City College professor tackles math anxiety

Dr. Rob Rubalcaba has a unique way of connecting City College students and math.


Jonny Rico

Dr. Rob Rubalcaba mixed popular hip-hop songs at the Math Jam tutoring event. By Jonny Rico/City Times

Brian Mohler, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Good teachers care about their students and students appreciate a good teacher, but San Diego City College’s professor of mathematics, “Dr. Rob” Rubalcaba, has a special way of connecting with students.

Rubalcaba uses his alter ego, DJ Professor Shadow, to reduce the stress around studying for midterms and finals through Math Jams. 

It’s not just the hip hop that reaches students. Rubalcaba receives help from dozens of tutors and Umoja club volunteers creating a sense of community.

“(Rubalcaba) helps curb student anxieties around learning math,” said Ebony Tyree, a math jam volunteer and English professor also involved with Umoja. 

“He brings in his whole authentic self, what made him fall in love with math and he shares it with students, that’s why he changes the lives of students.”

Dr. Rob smiling at the DJ turntable
Jonny Rico
Math Jam crowds bring a smile to Dr. Rob Rubalcaba. By Jonny Rico/City Times

Students say “Dr. Rob” and Math Jam have a positive effect on their learning.

“I met him at Math Jam last semester and plan to take a class with him next semester,” said math student Lilliana Pisabaj. “He seems so compassionate about the way he teaches.”

Adam King took calculus with Rubalcaba. He now he helps tutor other students in math through calculus and is planning to transfer to UCLA or USC to study computer science.

“(Rubalcaba) makes math very relatable,” King said. “He goes out of his way to help people and organize stuff like (Math Jam).”

Kelly Giang, a philosophy and psychology student who works as a program assistant for the World Cultures Program on campus, thinks Rubalcaba is amazing.

“He teaches fractions with turntables and is one of the most generous people I know,” she said. “Dr. Rob bought students bus passes who couldn’t afford to get to school and he raised money to buy a laptop for a student because she didn’t have a computer to do homework.”

Giang appreciates the “it takes a village” philosophy behind Math Jam. She plans to transfer to UCSD, but wants to come back, and eventually become a dean at City College because she believes involvement and equity have a major impact on student success.

“Hip hop was part of my growing up,” said Eddie Garcia, a first-year biochemistry student.

Dr. Rob receives a hug from Math Jam volunteer
Jonny Rico
Dr. Rob Rubalcaba is loved by most at City College. By Jonny Rico/City Times

Garcia went to Math Jam to study because he’s taking back-to-back eight-week math courses, but he is also studying hip hop dancing and choreography in Dance 120A. 

“(Hip hop) gets people involved in exercising — having fun dancing.”

Fun is why Rubalcaba started doing Math Jams. The music and food helps bring people to the tutoring.

“It’s motivation,” said Rubalcaba. “And it gets rid of math of anxiety.

“Students help each other overcome the frustrations and confusions that can come with learning new things and it’s great to see them leave feeling more confident.”