Zola Dunbar began teaching language arts and reading classes as an adjunct for PSU in 1968 while she was a full-time elementary teacher in the Beaverton School District. She came to PSU in 1979 full-time after earning her EdD at the University of Oregon. For a time she directed the Student Teaching Office, and she was very supportive of PSU athletes, tutoring them even after her retirement.
Dunbar grew up in Central Oregon, attending all 12 grades in a one-room schoolhouse. She graduated from Eastern Oregon College of Education in the late 1940s, as did her husband Don. In 2013, they received the EOU Distinguished Alumni Award. The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in 2013.