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A book of Islamic poetry sits on the shelf. A Tibetan prayer flag hangs on the wall. A man sits in the corner strumming an old American folk song on his guitar.

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey,? he sings.

Sounds like a scene from a back alley café, but there’s no cup of joe for sale here. This is an office at the Solon Center, and the man strumming his guitar is Joshua Jacobs, a first-year math instructor at UMD.

Jacobs’ life has been filled with a multitude of hobbies and interests, many not related to mathematics. In fact, he never foresaw himself becoming a math instructor.

“I was very bad at math when I was a kid,? he says.

It wasn’t until high school that Jacobs began to see his ability in mathematics, when a teacher presented it to him in a different way.

“It just started clicking then,? says Jacobs.

His life then took a few turns. He spent six months hitchhiking through New Zealand and working on organic farms and orchards. He spent a little time in India taking in the culture. He spent six years working as a computer programmer, and he spent another six years studying to get his masters in Mathematics.

And now he’s in Duluth, in his first year of teaching algebra and calculus courses.

On a Friday morning, Jacobs is explaining double angle formulas to a class of around 70 mostly freshmen students.

“I’m so confused,? whispers someone in the back. Another student chats with her friend about something unrelated to trigonometry.

An atmosphere of befuddlement typical of a calculus class, and Jacobs isn’t sure if he’ll make a career out of it.

“I don’t know if it’s my bag,? he says.

Jacobs does say, though, that he has gained much from his first year of teaching.

“I’ve learned a lot this year,? says Jacobs. “There’s a lot they just can’t tell you about teaching. You learn about it by just hitting the ground and running,? he says.

Besides math, Jacobs enjoys studying biochemistry. He spends a lot of time conducting genetic experiments with a friend in the College of Science and Engineering.

Outside the university, Jacobs likes to go biking and to play music when he can. He began playing guitar when he was 15.

“It’s a great avenue for expression,? he says.

Jacobs also takes an interest in learning about different cultures and languages.

“I once got the best Chinese food I’ve ever had in Jackson, Missouri because I knew how to say 'hello' and 'thank you' in Chinese,? he says.

Next year, Jacobs will be headed to Seattle, where he plans to get his PhD in Mathematics and also to enter a program in Computational Molecular Biology. For now, though, he’s just looking forward to summer.

“There’s a reason we get three months off a year,? he says with a smile.