AU takes time to pat staff on the back
It was a Friday afternoon last fall, when Athabasca University senior accountant Herb Hetze received a panicked phone call from a rather destitute AU student, asking whether her expected refund could be expedited.
A sympathetic Hetze arranged for a bank transfer to be made, only to find the bank branch identified had recently closed. Undeterred, he determined where the closest branch was located, arranged for the transfer and convinced the bank’s staff to remain open past closing time so that the student could collect her funds that very same afternoon.
At AU’s Staff Recognition Event held June 16, president Dominique Abrioux noted that it is for acts of service such as this that Hetze was named one of two winners of this year’s Sue and Derrick Rowlandson Memorial Award for Service Excellence.
“In attitude, commitment and overall effectiveness,” Abrioux noted, “Herb definitely goes beyond expectations in order to provide service to students, staff, and external agencies.”
Senior Building Systems Operator Denis Mathieu was also honoured for his exceptional service to Athabasca University over his 19-year career here. “While he often has some major challenge to address, large projects to manage, and may well have been working extensive overtime given that he is always on call,” Abrioux pointed out, “Denis still makes the time to respond to individual requests for assistance, and this in a friendly, cheerful and courteous demeanour.” He added that Mathieu has earned the nickname “?MacGyver,’ “For when there is no ready-made solution, Denis excels at inventing one.”
Hetze and Mathieu were among a long list of AU staff members recognized for their accomplishments that day, including 28 people who were recognized for working at AU for five years or more: Mushtaq Ahmad, Mohamed Ally, Bryan Austin, Nicole Belland, Ruth Blakely, Wayne Brehaut, Cindy Brost, Priscilla Campeau, Peter Carr, Kim Clark, Angela Doroshenko, Nazrat Durand, Paulette Fleese, A.J. Fraser, Sandra Gibson, Jennifer Gross, Corinna Lewis, Dawn Lewis, Carole Mason, Jody McGarry, Vaune McKee, Brenda Moore, Pam Patten, Donna Patz, David Poshtar, Brian Powell, Mike Sosteric and Mary Weatherby.
Eight people received accolades for having worked at AU for ten years or more: Dianne Balaski, Linda Doroshenko, Blanche Emes, Beverly Guy, Pat Johnson, Doug Kariel, Dietmar Kennepohl and Rita Newberry. Among those who have worked at AU for 15 years, or more, are Rita Fertig, Mike Gismondi, Wendy Jewell, Connie Johnson, Janice Kenney and Kathy Lux.
Four people were identified as having worked at Athabasca University for at least 20 years. Human Resources Director Greta Martin pointed out that this is the last group that will be recognized for 20 years of service, and who began their AU careers while the University was based in Edmonton.
Bonnie Nahornick, a junior advisor at Calgary Learning Centre, has worked for AU for 25 years. “She’s very young at heart,” Martin said, introducing Nahornick. “She must have started with us at childhood. She was recognized in Calgary, and we felt it was important she be recognized in front of a broader group of us.”
AU also recognized a number of staff members who have achieved significant academic success in the past year. Four people, Dave Hrenewich, Ann Humphries, Helen Salzl and Linda Soluk, have earned Essential Skills for Supervisors Certificates through Northern Lakes College. Martin noted that the effort put into earning such accreditation goes a long way to improving the workplace.
“Becoming a good supervisor is a lifelong journey, a process,” she said. “You work at it every day.”
The list of AU staff academic achievers recognized also includes: Linda Bonneville, who earned a Labour Relations Certificate from Athabasca University; Gloria Bury for earning an Office Administration Certificate from Northern Lakes College; Rob Koons for his effort earning a Prairie Horticulture Certificate from Olds College; and Alan Lee, who now holds a Construction Administration Certificate from U of A.
Tracy Hillier graduated from Athabasca University’s MBA program this year, and Jody McGarry completed her Bachelor of Administration degree at AU. Jingfen Zhang now holds a Master of Arts degree from Syracuse University.
