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The teacher's gone but her lesson remains: Fight for equality, but keep your sense of humor.

Student Karen Hinson cringed at joining the frequent discussions last semester in professor Nancy Norvell's psychology class.

Struck with stage fright, she sat silently.

Still, she signed up for Norvell's class again this semester. The bubbly 36-year-old teacher seemed to care about her students, and this was something missing in Hinson's experience at the University of South Florida.

Immediately, Norvell picked her out.

"You were the one who didn't talk," Norvell said. Then she reached out and helped Hinson overcome her fears.

Norvell probably would have been thrilled more by Karen Hinson's appearance on stage today than by any tribute the 20-year-old student offers.

Hinson will deliver part of the eulogy for Norvell at 11:30 a.m. today at USF's College of Public Health auditorium. Norvell was killed last month when her rented single-engine plane crashed in rural Hernando County.

Most of the speakers today will be students who knew Norvell through a class or two. They'll talk, probably with great conviction, about the way Norvell touched their lives unlike any other teacher.

One student claimed a special bond with her after one evening together at Chili's, and anyone who met Norvell knows how this can be true.

I talked with Norvell several times about her research following the murders of five Gainesville students. We finally met in January.

She was supposed to be the subject of a feature profile. She talked rapid-fire about the difficulties women face in academia and her crusade to educate young students about feminism. These were controversial subjects, but she peppered the conversation with humor and a hearty laugh.

There was no bitterness, no anger.

"I like to think I'm some type of role model," she said. "Again and again, undergraduates come up and cling to someone who has personality and seems happy."

Her students listened and learned, young women who thought feminism meant man-hating and who read more Rush Limbaugh than Susan Faludi.

Norvell's humor disarmed them.

"We could be on a serious subject, and she would always find the appropriate time to crack a joke," said student Sunny Farmer, 21.

Farmer, also a speaker today, was in awe of her. "Wow. Finally, a teacher that has inspired me. I would love to touch people the way she did."

Undoubtedley, there will be tears today at USF. But the memorial is meant to be joyous and upbeat, like Norvell.

Norvell's name and number were scrawled in my datebook Feb. 11 with the notation "Call her." We had planned to set up a photo session at WMNF-FM, where she had a Saturday talk show on women's health issues. She was lobbying hard for an alternative shot: She wanted to be photographed in the tiny cockpit of the blue-and-white Cessna she flew out of Pasco County.

Instead, news photographers shot the crumpled plane.

The notes from the interview, still unpublished at her death, became the backbone of a lengthy obituary.

With another teacher, her students have continued on.

"She would have said "Okay, you're grieving, but get your butts up and let's learn something,' " said Hinson.

No one has dropped the class.

Marty Rosen can be reached at 226-3384.

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