This summer, Emerson Alumna Laura Chenier ’10 will leave the dry landscape of Tempe, Arizona for the blistering heat of Malawi. The Arizona State University (ASU) graduate student will work withHearing for Humanity, an ASU non-profit that aims to improve hearing care in sub-Saharan Africa through training and providing hearing equipment. Chenier’s current track, one that fuses her passion for audiology and volunteerism, should surprise no one.
Asking Chenier what she did during her Emerson years is better posed as: “What didn’t she do?” The Communication Disorders major kept busy by not only working on campus in various jobs, but also playing basketball (becoming captain her senior year) and participating in Zeta Phi Eta. However, what meant the most to her were three trips she took across the country as part of Emerson’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.
“ASB is probably what influenced me the most post-graduation,” she says.
Chenier traveled to Waveland, Mississippi, and Galveston, Texas during her first two years in the program, where she worked on rebuilding a home and Hurricane Ike cleanup, respectively. Her final trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa was a trip she planned for her ASB team. That trip focused on recovery efforts after a devastating flood in 2008. Chenier says the volunteer work was the most meaningful to her. She believes what you do for others defines your character. Working with like-minded, dedicated volunteers, she said, also made the trips worthwhile.
“The opportunity to meet people who were volunteering as a career…is what made me join AmeriCorps,” she said.
After graduating, Chenier spent ten months volunteering in Mississippi and Louisiana withAmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps(NCCC), a full-time, team-based residential program focused on national and community service. The most difficult aspect of the program, Chenier explains, was the social aspect. The Corps members ate, slept, and breathed service. Her AmeriCorps service built on her experience with ASB, allowing her more time with the projects she worked on. “To only go there for a week and leave a project unfinished was hard,” she said of ASB.
Like ASB, though, Chenier was introduced to more professionals who had made service and volunteerism into careers. “Being able to work with those people gave me that clarity of who I want to work with after graduation,” she says.
This realization led her to attend Arizona State University, where she is studying to become a doctor of audiology. “I really wanted to get into a school that valued outside service,” she says, a challenge since few schools offer service opportunities at the graduate level.
Hearing for Humanity, which is partnered with the ASU Foundation, provides this opportunity. The organization was created two years ago and made its first trip to Malawi and Kenya that year. For five weeks, audiology professors and students, joined by an ASU engineering group, performed hearing assessments, made ear molds, tested hearing aids, and offered trainings for the community on hearing tests and hearing aid and equipment maintenance.
As Hearing for Humanity’s current vice president, Chenier approached advisor Dr. Ingrid McBride to organize another trip for this summer. “Fundraising is the biggest goal we’re working on right now,” Chenier says. The group held several events during the winter months, including fundraisers at local restaurants and a rummage sale. In addition, Hearing for Humanity participated in the AZ Walk to Silence, which agreed to donate 100% of the team’s fundraising – $2,400 – to the trip. “That’s a huge pull for us,” she says.
Another goal is getting necessary hearing equipment for these communities and finding grants to fund them. “A huge part of our initiative for this trip is to create a sustainable infrastructure for health care professionals in Malawi,” according to Chenier. These are essential to their mission and something the communities in Malawi are lacking to continue providing care to the people. If they don’t have that equipment, Chenier says, Hearing for Humanity’s efforts won’t be sustainable. Hearing for Humanity has received donations from Otometrics, Westone, Windex, RJS Acoustics, Oaktree Products, and Oticon, but still needs hearing aids, audiometers, and testing equipment.
For Chenier, the impending trip brings mixed emotions. While she is excited for the trip, her limited experience in the field can be intimidating. “I’m putting into work a skill I’ve only learned the past year,” she says. “It’s scary to walk into that environment.” However, the desperate need of the people in Mawali for equipment and training are extremely important to her. In the future, she envisions herself moving to Africa and continuing this work professionally.
“It’s the intersection of everything I want to do: volunteerism and audiology,” she says. In order to follow this path, Chenier says she needs far more experience, particularly interacting with people facing these issues. Ultimately, Chenier strives to provide services to people who truly need them and “become a role model to peers in the field.”
Chenier would recommend any Emerson student combine their career aspirations with service. “It was a huge influence on my experience at Emerson. And it broadens your horizons,” she says. It would be hard for her to explain how this would not be important for herself or others, since it has the potential to provide a greater understanding of any field. Chenier says she tries to put herself in unfamiliar situations to learn about herself and her environment. Without making that decision at Emerson or ASU, she might not be preparing now for a trip to Africa, or have discovered her true calling.