In the classroom, he’s Peter Plourde, a math instructor who teaches in Northeastern’s Foundation Year program, which helps graduates of Boston high schools prepare for success in college. But he’s also Professor Lyrical, a rapper and hip-hop musician who uses music to make math topics more accessible and entertaining.
As Professor Lyrical, Plourde inspires his students to take a new look at their lives, communities and the culture — something he says math has the power to do.
“I’ll walk the walk and talk the talk of both sides. You can do two different things,” Plourde said. “Math and hip-hop? They’re not that far apart.”
Since high school, Plourde has lived something of a double life of academics and rap. He attended high school in a suburb of his hometown, Lowell, which he says gave him the ability and drive to succeed in the classroom and pursue higher education.
“I was able to flourish at Chelmsford High, and that got me into UMass Lowell,” Plourde said. “In Chelmsford, it was actually cool to be smart and to do well in class.”
As he pursued a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics from UMass Lowell — where he later earned a master’s degree — he also performed, recorded and organized hip-hop shows.
“There was no model or blueprint of anybody that was doing this. I was charting a new course,” Plourde said.
Out of college, Plourde excelled at a corporate job at a car rental company, quickly advancing through the ranks as he became known as one of the organization’s top trainers. But he felt unfulfilled, and in 1998 he chose to leave the high-paying job and return to Lowell, where he taught in a program for at-risk teens.
“I more identified with those kids. I felt that if I wasn’t able to go to high school in Chelmsford, I would have been one of those kids,” he said.
Because that program started later in the day than standard high schools — an effort to keep students engaged and off the streets during the evening hours —Plourde started teaching math courses at a local community college. Higher education and its pursuit of larger ideas struck a chord with Plourde, who has been teaching math, event planning and marketing at colleges across Massachusetts ever since.
“I just want them to pay attention to their world,” Plourde said. “Math has the power to do that, just like music.”