League research university in Providence, R.I. She's now working at Microsoft Corporation. Hugdahl's younger daughter Lauren is in high school.
Hughdahl strives to impart an understanding of the importance of education to all her MATC students as well as her daughters. "Our students have so much talent and ability," she said. "But so many of them are struggling. Lots of MATC students are in survival mode - working multiple jobs, supporting themselves, their children and sometimes their parents. I try to encourage them and let them know that people who are successful fail at times but pick themselves up and start again. So many people give up when they hit opposition. There were many times I wanted to give up, but you have to stop, take a breath and start over again doing everything you can to make it work."
She said, "I always tell my students, no matter what happens in your life, no one can take your education away from you."
Hugdahl said she loves to help students realize that mathematics can be accessible and fun.
Hugdahl took mathematics classes in the same MATC classrooms in which she now teaches.