By Alaysha Germaine
Sophistication, cultural intelligence, and curiosity characterize and outline the career and hobbies of one extremely interesting woman on campus.
Early on a Tuesday morning, Cathy Hagman remains quiet with a smile as she sets up overhead sheets and begins to neatly write directions on the board.
As students trickle in, they pick up name tags from the lid of a cardboard box placed at the front table. As they seat themselves, Hagman begins the discussion.
Though Hagman’s official teaching career began in the 1960s, previous to that, as a high school student, she spent time teaching French to the neighborhood kids.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Hagman. “I always had good ones in school and I thought of learning as a game.”
In today’s class, Hagman outlines a game she intends to use for her lesson.
She explains about 64 hexagrams in Chinese philosophy comprised of numbers that are derived from a chart combining elements such as heaven, thunder, water, fire, mountains, earth, wind and lake and how they affect cosmic and human situations in everyday life. Confusing as it may seem, the class is based upon the religion and philosophy of other cultures.
As a college student herself, she began at Harvard Radcliff, where she got her bachelor’s degree in English, and studied an array of topics. Before transferring to the University of Chicago where she received her master’s in the history of religions, she traveled to New Delhi, India where she taught sixth grade for a year.
Upon returning home, Hagman enrolled in the University of Iowa, where she got her second master’s degree in college student personnel administration, and then traveled to Seattle University where she received her doctorate in education.
“I guess you could say I liked to go to school!” Hagman said.
In the1980s, Hagman began her career at Whatcom where she now teaches U.S. history, Western civilization and the history of East and South Asia or Eastern Religions.
“I enjoy Cathy’s stories the most,” said Jayson Kordich, a student from her religions class. “Pure information without any anecdotal references is bland and boring. Hearing about her experiences in India is very enlightening.”
Hagman recalls that in Kansas, Missouri, where she grew up, the middle school held students from many different cultures. “If you could understand even just some of their language, then you could hear their story,” she said. She began studying those languages at an early age and using them to hear these stories she was so curious about.
“I’m really interested in people,” Hagman said. “People from different countries with different religions and how they celebrate holidays and family.”
Hagman herself has three daughters, and is married to a familiar face at the college, Bob Reisenburg, a psychology professor. To his interests in her field she says, “He’s just enthusiastic about everything.”
This Eastern Religions class focuses today on a book titled, “I-Ching, or Book of Changes.” The book thus far has posed as somewhat of an oracle for the game at hand.
Hagman demonstrates how the “game” is done, using the directions she had so eloquently written on the board. She throws three pennies down on a table. “Heads equals three, tails equals two,” she says. The sum of your pennies will give you either an odd or even number with outcomes of only six, seven, eight, and nine. Even numbers give you a solid straight line and odds give you a broken one.” The pennies are to be thrown six times and the lines you receive drawn from the bottom up in two sets.
Each of the combinations of lines can then be matched to the chart on the overhead showing the elements and their concurrent matching numbers which represent the hexagrams.
As the array of students in the class play the game, the sound of dropping pennies sirens throughout the room, Hagman walks around answering questions as they come. When the number from the chart is matched to a student’s outcome, the “I-Ching” has an explanation inside about precisely what that number means for the individual.
“Cathy is very passionate about her work; it’s just apparent,” said Stephanie Young, another student from Hagman’s religions class, “she tells stories of when she lived in India, plays music and fun videos, and overall just encourages everyone to express their thoughts.”
The variety of students seems as vast as the material covered in the class, there are plaid shirts and wool sweaters, skate shoes and flip flops, short shorts, baggy jeans, dreadlocks, Mohawks and afros.
“My students come from all kinds of backgrounds,” said Hagman, “This class is just to give them more interest, a feeling of positivity, and a greater understanding of other cultures. In these classes you have the opportunity to understand other people, yourself, and the possibility for change.”
“The way Cathy teaches transcends straight information. She takes her students on a journey through the different areas of the East,” said Kordich, “We really get a good feeling of what life was like throughout the history there. It’s really evident that she cares immensely about what she teaches.”