Laura Carney’s passion to teach and form connections created a ripple effect on Western and international students from Japan. Although her time at Western came to an end earlier this month, her influence still remains.
Carney has created a network of connections at Western, Bellingham and all the way back to Japan. She had been part of Western for 16 years as the senior instructor for the Asia University America Program and the Language and Culture Programs under extended education.
Originally from Richmond, B.C., Carney moved to Nagoya, Japan to take a teaching position at Aichi Shukutoku University. She taught English for 12 years there.
While in Japan, she met her husband, a Western alum. With his connections in Bellingham being close to Carney’s family in Canada, they made the move to Bellingham.
In 2000, she began her new journey at Western. One of the first things she did was create a classroom volunteer program. Students signed up to sit in on classes and help Japanese students learn English and communication skills.
The Asia University America Program has Japanese students work together with Western students through the classroom volunteer program, WWU Japanese Conversation Club and Campus Friends program so they can better understand each other’s culture.
Over the years, Carney has added her own flare to the program.
Western student Ana Maschmann volunteers with the program and has known Carney for five years. Carney was the first professor Maschmann volunteered with.
“Ana is just such a great example of the many amazing volunteers that we have in the program,” Carney said. “She is a natural teacher.”
Maschmann said the volunteer program changed her life, but not just hers alone. Everyone involved in the program benefits and friendships are often formed through it, she said.
“It gives great opportunities for students who come here to study because it gives them connections with Americans,” Maschmann said. “It really helps our volunteers because it gives us an experience that really isn’t comparable to anything else.”
Carney also helped launch the Japanese Conversation Club that has been at Western for 10 years now. The program is so popular that sometimes the club has to get two separate rooms to fit everyone.
“Sometimes we would hold the club meeting like speed dating,” Carney said. “You wouldn’t be stuck with the same partner the whole time.”
Carney is dedicated to her students’ learning and experiences, said Paul Chen, a political science professor and friend of Carney’s.
“She is very friendly and eager to serve her students,” Chen said. “She cares a lot about her students and wants to give them a real feel of what it’s like to be here and go to school here.”
One of the stories that stood out to Carney most from all her years at Western was of one Japanese student, Junpei.
Another program that Carney influenced was the Campus and Community Friend program. When Japanese students arrive at Western, they get one community friend and one campus friend. These people help the students get used to the new environment.
“You can interact with these students from all over the world without going anywhere,” Carney said. “It is enriching for both.”
Due to an unspecified change in direction for AUAP, Carney’s contract was not renewed this year.
“I thought I would retire from AUAP. Now that it’s not going to happen, I am transitioning into something else. I feel confident that God has another plan for me and that it will be the best for me,” Carney said.“I really believe AUAP will continue for a long time.”
“It will if I have anything to say about it,” Maschmann said.
Laura is unsure what the future holds.
“I would like to be a teacher trainer, so either in TESOL, the Peace Corps, or organizations that send English teachers to other countries,” she said. “I think, personally, that is something I would really love to do in the near future.”
As she heads into the unknown, she would like to leave a final message for all those she met at Western.
“I have grown to love this community at Western and have so many people who I have been indebted to over the past 16 years,” she said. “First, thank you AUAP students, numerous classroom volunteers and practicum students, Japanese Conversation Club members, faculty and staff of both AUAP, IEP, and TESOL past and present, and my huge Extended Ed family. Secondly, for all the interactions and support, I have numerous people in many departments all over campus to thank. I truly hope to be back on campus when the door opens and as international education expands at Western. All the best and farewell, for now.”