A Stand-up Educator

Professor of Political Science Denise Robb sits at a conference table in her office on Sept. 25, 2017 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo by Taylor Arthur

Backlit by morning light, a figure sits at a desk in a modest office situated by a winding row of spanish-style bungalows. The muted grey and cream colors of the office walls contrast with the beaming smile hidden behind a black Dell computer monitor.

At 6 a.m. political science professor Denise Robb arrives each day to Pierce’s campus with a fever of excitement as she prepares for her classes. Her bubbly laugh reverberates throughout the room as she reflects on her dream job.

“Most people think of their work as drudgery and I know how rare this job is,” Robb said. “I wish I could come at five in the morning because there is more to do.”

Before she began a career in teaching, Robb was a stand-up comedian for 20 years. She dropped out of the University of California, Los Angeles after only one semester to set her focus on becoming a professional comedian.

“I never made a good living at it. I wasn’t like Ellen. I didn’t have a series; so, I always had to work,” Robb Said.

Robb rotated between jobs, first as a legal temp, then as a paralegal and finally as the executive director of a political non-profit to make ends meet.

One day, a comment by a stranger she encountered at the nonprofit cemented in her brain.

“This really jerk-ey guy came into my office. “He said something like, ‘you know, for the money we pay you we could have somebody with a Ph.D.’ Then, he just walked out,” Robb said. “I don’t know why but for days I just kept hearing that in my head.”

Realizing something was missing in her life, Robb decided to take another stab at college to fulfill the void she felt. Due to a 40 hour work week, Robb could only manage to attend night classes.

A political science professor at Santa Monica College became an inspiration to Robb and rejuvenated a love of politics through her beauty, education and entrepreneurship.

Deciding on a career in political science, she was determined to follow in her professor’s footsteps.“I was in school for decades really – from about the late ‘90s till about 2011. I never stopped going,” Robb said.

After graduating from Santa Monica, Robb earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University, Los Angeles and earned her master’s and Ph.D. from University of California, Irvine.

The day of her graduation from UCI, Robb began teaching full-time at Pierce College.

According to Professor of English Marra Kraemer, one thing that often happens to teachers over time is they burn out or become bored with the material.

However, Robb has never appeared to be phased.

“I think politics is always changing but there is something about her too, her passion and her need to make the world better that is inspiring,” Kraemer said. “She believes in what she says and she believes that what she does makes a difference.”

Robb admits she worries about how to effectively deliver information to students so they can retain it long-term.

“I am always thinking, if they could just remember this one little thing, their life would be better,” Robb said. “ If students feel like they can make a difference, so much can flow from that. Their life can be so much better because they won’t feel like things just happened to them.”

President of Pierce’s Democrats Club, Melody Niv, knows firsthand how draining a political science class can be without the right person leading the classroom.

“A lot of teachers do lecture format where they just drone on for hours. But, what she does is more of a Socratic method where she interacts with the students,” Niv said.

Robb blends her background in humor with an attentive teaching style to make dense subject matter easier to go through, according to Niv.

“For Halloween she dressed as Donald Trump just wearing a literal blond wig and a poop emoji,” Niv Said. “I feel like that kind of humor makes it so much more accessible because politics can be intimidating at first.”

Robb sees bringing comedy to the classroom as a key piece to the students’ comprehension of the material.

“Getting laughs while teaching is more meaningful because it is helping them understand how important politics is,” Robb said.

Another strength both Niv and Kraemer see in Robb as a teacher is she treats all students as her equal.

“While other professors might talk at you – professor Robb talks to you and with you,” Niv said. “It is more like having a discussion with a friend than an authority figure.”

Robb doesn’t see herself retiring anytime soon. She plans on creating more political events that focus on voting and equality.

“In the senate there is only 20 percent women. In the house there is about 18 or 19 percent [women],” Robb said. “I want to encourage young people to run for office. I try to inspire them to know that it is their responsibility to have a democracy. Even if you think it doesn’t affect you, it does affect you. [Students] are starting to understand that it is important.”

Robb’s encouragement in the classroom does not go unnoticed.

“Having someone just cheer you on and say you can do it could be really helpful,” Kraemer said.