Dear Sandra

Dear Sandra,

As a new student I’d like to know more about the actual university. Where is it located, how many people work there, what is the community like, etc: I just want to be able to “picture” it better in my head. Thanks

Rookie Student in Ontario

Dear Rookie,

Every year at convocation the main statement I hear students make is “I’m amazed at the size of the university considering few students physically attend classes here!” AU is similar to any other university; with a cafeteria, an extensive library, science and computer labs and throngs of offices. The only thing missing is hoards of students cluttering the halls, shuffling in and out of classrooms. On a regular working day at AU, walking the sparsely populated halls that echo your footsteps can be quite a lonely experience.
Athabasca University is located in the small town of Athabasca, Alberta which is approximately an hour and a half drive from Edmonton. Isolated by a thick forest of pine trees, Athabasca is the idealization of a small town to escape to for a simpler life untouched by the rapid expansion overtaking bigger centers. AU Vice-President Judith Hughes once said in a speech at the 2003 National Forum on Public Education that upon her arrival at AU in the 1980’s she went to a local store to hook up her telephone. Once the formalities of hooking up her telephone were finished, she asked the clerk for a phone book to which he inquired “What do you need one for, everyone knows each other here.” For more info on the town, visit the town of Athabasca website at

Set on a hilltop above the majestic Athabasca River overlooking Athabasca is the physical structure of AU. Most of AU’s 900 staff members occupy office space in Athabasca, but AU has offices in Edmonton and Calgary, AB as well. At the main entrance of the building is a cement pond which serves as a backdrop for family photos after convocation ceremonies. Upon entering the university’s reception area, through a glassed entry way, one is transformed back to the early 80’s d├ęcor of brick and deep chocolate brown, interwoven with traces of orange and yellow. AU has an on-line tour of the university and its departments at

I fully understand your need to visualize AU. Sometimes without that mental picture in your head, your studies can seem unreal or unimportant. Ramona DeRose said in her address as the AU Undergraduate Speaker for Convocation 2003,

“For many of us, this is the first time we’ve connected with other students, other than in the dreaded exam rooms, and the first time we’ve met our tutors face-to-face. Distance learning can at times be an isolating experience. You are in a classroom of one, responsible for setting your own deadlines, and ever tempted by the proximity of distractions. We have had to be disciplined, and committed to our own learning. Our education has taken place not in a lecture hall, but on the telephone and over the Internet. At times, the distance learner feels like the only student to agonize over a particularly difficult concept, the only one overwhelmed with term papers, projects, and telephone quizzes. I am comforted to see just how many students have shared those experiences with me. I admit I traveled to convocation not only to receive my degree, but to confirm that Athabasca University actually exists!” (Check out Ramona’s full address at

Yes, Rookie Student in Ontario, there is an AU.



This column is for entertainment only. Sandra is not a professional counsellor, but is an AU student who would like to give personal advice about school and life to her peers. Please forward your questions to Sandra care of