Vice President Academic Alan Davis noted it has taken years for Profs. Terry Anderson, Jane Arscott, Alvin Finkel, Kam Jugdev, Bruce Morito, Simon Sigue and Janice Thomas to see the fruits of their literary efforts. Each has been involved in the editing or writing of a book published in the last year.
Davis expressed surprise when Fulton presented him with a special parting gift. Davis has accepted the VP-Academic position with Niagara College in Ontario.
“Niagara College’s gain is our loss,” Fulton said. “When they refer to people working hard and working smart, Alan Davis exemplifies that. He’s contributed so much to the University and the community.”
“Don’t stop. Don’t stop,” Davis responded. “I wasn’t forewarned of this, and I have nothing prepared. So, I’ll quote that great man of words and great philosopher, Herb Hetze. “?This is the best place I’ve ever worked.'”
Executive encouraged all AU staff to pat themselves on the back.
“This (event) is very, very important because we take a lot of time here to recognize our customer, our student,” Martin said. “Sometimes it’s very important to take time for ourselves and say we’re doing a good job. We’ve done an excellent job. Sometimes we just survive, but that’s important, too.” “You are part of a phenomenal success story,” Fulton added, noting the University has grown from about 10,000 learners from the time of its first graduation ceremony in 1977, to about 30,000 learners today.
“Most private sector organizations faced with that kind of growth would come apart at the seams,” he added, quoting a Syncrude executive. “Athabasca University is now indisputably recognized as Canada’s National Open University. Please pat yourselves on the back.”
Centre of Science staff work to ease stress for lab students
It’s July, and the lazy, hazy days of summer are still a long way off for staff at the Science Lab at Athabasca University’s main campus.
As is the summer routine, about 45 students will descend on the lab during the course of July to complete intensive lab courses in biology, microbiology, chemistry and ecology. That means back-to-back, eight-day workweeks for lab staff will be the norm for the next while.
“Our summer science sessions create a very busy and hectic period for our science lab staff,” noted lab coordinator Robert Carmichael. “It does put pressure on us to present the best face of the university.”
However, he added, that pressure is nothing compared to the stress experienced by the students themselves.
“They’re very, very apprehensive,” he said. “It’s quite intimidating. They see this quite thick (work) book. We say it can be done in three days and they can’t quite see it.”
Carmichael recalls one student who was overwhelmed by it all, and spent the better part of one precious course day in the infirmary. “She looked soooo pale, very, very ill. I’m sure it was the stress.”
In another instance, a student asked how the course she had just completed would be reflected on her transcript. After a brief investigation, it was discovered the student hadn’t yet enrolled in the course.
“We get a lot of people here who have never been in a town smaller than 20,000,” added science technician Elaine Goth-Birkigt, noting many students don’t quite know what to expect. “And often those are people from (Canada).”
One student brought with his family with him. They rode a taxi to Athabasca from Edmonton International Airport, and were surprised to find Athabasca doesn’t have a shopping mall.
Birkigt reflects that the intensity of courses at AU mirrors the intensity students will encounter afterward, and a number of individuals who studied science at AU have gone on to become doctors, nurses, chiropractors.
According to Carmichael, students burn off stress in different ways. Some whoop it up at local establishments. Others leave the lab every day, completely spent mentally, emotionally and physically.
“(So far) students are much more serious this year,” he said. “They went back to their hotels and worked hard, and studied and slept.”
AU staff members do what they can to help alleviate student tension. Making accommodation recommendations, providing transportation to and from motels, and offering social opportunities for students to relax and unwind is just part of the process.
“(Summer session) does provide new opportunities to meet interesting people from all over the world,” Carmichael said. “We appreciate that so these few things we do don’t seem too difficult.”
And, he added, “There’s a sense of satisfaction from seeing students come in scared and see the smiles of satisfaction as they leave having completed courses. ”