From My Perspective – Summer School

It’s been many years since I attended summer school, in fact I can’t say I’ve ever really done it before. I’ve taken courses that run at different times of the year, but this is the first time I’ve taken a course that actually has a summer component in which I have to physically attend a classroom full time.

As part of the AU Master of Counseling program, first year students must take a compulsory summer session, consisting of three weeks fulltime in the classroom. It wouldn’t be quite so bad, except that the classroom is three hours away from me – in Calgary. A daily commute is out of the question, so I’ve temporarily taken up residence away from home.

I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to this, although there are positives and negatives. Aside from the high cost of having to live away from home, living out of a suitcase in student residence can be a trying experience. I’ve had the “privilege” of staying in student residence only a few times before — twice in Vancouver, at Gage Towers, a student residence at least 40 years old. In spite of its age, however, it is an attractive, clean apartment, built in a unique octagonal design, with a stunning view of the ocean. In contrast, a year ago I stayed at a student residence at the University of Calgary. It was at least as old as Gage Towers, but extremely run down and seedy. I could hardly wait to leave.

This time, we are staying at Mount Royal College and I had been assured that the residence was newly-built; pleasant and comfortable townhouses, with fully-equipped kitchens and Internet access. The assurances were accurate, and the residence is as nice as they promised. I’m sharing with three others from the program, and so far the experience has been positive, in spite of having to be away from home. I’m certainly better off than the majority of my classmates, many of whom have come here from B.C., Ontario, the U.S., and elsewhere.

I’ve tried to look at the positives: three weeks that I can just concentrate on school, plus the interaction and learning experience of the classroom. Also, by doing three weeks full time, we will not have to continue the course for as long and will get most of August off before classes begin again.

The first two days of the class is orientation, and day three we get down to work, with the ethics course in the morning and the working alliance course in the afternoon. Evenings, of course, will be for working on assignments. It is certainly going to be a different experience, and I’m expecting a lot of hard work ahead. We may be living in student residences, but I doubt we will be doing any of the partying that supposedly goes on in “res” throughout the year!

For second year students, the summer session is optional, but for those who don’t take the three week summer school, their coursework will extend right into the fall, overlapping other courses, so it’s advantageous to take the summer session. Perhaps by next year they will consider holding the session elsewhere. One possibility many students were asking about it attending the session by videoconference, and this is something the program developers are looking at.

During one of the orientation sessions today, one of the program directors spoke about the history of the master of counseling program, and a few of his comments were very interesting. He said that when they set out to build a program collaboratively with the three universities (Calgary, Lethbridge, Athabasca), it was treading very new ground. The campus-based universities were used to collaborations in which one university took the lead and others followed. With this program, all three were expected to be fully engaged as collaborators, entering a new course delivery environment. Fortunately, Athabasca was the most flexible and progressive of the three, and AU was already “doing it,” so the other universities were provided a progressive model they could follow.

There were a few other hurdles to manage in the program development. One was the Alberta learning definition of “full time,” and the program had to structure the coursework so that students in the three-year stream would be taking the equivalent of a fulltime course load (4 courses a year). In response to requests, they have now begun offering students the opportunity to finish the course in two years, but students are strongly discouraged from exercising that option, since it really is an overwhelming amount of work. As part of the orientation, we were given instructions on three very important and time-consuming activities that we must complete – two practicums and a final project.

Timing is a big issue, and today it was explained that if we want to be able to apply to graduate in time, we need to start thinking about the practicums well in advance, allowing several months of preparation time to find each practicum. This involves searching out employment with an approved supervisor where we can complete a requisite number of supervised and client-contact hours. In addition, both practicums have a weekend classroom component, currently held either in Calgary or Vancouver. Should there be enough students in any one location (a minimum of ten), the practicum weekends can be moved elsewhere.

The final project is another important component of our degree, and we were advised today to start thinking now about what we are going to be doing, since the project must be supervised and externally reviewed once completed. There are many areas of interest, however, and for most students the problem is narrowing it down to just one area. I had been leaning towards something related to music and psychology, but today it was pointed out that the use of technology in counseling is a wide open field with very little current research. In particular, on-line counseling is an area where a student could prepare a significant project – just on ethics alone! Obviously I have some serious thinking to do about where I’m going to be focusing my research.

The uniqueness of this program has also created another interesting problem. Graduates are considered graduates of all three universities. That means all three universities will be on our parchment, and our names will be on the convocation list of all three universities. I’m not sure yet how they will organize convocation itself. I’ve volunteered to be on the committee, and apparently the program can choose which university to convocate at. I can’t imagine convocating anywhere but Athabasca, since to me, this program really belongs to AU.

The first class is scheduled to graduate next June, and if all goes well, mine will be in June 2007. Seems like a long way away, but given the amount of work that awaits me, I’m sure time will fly!

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology.