STUDENT: Elizabeth Cousar
Elizabeth Cousar, a student in AU’s Bachelor of Professional Arts-Communications program since April 2004, is enthusiastic about how Athabasca University is helping her to accomplish her goals. In our interview, she chatted about why distance education works for her, how to manage school, family, volunteer work, and a full-time job, and the importance of building a support network.
Elizabeth lives in Langley, British Columbia (about an hour’s drive east of Vancouver) with her husband, two daughters, and dog. She has worked for years full-time as a sign language interpreter/teacher’s aide at a high school; this semester, she is interpreting tenth grade English and math, eighth grade science, and woodworking.
Eleven years of interpreting isn’t without some advantages — “I got 104% on the last Math 10 test!” she says — but she is definitely ready for a change. AU has been the perfect vehicle to help her toward her goal of becoming a secondary-school teacher.
Distance education was a logical choice for Elizabeth. In her late teens, she spent two years at a traditional university but found it so “deadly dull” that she ended up quitting a few years into the program. Moreover, at this point in her life, distance education makes more sense; a full-time job, husband and kids, and a lot of volunteer work make it difficult to earn an education the traditional way. Elizabeth had noticed that in the late evenings, after her children were in bed and her husband had left for work, she had a block of free time. She’s a night person, so she decided to put those hours to good use in pursuit of her bachelor’s degree. “How can I go to school between 8:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. and not have to pay a sitter?” she asks. “AU, here I come!”
Elizabeth has been happy with her experience at Athabasca University. “Without AU”, she admits, “it’d take me forever to finish take two of my degree.” She likes the fact that she can take as many or as few courses as she can manage at a given time, and that she can work on them at her own pace rather than stick to someone else’s schedule. Currently she is taking two courses, with only five more left until she can graduate.
The Bachelor of Professional Arts-Communications Studies program was also a good fit. It allowed her to apply the credits from her interpreting diploma, which got her a lot closer to her bachelor’s degree. Moreover, because of the program’s flexibility, Elizabeth is able to obtain enough electives to get a “teachable major” in French. This would allow her to teach in a French-immersion school. Although she’d prefer to teach science and math, her experience as a high school teacher’s aide means that she’s familiar with most high school subjects.
“I can pretty much teach whatever they want,” she says, “except maybe sewing… or auto mechanics!”
In her spare time, Elizabeth is a voracious reader of anything and everything in both English and French, but especially loves science fiction. Volunteering with Girl Guides of Canada is also a passion; she has been a member for nearly twenty years, and her daughters and mother are members as well. Elizabeth also enjoys cross-stitching or knitting when she gets the chance, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with her husband and friends on Saturday nights.
Elizabeth has some great advice for managing coursework, a full-time job, and family. “Figure out when you’re most productive, and study then,” she advises. Being a night person, she does most of her work after 9 p.m, but she has also been able to squeeze in studying at her daughters’ Tae-kwon-do lessons, at Guide camp, and even during down time at work.
A support system, she adds, is key. “Have your family firmly behind you,” Elizabeth says.
She has found her family’s support crucial. Her husband does the housework and cooking to give her more time to study. Even the kids are understanding; Elizabeth’s daughters do homework with her sometimes, which helps them appreciate why Mommy might be too busy for fun. Occasionally they’ll even act as her conscience, reminding her to study.
Support from the larger community is equally important: “It really helps to have a whole community behind you,” says Elizabeth. She strongly recommends the AUSU Discussion Forums, where she’s been able to chat with and become close to many of her “classmates”.
“I don’t think I’d be as happy with AU if it weren’t for the forums,” she confesses. “My fellow students keep me sane.”
And don’t forget rewards?both for yourself and for those who support you. “A new book, a game of cards, even a ‘thank you’ to my family really helps them realize how much it means to me,” Elizabeth says. “Chocolate helps.”
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