Amy Abe

Top 40 Under 40 2017

Photography Cooper & O’Hara

Age: 36

Job Title: Instructor and Curriculum Developer, NorQuest College

Why She’s Top 40: She teaches English as a second language while engaging students with their communities

Amy Abe believes language instruction is as much about cultural nuance as it is about grammar and syntax. After all, she’s witnessed it firsthand. After losing her entire playwright portfolio in a fire, she changed course. Rather than pursuing a career in drama, she moved to Japan and taught English in Hiroshima for three years, witnessing how culture and language intersect.

Now she’s an instructor and curriculum developer at NorQuest College, developing resources to help instructors and students understand Canadian culture in a way that’s rarely covered in textbooks.

“My immigrant learners want to fully participate in their new society,” says Abe. “Some of them want to challenge the systems of oppression: the invisible ones and the not-so-invisible ones.”

Abe says students can do that through NorQuest’s Indigenous strategy, which counts as one of its aims the attempt to decolonize education by balancing Western worldviews with Indigenous worldviews. Students have written reports to the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Arts Council calling for changes, among other things, to systemic barriers such as a need for post-secondary education that, in their opinion, sometimes exclude minorities and Indigenous groups from arts applications.

Abe’s co-authored many curriculum materials including a free online interactive textbook that includes Canadian cultural references specific to rural Alberta. Her research has guided policy changes and teacher training; she’s developed a guide for instructors to develop a critical lens, which helps them in different areas such as determining whether teaching materials contain language that’s empowering or disenfranchising.

But her pride’s obviously rooted in the work of her students. She’s taken students to provincial conferences to present speeches alongside her own. And as part of Inclusion Fusion – a week-long yearly event promoting discussions around racism – Abe’s students engaged with stories and photos of diverse people around NorQuest. One student from Ethiopia, who had hardly participated throughout the course, became far more involved after learning the story of an indigenous dancer who’d performed in the Vancouver Olympics.

“It was the most he’d spoken, the most he’d written. And his is just one story,” says Abe, who says she sees ripple effects of student engagement happen on a daily basis.

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