photo of NHCC student Zack Hansen

Zack was an all-star student, who studied liberal arts and math at NHCC. During his time here on-campus he was very involved with the Tutoring Center, choir, PTK and theater. He has his sights set on being an educator, interning at NASA and impacting the lives of students in the classroom! 

"What really excites me about being an educator (and I've experienced this a little bit while tutoring at NHCC) is when I'm able to make an impact on students’ lives. I feel so great when I can sit down with a student, talk about their goals, get to know them and help them to make progress on their path. I enjoy providing students with the tools to learn better. In the end, this has made a big impact on me, too! I'm confident education is the right program for me, because I just love making an impact on other people." 
-Zack Hansen 

Get to know Zack in the Q&A, below! 

What did you study at NHCC? 
Yeah, that's a great question. I studied a lot at NHCC, just to kind of encompass everything. But I'll be graduating with associate degrees in mathematics and liberal arts. NHCC offers an AA in math. They call it the math transfer pathway. So, if you take a lot of math, then you're pretty much guaranteed to get the degree! I took pretty much every math class that NHCC has, but then I also dipped into the liberal arts education. I took classes in anthropology, philosophy, logic, sociology and stuff like that. I took some college writing and creative writing classes, too (because I like to poetry). That’s what I studied at NHCC! Generally speaking, a lot of math and liberal arts. 

You graduate next month in May, what’s your plan for life after NHCC? 
Yep, May 10th is the big day! After NHCC, I'm going to be moving on to a four-year school (that's most likely going to be out of state). I generally plan to get my bachelor's degree in mathematics and minor in chemistry. I’d also like to get a doctorate degree in mathematics and the goal with that degree is to be able to educate. I have a goal of doing some mathematics research and (if all goes well), I plan to do it at NASA. I've been looking a lot of different internships with them, so hopefully I'll be able to make that internship opportunity happen while I'm in school.

Are NASA internships competitive to land? 
They are pretty competitive. Although NASA has a lot of different opportunities for different age groups within their institution. So, yes, they are competitive; but the good thing is that they have a lot of opportunities. If there’s a topic that you're really interested in, you can pretty much bet on them offering something that fits your interests, or academic background. 

Zack in his NASA outfit

Where do you think you'll go to school for your bachelor's degree and beyond?
I have a few contenders that I applied to months ago. The school that I really want to go to is Princeton University, however, Cornell and Stanford are also on that list. The main reason I want to go to Princeton, is because they have a specific state-of-the-art teacher prep program that engulfs you into the world of education. While you're in school, you can teach at public schools and do all that while you're studying. They offer hands-on research and give you a glimpse into the world of teaching while you're learning how to be a teacher! I think it’s great to have that exposure early on. All of the schools I applied to have teacher prep programs! Wherever I do go though, I’d want to get my bachelor's and doctorate at the same school. That's the plan. Stay wherever I go and finish both of them!

How does being an educator fit into your ideal role at NASA?
Yeah, that's a great question, too. My goal of doing mathematics research at NASA kind of fits in with the physics and chemistry background that I have. For me, more research equals a greater understanding; and if I understand mathematics more, then I think I'll be able to teach it in a much more effective way. Because, I know what it’s like to see teachers who are really good at math, but they're not great at teaching. Or the other way around, they're great teachers, but maybe their math knowledge could be better. I want my situation to be the best of both worlds. Partaking in a teacher prep program where I can solidify my background in teaching and also research (to really understand what I want to teach) that will all help me, so when I become a teacher, I'll be able to teach in the most effective way possible and maximize students learning. 

So, your perfect path is: bachelor's degree, doctorate, NASA experience & teach as a professor? 
In a perfect world, yes! I think that’s definitely a viable option. If I was to do an internship with NASA, the other option would be to intern with them while I'm in school. So maybe by the time I graduate and finish my doctorate program, if I'm doing research while I'm in school, I’d have enough knowledge to start teaching right away after? Okay. I do think that both of these options are equally possible at this point! Because obviously these situations are quite some time down the road. Once I start studying, I'll figure out which direction I want to go in.  

