When Professor David Wright joined Tidewater Community College in 1974, he never imagined he’d still be teaching at the Virginia school 45 years later.
“It was my very first job out of graduate school,” the 69-year-old professor told BuzzFeed News. “I never thought I’d be at the same place my entire life, but it’s been a wonderful place. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Part of that ongoing enjoyment has been finding new and creative ways to keep his students engaged. Many of those who take his conceptual physics class are education or health science majors who are completing a prerequisite or an elective. “They’re not really engineers or science people, and they’ve all successfully avoided physics all their life for the most part,” he said.
Rather than solve math problems and discuss scientific principles, Wright is a firm advocate for demonstrating the wonders of science through action. He makes ice cream for his class using liquid nitrogen, lets deflating balloons fly around the room, and makes flames appear.
“It keeps them focused,” he said. “We’ll talk about what might happen. We’ll do the demonstration. We’ll talk about why it happened the way it did. I’m trying to show them how physics applies in the real world. They really appreciate being able to do that and see the applications of that.”
One such appreciative student this semester was 18-year-old Erica Church, a sophomore who took Wright’s class as a prerequisite for her sonography major. “I was a little worried going in,” she told BuzzFeed News. “On the first day of class, he actually walked on a bed of broken glass. I was like, this is a little crazy. I’ve never seen a professor doing this before.”
Church filmed her professor’s stunts all semester long, and on Wednesday afternoon she uploaded a video compilation to Twitter, expecting a few hundred likes and a couple of thousand views. She was wrong — her video went massively viral and was seen more than 10 million times in 24 hours.
“My phone is just blowing up constantly,” she said.
Wright had many, many fans on social media.
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