Michael Sullivan of Lemont didn’t plan to follow his father’s footsteps and become both a math professor and a textbook author, but fate had other plans.
“It’s kind of a funny story and somewhat accidental that I became a math college professor,” Sullivan said, adding that he originally intended to become an actuary, but when he took an internship his senior year of college at DePaul, he realized he didn’t enjoy the work.
“After realizing that it wasn’t what I wanted, I decided to go to grad school and was offered an assistantship in the economics department. When I graduated, I tried looking for a job, but it was hard to find one during the 1991 recession. I had no intentions of teaching, even though both my parents are professors,” Sullivan said. “Then I was approached by the chair of the social sciences department at Moraine Valley Community College – where I originally began my education – and I was asked to start teaching econ classes there. I did this part time, and then I started teaching courses at a variety of schools – Roosevelt, Oakton, all around.”
Sullivan even wound up filling in for his older sister, who was a high school math teacher at Queen of Peace High School at the time, when she went on maternity leave. As he was teaching at all these different schools, he earned another masters degree, this time in statistics. In 1999, he was offered a job with the Joliet Junior College Math Department. He’s been working there ever since.
Today, he’s not only a well-accomplished professor, but he’s also the proud author of several textbooks. His published textbooks include subjects ranging from pre-calculus, college algebra and statistics. In fact, when he first started working at JJC, the Math Department was already using a pre-calculus book he and his father co-authored.
In addition to Sullivan’s parents and older sister, Sullivan’s younger sister is also a teacher, and his brother works in the publishing industry, selling math and other educational products.
As a textbook author, Sullivan said part of his job includes making revisions on older versions of his books. Choosing to write the textbooks was easy – he felt there was a need in the marketplace for each of the subjects he’s written about. Writing and revising them is a little more difficult, but he said working at JJC has definitely helped to improve his books.
Sullivan said he’s pretty straightforward with his students. He lays out the rules on the first day of class and tells them what his expectations are. In order to succeed in his class, all a student needs to do is put in the effort. Sullivan added that it’s important to him to be available to his students when they need him – he makes a point to be available via e-mail consistently and on the weekends.
“Students are changing and they have a different expectation when they enter the classroom,” Sullivan said. “They want to get some entertainment and value through the course. Students today can be a challenge to instructors because they want to see the benefits of the course.”
“If I wasn’t here I’m not sure I would be doing a lot of the things I’m doing today,” he said. “JJC helped me to become a statistics author. Being at JJC opened up opportunities for me to learn how to teach online classes. But overall, being around JJC and the support that I’ve received from students, faculty and staff, has allowed me to do all the things I’ve done. There’s no doubt that JJC has had a huge impact on my life in a positive way.”
For more information about the Math Department, visit www.jjc.edu/mathematics or call 815-280-6861.