Focus on Faces: Joel Keranen

Joel Keranen photoMay 31 – Hobbs, NM. New Mexico Junior College physics and math professor Joel Keranen is proof that numbers can take you places, not just across country, but around the world.

Keranen, a transplant from Michigan, stumbled onto a part-time job that enables him to take a cruise every summer—on Navy ships teaching math and physics. Unlike luxury cruise liners, these ships provide only basic sleeping arrangements, which Keranen sometimes has to share with up to eight other men.

Keranen, who is generally offered the top “rack,” or bunk, insists that it is not really that bad. “It’s actually kind of cool because it ends up rocking you to sleep,” said Keranen. “It’s real luxury, though, when you’re in the officers’ quarters, which only sleep two people, two high, in a room.”

Keranen, who taught in four other states before making New Mexico home, has spent the past six summers aboard ship teaching for the Navy College. “It’s like being in a regular classroom, except you have books sliding off tables onto the floor,” Keranen laughed. “It’s actually very much like being at NMJC. I teach the same types of classes.”

According to Keranen, while the ships range in their particular journeys and their length at sea each summer, he has enjoyed travels to Japan, Crete, Panama, and Thailand with the Navy College program.

The 38-year-old professor obtained his bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics from Michigan Technological University, and his two master’s degrees in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Illinois. He then taught in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, and Michigan before deciding to move to New Mexico and settle in at NMJC.

According to Keranen, he and NMJC have been a good fit. “This has been the best place to work, or I would have just kept on moving,” said Keranen, who has been teaching at NMJC since the summer of 2001. “People in this community are friendly, my supervisors are supportive, and I have several highly motivated students every semester.”

Keranen’s supervisor, Kelly Holladay, who serves as Dean of Arts and Sciences at NMJC, believes that the students’ motivation derives from Keranen himself, who teaches courses ranging from Intermediate Algebra and Calculus to Tech Math and Physics. “Joel is an exceptionally creative physics professor,” said Holladay. “He has the desire and ability to actually make physics fun.”

Keranen, who is an avid bicyclist, estimates that math and physics students, upon graduation, could expect to find jobs in several different industries, with salaries ranging from $28,000 to $70,000, dependent on the education level obtained and the industry chosen.

”Students with degrees in physics are jacks of all trades,” Keranen joked. “They can get jobs in research development, engineering, defense, national labs, and, of course, in teaching. People would be surprised where these students find jobs. They’re really everywhere.”

When Keranen is not teaching one of his six classes or sailing around the world, he likes kicking back with “a good technical science journal” or a comparative religion book. “I think that people should enjoy life, and I try to be a good person,” said Keranen of his life philosophy.

Judging from the sound of things, this is one physics professor who might just have discovered the formula we’ve all been looking for.

For more information about math or physics at New Mexico Junior College, contact Professor Keranen at

New Mexico Junior College, 5317 Lovington Hwy, Hobbs, NM 88240
Phone: 575.392.4510, 1.800.657.6260

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