Dr. Monika Kiss's enthusiasm for her discipline and love of teaching add up to academic success for her students.

Any Saint Leo University student who has taken a mathematics class with Associate Professor Monica Kiss knows that Dr. Kiss loves mathematics.

It's a love she has had for the subject ever since she was a girl growing up in Gyor, Hungry – but not for the reasons one may think.

"I don't consider myself a numbers person," she said. "What I love about math is problem-solving. I also love the structure and the beauty of math – the fact that it is everywhere, in music, in chemistry, in biology."

That love for mathematics is so genuine and enthusiastic, that even students who get anxious over algebra – and those for whom math just doesn't add up – get caught up in her energy and passion.

Next to her 8-year-old daughter, Zsofia, however, there are two other things Dr. Kiss just might love even more than math.

Her students and teaching.

In fact, her dedication to teaching is so fervent that just talking about her students brings tears to her eyes.

"I am honored to be teaching our online degree students," said Dr. Kiss. "While I am a working, single mom and can relate to our adult learners, I am in awe of how they juggle so many different things in their lives and still make time for their education.

"Their success means everything to me."

Adding enthusiasm and relevance to college math.

Year after year on course evaluations, students use words such as "fun," "enthusiastic," and "excited" to describe both Dr. Kiss and her class.

"Her willingness to help with any question and fun attitude got everyone excited about math."

"Dr. Kiss is enthusiastic about math, and her enthusiasm makes a subject that many find intimidating (myself included) more appealing."

"Dr. Kiss's enthusiasm for the material and for her students was clearly evident throughout the course, and I found it extremely motivating."

It's this ability to replace the trepidation so many students have about mathematics with enthusiasm and confidence that prompted Saint Leo's Dr. Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services, to nominate Dr. Kiss for the "Online College Professor of the Year" contest conducted by the Best Colleges Online website.

Dr. Kiss has advanced to becoming one of 10 finalists nationwide in the contest. The final winner will be determined by a tally of votes cast at the Best Colleges Online website by midnight, April 28, at this contest page. Voting is open to everyone.

Finding a home – and "family" – at Saint Leo.

"Every year, Dr. Kiss has wonderful evaluations from her students," said Dr. Johnson. "They absolutely love her. It's extremely rare to hear about a math instructor in higher education getting such rave reviews. It's just incredible. And it's because she truly cares about student learning."

Dr. Kiss came to the United States from Hungary by herself at the age of 17. She worked as a nanny and attended Kean University, becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree.

While taking her first college-level calculus class, she was so inspired by her professor's passion for mathematics and ability to transmit that zeal to his students that she knew she wanted to be able to do the same. She earned master's and doctoral degrees in mathematical science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and came to Saint Leo University in 2003 to teach at University Campus. She has been teaching online math courses for eight years.

"I can't imagine being any place other than Saint Leo," said Dr. Kiss. "There is something intangible about the community here – the faculty and the students – that is unique."

Battling negative attitudes toward math: the "secret" to success.

Dr. Kiss teaches the gamut of mathematics courses – from algebra and advanced calculus to discrete mathematics and history of math. The online course she teaches most frequently is MAT 131: College Mathematics.

"MAT 131 is the foundation math course that students who need just one math class for their major are required to take," she said, adding that many students come burdened with math anxiety.

"For the most part, students have math challenges because they don't have a strong foundation. There are holes in their learning – they are missing a skill or skills."

Dr. Kiss tells her online students who have not taken a math class in a long time that learning math is like riding a bicycle. "You have to get back on the bike and practice. If you keep doing it every day, it comes back."

While Dr. Kiss may be completely candid with students, sharing pieces of her life to create an open and personal relationship, her candor is not to be mistaken for a lack of rigor. She is quick to point out that she holds all students to high academic standards.

"So much of success is attitude. You can't be lazy. You have to work hard and spend the time to be successful. But my students know that I am there with them, every step of the way. If a student is having a challenge, I want them to come to me. I want them to know I care deeply about their success."

"Living the dream" by making a difference in students' lives.

While Dr. Kiss appreciates the comments and kind words from students on evaluations, what brings her the greatest satisfaction is her students' success.

"I love the fact that by teaching I can help students achieve their dreams, that I can help shape future lives. To see students become successful and know that I contributed in some small way means everything to me.

"I'm living the dream every day teaching here at Saint Leo."

Have you taken a class with Dr. Kiss? What did you think?

Image Credit:
Saint Leo University

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