2017-10-11 / News

Clover Hill grad helps research, resettle refugees


Laura McCarter Laura McCarter For two years, Virginia Tech professor Courtney Thomas kept a note taped on the window above her desk. “Jumping,” it read.

The message was an inside joke, left on Thomas’ desk by one of the most hardworking students she’d ever met, Laura McCarter, a graduate of the Mathematics and Science High School at Clover Hill. “Jumping” was a reference to McCarter jumping ship, a reminder that if the pressure of college got to be too much, she could always quit and become a barista.

It was funny because they both knew it would never happen.

“She takes on a lot, and she handles it in the best possible way, but she’s not above laughing at herself,” Thomas explains. “She always keeps that really good sense of perspective.”

Born and raised in Chesterfield, McCarter, 22, now aims to use that perspective to help refugees from all over the world. McCarter first became interested in aiding refugees in 2013, after discussing the Syrian crisis with her brother-in-law, who worked for a Washington, D.C., think tank. This summer, she spent 10 weeks working on refugee and exchange programs at the State Department.

“I did a lot of research about refugee resettlement, and looking at the quality of service that refugees receive in the United States versus the top 10 hosting countries in the world,” says McCarter, who completed her undergraduate degree in international studies and a minor in history at Virginia Tech in three years.

Now back at Virginia Tech, McCarter is completing her master’s degree in political science. Her thesis concerns Syrian refugees and their access to education in Lebanon.

Research isn’t McCarter’s only connection to refugees; this spring, she raised $1,500 to underwrite two weeks in Munich, where she met with Middle Eastern refugees. The trip, which took place early this summer, was part of an International Mission Board project intended to help orient refugees to German culture.

“A lot of it just ended up being talking to refugees or people from the Middle East about life in Germany and how to learn the German language, or navigate public transportation in Germany,” McCarter says.

In Blacksburg, she tutors resettled refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Initially, her students needed help with English, but they’ve progressed to the point where McCarter is now tutoring them on all school subjects.

“Yesterday, I was tutoring one student on algebra and another student in biology and chemistry, so they have come quite a way,” she says. Asked what drives her, McCarter says she feels fortunate in her own life, and wants to give back.

“Part of it is making the difference in lives of other people,” she says. “That’s what we’re here for, to help other people.”

Thomas, the associate director of undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech, isn’t surprised at the path McCarter has taken.

“She has consistently developed a commitment to refugee populations,” Thomas says. “She is one of the most driven students and focused students I think I’ve worked with in recent memory.”

Heather Curran, an English teacher at Clover Hill who taught McCarter, echoes Thomas’ sentiments.

“I remember Laura being passionate about learning more about the world, but also the social and cultural issues that surround us,” Curran says. “She looks at the world through a very wide-angle lens. She takes in the panorama of what is happening, and then wants to make it better. She gives me hope [for] a better world.”

Like Thomas, Curran also received a personal note from McCarter that she cherished.

“She wrote to me about what I had taught her and how meaningful it was, and that’s Laura,” says Curran, who put the note up on her bulletin board. “It reminded me so much of my accountability with my students, and it really empowered me to go forward.”

Now, as she looks forward to finishing her master’s this semester, McCarter says she hasn’t forgotten where she came from.

“The skills I got at Clover Hill set me up for where I am in grad school,” she says. “I owe most of where I am today to Clover Hill and the people there.” ¦

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