New Faculty
Johanna Mangahas-Kutluhan Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Johanna Mangahas-Kutluhan
Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics

By Richard C. Lewis  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Johanna Mangahas-Kutluhan has a secret: She loves poetry.

As an undergraduate at the University of California–Berkeley, Mangahas-Kutluhan was part of a “cartel,” as she called it, that would get together to read and write poetry. She even started a poetry journal that, at its height, was distributed nationwide.

Now the Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics tries to keep her passion for poetry in check.

“If at any moment I’m writing poetry, I’m like ‘Why aren’t you doing your job?’” she said with a laugh.

The 33-year-old Mangahas-Kutluhan should be busy enough to keep herself from composing sonnets. She will teach two undergraduate classes this fall, calculus and linear algebra, as well as pursue her research interests in geometric topology, in particular mapping class groups.

Mangahas-Kutluhan said she’s always been interested in math, but it took her a while to choose it as her vocation. At Berkeley, she majored in English and math. After graduating, she and several classmates started their own poetry journal, called Loop. For five years, the group — narrowed to two co-editors — toiled after hours at an engineering firm in Oakland, soliciting manuscripts and publishing their annual journal. By the time they had printed the fifth issue of Loop, they had established a nationwide distribution network of small bookstores.

Even as she indulged her passion for words, Mangahas-Kutluhan knew she wanted to attend graduate school. She opted to study math at the University of Michigan because, “I felt this need to grow up.”

“The nice thing about math is that it’s there,” she added. “It’s like a city you can return to, and you know your way around.”

She initially thought she would focus on the intersection of applied mathematics and biology but changed her mind after listening to graduate students in pure math talk about their homework and theoretical mathematicians talk about their research.

Mangahas-Kutluhan was born in Quezon City, in the Philippines. Her family moved when she was 2 — following her father, who had left earlier — and settled in Stockton, Calif., at the head of the San Joaquin Valley.

“My parents were discovering life in America, giving it a shot,” she said.

Mangahas-Kutluhan and her husband, Cagatay, celebrated their one-year anniversary in June and are living in Providence. They look forward to seeing the sights in New England in their free time — which could help squelch the poetry temptation.

“I can’t guarantee that,” she said with a smile.