What excites you the most about being an educator?
The thing that really excites me about being an educator (and I've experienced this a little bit while tutoring at NHCC) is when I'm able to make an impact on students’ lives. I can see how the way I’m educating the student is actually progressing their own education and progresses how they’re developing as a person. That’s just so impactful! I feel so great when that happens and I'm able to sit down with a student, talk about their goals, get to know them and help them to make progress on their path. I enjoy helping equip students with the tools to learn better. In the end, this has been something that’s made a great impact on me, too! I think that's what really made me feel like education is the right program for me, because I just love making an impact on other people. 

It's very interesting to see you tackling your educator goal from a math perspective. Is it common for people studying math to think about teaching like you?
There's a lot that goes into mathematics, you know? Sometimes people get lost in the world of numbers and they fall into careers completely different from education. Mathematics research, accounting…there are so many different ways you could take it. Also, pretty much every science has mathematics involved in it in some way. Many people will go for a math degree, but then really focus on a science and how that math relates to the science. I knew I was interested in astrophysics early on, so I thought, ‘Okay, I really love math, I really love astronomy and physics. I'm going to do the best of both worlds.’ But then as I started tutoring more at NHCC, I was like, ‘Hey, I don't want to sit and crunch numbers all day. I want to help people understand math in a better way.’ Oftentimes I hear people talk badly about math like, ‘I'm dreading doing this math assignment!’ But I don’t think it shouldn't be like that. If you're being taught in the right way, math should be enjoyable and it should be effective to you. 

Did someone at NHCC inspire you to join tutoring, or how did you become a tutor? 
When I first enrolled at NHCC in the summer of 2019, I just took one class and it was College Algebra. I had tested into Calculus I, but I didn't want to start there, because I wanted to have a strong background/strong understand in math. Going into College Algebra class, I knew I had a pretty good algebra background and other students started to notice. When we were doing group work I kind of became a resource to the students in the class. My teacher noticed that too and asked me, ‘Hey Zack, do you like doing this? Do you like helping others learn math?’ And I responded, ‘Yeah I do.’ I definitely did like helping other students with math! Back in high school, I had been a TA in a few classes and it was just a natural thing for me. I think I had a natural aptitude for education. Some teachers at NHCC saw it and they told me, ‘We think you should try and tutor here.’ After a couple teachers suggested it, I went to talk to Dale Bradtke in the Math Resource Center. And then it was like, ‘Okay, let's start this!’ I became a tutor at NHCC in 2019 and I just fell in love with it. Tutoring is always so much fun! 

Do you think you would’ve considered the educator route, if you hadn’t become a tutor? 
That's perplexing to think about! I think I still would’ve wound up in education though! Like I said, in high school I’d done some tutoring/educational things to help others learn. I already had some background. Even if a teacher at NHCC hadn't said anything, I think I would’ve realized the need for tutoring here at some point and I would have offered my help. However, I do still feel super grateful that the teachers said something to me about tutoring! A lot of times teachers can be so busy with students, that they don’t notice things like that and they don't realize, ‘Hey, this student could be a really good tutor.’ So, I’d like to say thank you to the teachers who said something, because that kind of sparked an opportunity for me. If I hadn't had that opportunity in the beginning, sure, I could’ve gotten into it later on, but I wouldn't have as much experience as I do now. 

