Courtesy of Roberto Rubalcaba
By day, he’s a mathematician known as Professor Rob, but by night, he’s a raw fish connoisseur and funky-fresh disc jockey.
Roberto Rubalcaba, a 1999 San Diego State alumnus, is a general math studies professor. However, his mathematical methods are anything but traditional. Rubalcaba has his own way of bringing math to life with music, art and his unwavering passion for his students.
“I work with students who are scared of math. I’ve had students that would literally walk out of the classroom at the sight of a fraction,” Rubalcaba said.
He realized the usual textbook drills had not been working for these students. Understanding their fear of the unknown, Rubalcaba acknowledged that each student has their own mind. He sought to make math as exciting for his students as it is for him.
“Math is almost too boring,” Rubalcaba said. “But to me, math describes connections between us. I love color.”
That’s when Rubalcaba’s artistic expression found the classroom and brought color to the subject.
In one lesson, he might have students craft a concept about statistics using glue, pipe cleaners and construction paper.
With 80’s funk and soul playing in the background, Rubalcaba will enthusiastically demonstrate the likeness of sound waves to line graphs.
The desks of college students could be mistaken for those of kindergartener’s on arts and crafts day.
Rubalcaba can often be seen wearing his black t-shirt that reads, “Diggin’ Daily,” a reference to digging for records in crates. His personality has made him an icon amongst his students across colleges, with a reputation at SDSU, UC San Diego, San Diego City College and San Diego Mesa College.
Criminal justice junior Rachel De Long took GMS 91 with Rubalcaba her freshman year and described him as a professor who genuinely cares about his students and tries his hardest to make his class as fun as possible.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect from classes in college. But then there’s Professor Rob, playing music for us, taking us on field trips around the school, making us count petals on flowers,” De Long said.
De Long said she would experience anxiety before tests in GMS 91.
“Not only did Professor Rob sympathize with everyone in the class, but he would tell each and every one of us, ‘You deserve to be here. You are here for a reason.’ He definitely made an impact on me,” De Long said.
She said Rubalcaba would always rave about his DJ experiences, or talk about his private sushi-making practice.
Through all the arts and crafts and record-spinning in class, De Long said she now sees math in more positive light than she had before.
“I would call my family and go on and on about how cool my math professor was,” she said.
Rubalcaba enjoyed teaching math with music so much, he hosted Hip Hop Math at Mira Costa College, an hour-and-a-half long demonstration using catchy, well-known soul beats to teach math concepts.
When he’s not teaching students how to simplify variables under radicals with his turntables, Rubalcaba can be found downtown performing at El Dorado cocktail lounge in East Village under the alias “The Professor.”
He recently held a show titled, “Office Hours: Sounds by The Professor.”
Rubalcaba plays soul, funk, old school hip-hop and a little bit of jazz.
“I called it office hours because I went right from my calculus class to the lounge,” Rubalcaba said.
The disc jockey likes to spin the timeless records that created the beats still being used in popular songs today.
Samples in his mixes come from iconic bands like Fugees, The Honey Drippers and Frankie Smith.
Rubalcaba has a regular gig on the third Sundays and fourth Wednesdays at El Dorado, and also appears at venues like Bluefoot Bar and Lounge in North Park.
He plays his monthly sets at El Dorado with fellow DJ Flo Diaz, who goes by the name DJ Juni.
The two have been friends for years, and have been consistently performing together for the last year.
Diaz said it’s no secret to him that Rubalcaba wears many hats and that his passion shines in everything he does whether it be for math, teaching students or making music.
“Whatever he does, he will be excited and animated about it. He doesn’t do things because it’s cool, or trendy, he 100 percent does it because he says, ‘I’m into it,’” Diaz said.
Rubalcaba also has a hobby for sushi-making. He found this passion for sushi crafting at Sea Rocket Bistro in downtown San Diego.
Although it has since closed, he still holds private parties for friends and family, and spends hours crafting music mixes to play while churning out sushi rolls.
Rubalcaba has also appeared at the SDSU Downtown Gallery playing music, as well as playing at the weekly campus farmer’s market.
“It’s just an honor to be involved in the whole campus, not just my classroom,” Rubalcaba said.
His main goal is to encourage people, specifically his students, not to conform and to express themselves.
“I really like color,” Rubalcaba said.
He leads a life of loud, exciting, passionate and tasteful color in all of his many art forms.
To hear his music, visit his Soundcloud.