A Touch of Levity

Pepperdine professor Dr. Donna Nofziger as Edna Mode (from Disney’s “The Incredibles”) during a Zoom class held in spring 2020 during social distancing.

Pepperdine professor Dr. Donna Nofziger describes her teaching style as “very interactive.” 

“I’m always asking questions and I like to partner with my students where I feel like we’re in it together,” she said in a recent phone interview with The Malibu Times. “I don’t want them passively sitting memorizing information. I like give and take in the classroom.” 

But when Pepperdine classes went online in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. there were no more students in the classroom. They were forced home—scattered all over the world. The professor with 21 years at the university under her belt said it was a blow to have students “separated from the community we build.” 

“It was upsetting for everyone involved,” she said. “I struggled with how to keep class interactive. I felt adrift in terms of my pedagogy—of the way I teach my classes.  I didn’t want them just sitting, staring at a computer screen.”

So, Nofziger promised her science classes she would make it worthwhile for them to tune in every day and she didn’t disappoint.  The consistently high scorer on RateMyProfessor.com dressed in a different costume every day to bring a little joy to what had been a mundane quarantine. The 53-year-old got laughs when she showed up the first day in a crazy Medusa costume. 

“They loved it,” the former Malibu Times Face of Malibu said. “It gave them something to look forward to.” Nofziger made a dramatic entrance for each class by keeping her screen dark until the big reveal. 

“It became a fun way to start class,” according to the biology professor, who also used Zoom backgrounds to match her getups.

Some of her creative costumes included a pirate, coronavirus itself, Dr. Albert Einstein, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Edna Mode from “The Incredibles.” She never had a repeat. Once friends started hearing about her effort, they donated costumes. 

“It became a community thing,” she described.  

Classes ended last week, but Nofziger has so many donations the professor may continue her costumed lectures if summer school goes online. 

“I’m just trying to show that I get where they’re at,” she said. “It’s tough and I’m willing to make a fool of myself every day to keep it a little different.”

Nofziger said she felt the loss of community when lecturing before an empty classroom: “I tend to work the room a lot. I walk around. I try to keep their interest. I go between the aisles and ask questions.”  

While most students are sheltering at home in the U.S., Dr. Noziger has students in China, Canada and all different time zones, requiring some students to attend class at inconvenient times.  She records her classes so no one will have to wake up in the middle of the night to attend school.

“I feel for students everywhere that are now removed from their communities, their friends, their regular routine—staring at computer screens all day and feeling isolated and worried about what’s going on in the world. Anything we can do to appreciate the perseverance and resiliency of this generation and help them out is important.”