Nothing can stop communication professor Karen Nishie from continuing to touch the lives of her students through teaching. Her most recent battle was a fight against ovarian cancer, but while many expected her to be gone six weeks or more, Nishie returned just two weeks after her surgery.
Returning to teach so soon was not about the pay or the subject matter, but the knowledge that she could impact the lives of students through sharing her faith. Even if only one person was to respond, Nishie believes it was worth it.
Her dedication to students is visible through her attendance at athletic events, choir performances, and theatre productions.
“If I had to have a guiding philosophy, people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Nishie said.
Because of this genuineness seen in action, she believes that her students find her accessible to talk to.
“Joy is unspeakable and full of glory, and it comes from Jesus. Happiness is temporary. People have struggles but when you’ve met Jesus, something changes,” Nishie said.
Nishie’s desire to spread joy can be seen even in how she announced she was diagnosed: in one of her stand-up comedy routines she posts to Facebook. She decided to share the news this way after seeing Dean of Students Mike Wilson’s reaction when she told him her diagnosis.
“I didn’t like the sadness I saw in his face,” she said. “I knew that I would have to tell people and thought this would be the least upsetting way for both them and for me.”
In pursuing joy, Nishie said she knows that it must come directly from God, because happiness is temporary. She also knows that her love for Vanguard comes from God and that she feels a lot of commitment to the school.
“When I first started here I felt called, I said to God that I will be here until you decide it is time for me to go,” Nishie said.
When Nishie started at the university 16 years ago, she was solely an adjunct. By her third semester, she was asked to lead the institution’s debate team. Since then, she has taught a number of classes and has not thought of stopping.
However, this most recent struggle against cancer has not been the first time her commitment to the school and students has been threatened by her health. In April 2014, her and her eldest daughter were involved in a car accident where they were hit unexpectedly by a 46,000 pound semi-truck.
According to Nishie, that was an incident that changed her life forever: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Two days after the accident, Nishie spoke at a panel for at the university, returning to school to finish the rest of the semester. But this did not come without physical remnants from the trauma. Even in this hardship, Nishie remains lighthearted.
“I have a bit of brain damage and sometimes forget what I’m saying. So, if I go blank or zoink out then just nudge and remind me what I was talking about,” Nishie said.
After this ordeal, Nishie spent the summer resting, seeing doctors, and going to physical therapy so she could return back to her students at Vanguard in the fall.
Even through all of this, Nishie knows she is at the university for a reason and believes that for all students.
“Just like I was called to Vanguard, know that it was no mistake in you coming here. Beyond education it is worth every price you’ve paid to be here emotionally, personally, mentally, and relationally. Never doubt that God put here for a reason,” Nishie said.
Nishie has made it clear it will not be her personal health or hardships that will pull her away from her students here, but only when God has called her someplace new.