Can you think of any favorite memories you made at NHCC? 
I have so many favorite NHCC memories, seriously! But if I had to put my finger on one… I’d say my fine arts experiences! Outside of all the education stuff that I’ve done with tutoring in math and science, I also love the arts. And at the beginning of 2021, I got into the North Hennepin Community College Chambers Choir and Concert Choir. Once that happened, the former Dean of Arts over there, Kathy Hendrickson came in and told us about the theatrical opportunities that were going on with different theater productions. I gave it some thought and I decided to audition to be in the production of Dracula (I’d also been in theater in high school) but I didn't know what theater entailed here at NHCC. So, I auditioned for Dracula, got the role and my greatest memory was going out on stage with these wonderful people each night. It was a small production of about eight, or nine people. This was right after COVID had kind of calmed down a little bit, but we were all still in masks. We became a really close, tight knit group! Coming together in the face of adversity, in that really trying time when COVID was a big deal, you know, and we had to separate a lot. But in midst of all that, we came together and we put on this fantastic production and just had fun! It was so great. And that's something that I'll remember here forever! I still have the score and the whole play at home. I have a bunch of pictures from the production, some recordings from when we were up on stage and I know that's just an experience I'll remember forever! I still talk to everybody who was in the production, too! So, I’d say that's one of my biggest NHCC memories.

Zack on stage in Dracula
Zack on stage

Did you join choir while Ryan was here, or with Gary?
I was not here when Ryan was here. My first semester in choir was also Gary's first semester! That semester was a little hectic, you know, since it was his first semester here as a teacher. But we made it work! Our choir was really small that semester (again, due to the consequences of COVID and everything), but we made some great music together. I had pretty much been in choir every semester from 2021-2023 to this semester. I didn’t join in 2024 just because of the time commitment I had to give to other things. But there's such a great group over there in the Fine Arts department at NHCC, David Mantini and Heather MacLaughlin…There's just so many great people over there that I've gotten to know! I'm so glad that I diversified my experience here and I was able to tap into different areas of the school. I didn't just focus on one thing. That's also what I really liked about studying liberal arts. You’re kind of getting a holistic span of everything! 

Overall, did you have a good NHCC experience? 
Of course! I would totally recommend NHCC to a friend, or if I have children someday, I’d encourage them to come here. There are a lot of great people at NHCC. I've seldom, if at all, heard of bad NHCC experiences. The educators here really want to see their students learn. And being a community college, you have that advantage to build a closer relationship with your teachers. Compare that to a state college, where teachers don't get to spend as much time with their students and it could make for a potentially negative experience. You really want to get that one-on-one experience and learn things in the way that best fits you, you know? 

What's your dream job? 
I think my dream job is to be an educator! We didn't really talk about the age group of students that I want to teach and how I feel about it right now may change down the line…But right now, (since I've been doing so much tutoring in a college environment with college students and high school students, you like PSEO students) generally, I think I’d want to work in the same level of education. So, I’d probably want to teach either high school, or college students. I’ll have a better idea after I get my degree and once I have more teaching experience. But to answer your question, Educator. 

You wouldn't consider a position at NASA to be your dream job? 
I think that's a dream opportunity. I think jobs and opportunities are different. If you asked me this question a year ago, I would say, ‘Yeah, my dream job is to work at NASA as a math nerd.’ That's what I would’ve said and that's how I felt before when I thought I really wanted to work in a math field at NASA. But I think it's more of a dream opportunity now. Like I said, if I can go there and learn more, do the research and really get a strong background in math; while also being around other researchers with strong math backgrounds, I think that’ll guide me to be a better educator. The future is unpredictable though, right? As of right now, my dream job is educator, my dream opportunity is NASA.

What would you tell somebody who is thinking about coming to NHCC? 
I think if there was a student who was on the fence about coming to North Hennepin Community College, or they didn't know what to expect, I would tell them that there's a plethora of opportunities that someone can stand to gain and experience here. There is something for everyone at North Hennepin Community College. There's always something you can do. There are always different things going on where you can socialize with other students. You can socialize with other educators and you can make your own impact in your own way. Whether that be, you know, even coming to campus and being present in the classroom is an impact you can make, right? If someone was thinking about coming to North Hennepin, I would urge them to try it because there's things that make this campus unique. The educators really want to see you succeed here and you may not get that at other schools. There's also a lot of resources on this campus that guide you to stay on your own path to success. They really care about you as a student, instead of just treating you like a number. Come to NHCC because there's a unique experience to be endured and I think you’ll love it here! 

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