UH Hilo math and education alum has simple formula for solving problems

Now teaching at Pāhoa High and Intermediate School, UH Hilo alumnus Jay Bumanglag teaches his students to do everything with good intentions and spread aloha. “We need more love, we need more care in the world. We need more humility.”

Story by Lauren Okinaka.

Jay Bamanglag on laptop at his desk. The word "TEACH" is on the wall behind him.
Jay Bamanglag in his classroom at Pāhoa High and Intermediate School. Courtesy photo.

For Jay Bumanglag, solving math problems is like solving life problems. His formula is simple: “Do what you love, love what you do.”

Born and raised in Pāhoa, Bumanglag is a math teacher at Pāhoa High and Intermediate School. He earned his bachelor of arts in mathematics in 2013 and master of arts in teaching in 2016, both degrees from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Bumanglag graduated from Pāhoa High and Intermediate School in 2009. He says his former calculus teacher ignited his passion for teaching. She recognized his leadership skills and how he interacted with his peers on campus. “She believed in me and that I can make a difference with whoever I work with,” he says. “It’s definitely a full 360 because I am now teaching in the classroom she taught me in.” Her advice to Bumanglag was to be true to himself, pick his battles wisely, and have fun.

After high school graduation, he says it felt right to stay home and continue his education at UH Hilo. “I could not see myself leaving the island,” he says. “I love the pace and the culture.”

UH Hilo added up

Bumanglag’s main reason for attending UH Hilo was its affordability. He was able to map out his financial situation with several scholarships that helped him pay for his college education. He received several scholarships that funded his first two years, including the State of Hawai‘i B Plus Scholarship, Puna Lions Club Scholarship, Mamoru and Aiko Takitani Scholarship, and the UH Hilo Centennial Scholarship.

The budding scholar also enjoyed the diversity of the student body. “UH Hilo is so diverse; sometimes when you work with different groups, you start to learn how people think,” he says. “It helped me be more patient and open-minded when meeting new people. That’s what I take into my own classroom.”

Bumanglag praised the mathematics department faculty for the connection they had with their students. “The math department was super great,” he says. “I could reach out to multiple professors and they would help me.”

Banner with words: Noyce Scholarship ProgramIn his junior year at UH Hilo, he was awarded the Hawai‘i Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which allowed him to participate in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. “It was one of my favorite opportunities because I was able to create tight friendships within my cohort,” says Bumanglag.

The program seeks to encourage talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers. It provides educational opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, and K-12 educators.

Diane Barrett
Diane Barrett

As part of the program, Bumanglag worked with another scholarship recipient to present an interactive workshop in Washington, D.C. Diane Barrett, professor and director at UH Hilo’s School of Education, says the presentation showed how math could be used in a crime scene investigation. “It was exceptional,” she says. “He not only demonstrated his math knowledge but also his excellent teaching ability.”

Paying it forward

Bumanglag says UH Hilo helped him become the teacher he is today. “I try to be more open-minded when I meet my students and try to learn their stories and their backgrounds,” he says. “I try to navigate ways to help them further their growth in their learning.”

He aims to create a safe space for his students and always is willing to listen to their concerns. “I call them my kids. Once they’re in my classroom, they’re like my own,” he says. “As teachers, we have that way of connecting with certain individuals.” His classroom is decorated with all kinds of fun depictions of pineapples: paperweights, a wood block image, some carved from wood, one donning sunglasses. On the back wall a banner reads, “BE A PINEAPPLE: STAND TALL, WEAR A CROWN, AND BE SWEET ON THE INSIDE!

Jay at his desk, facing the empty classroom with chairs up on the children's desks. At the back wall a banner reads, "BE A PINEAPPLE: STAND TALL, WEAR A CROWN, AND BE SWEET ON THE INSIDE!" 
Jay Bumanglag in an empty classroom where teaching now happens online.
Group of students stand with their teacher Jay Bumanglag.
Jay Bumanglag (at right) and his students at MathCounts, February 2020. Courtesy photo.

Last year, Bumanglag was able to take some of his students to MathCounts, events that test students on their ability to answer mathematical problems individually and as a team. Bumanglag also participated in MathCounts when he was a student at Pāhoa. “It made me realize that there are students who enjoy math,” he says. “I thought ‘how can I continue to further their interest in math?’”

Bumanglag teaches his students that solving a math problem is like solving a life problem. “I tell students that math is challenging, but everything else is challenging as well, and if you know how to do math, you become a better problem solver,” he says. “You might not use a particular formula in your life, but you will have the set skills to attack any problem.”

Solving a virtual problem

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools last March, teachers had to solve the unprecedented problem of teaching virtually. “It’s not the greatest situation, honestly. I think a lot of teachers are stressed because we went from face-to-face teaching to teaching virtually and that was the biggest shift,” says Bumanglag. “It’s like teaching a chef how to be a baker. They’re in a similar world but it’s just two different things.”

Distance learning has caused him to look at things from a different point of view. He says the pandemic has shown just how important it is for students to be in a classroom and how learning behind a screen takes away a lot of the social aspects of school. “Having the ability to be able to talk to them and knowing how their day is going is crucial as a teacher in this pandemic,” he says.

Though there may be lots of setbacks, Bumanglag has a positive attitude. “As teachers we’re resilient. We persevere and come together,” he says. “The support is there all around and we’re hoping for the best.”

Bumanglag’s teaching philosophy is simple. “It might sound a little cliché, but do what you love, love what you do,” he says. “I try to do everything with passion and intention.” He teaches his students to do everything with good intentions and spread aloha. “We need more love, we need more care in the world. We need more humility,” he says.

“When students say they enjoy coming to my class, that’s enough of a reason for me to believe I am making a difference in their lives,” he says.


-Story by Lauren Okinaka, who is earning a bachelor of arts in communication with a minor in English.