This week’s profile focuses on an AU student who hasn’t let his health problems get in the way of earning his degree. Peter Tretter, who is enroled in AU’s Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, explains how he’s turned his health issues into a studying advantage. He also tells why distance education works for him, and gives advice on where to find that extra study time in a busy schedule.
Peter, who currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario, is required to spend 15 hours a week in a hospital dialysis unit. He admits that studying while dealing with a health issue poses its own special challenges: ?There are days,? Peter says, ?when you really don’t feel like doing homework because You’re too tired. I’ll do as much as I can, even if only an hour or two, and . . . reward myself with a break.?
AU and distance education have helped make his dream of completing his degree possible. AU’s Access to Students with Disabilities (ASD) office has been ?very compassionate and understanding,? Peter says.
Moreover, because he doesn’t attend traditional classes, Peter is able to take his studying with him wherever he goes?including the hospital. He’s decided to stay positive and productive, turning his hospital time into an opportunity to get his reading and studying done. ?A happy side effect [of dialysis] is that I have lots of time to do homework,? he says.
Distance education worked for him when traditional university was no longer possible. Several years ago, Peter was a technical theatre student at Ryerson University in Toronto. However, after three years of study, he had to withdraw due to his illness, leaving his degree unfinished. After taking another three years off, he decided to complete his studies. ?I was looking for the easiest way to apply my specialized credits towards a degree,? he says. A friend recommended Athabasca University; Peter was impressed to learn that its BGS program would allow him to transfer most of his Ryerson credits and apply them to his degree.
The BGS program’s flexibility was another drawing point. ?I really liked that there was no residency requirement for the BGS,? Peter says. Moreover, he is taking the BGS’s applied concentration; because it has no prerequisites, it has allowed him to take a wide variety of courses in fields unrelated to his initial theatre studies.
For example, he has taken several criminal justice courses. In fact, he calls it his ?very minor focus,? but that doesn’t necessarily mean a career change to the criminal justice field. ?It’s entirely possible,? he says, ?but the courses themselves are valuable even if I don’t go into that field.? An example is his course on special needs policing, dealing with minorities in the community. Peter believes that what he learned will be useful regardless of what career path he chooses: ?You’re always dealing with various folks from different cultures,? he says. ?It’s applicable in IT where I work now.?
Distance education has yet another advantage for Peter: he can work more efficiently than at a traditional university. While a traditional university requires reading homework in addition to attending classes, Peter says that ?at AU, you don’t have the hours of sometimes boring lectures, you just have the reading.
?I find my marks are higher now than when I was [at] Ryerson,? he adds.
Peter has found distance education to have some disadvantages, however. ?I miss the social interaction,? he says. Although he uses discussion forums such as those run by AUSU, ?It’s just not the same as the in-person contact with your classmates.? To stay motivated, Peter reminds himself that ?the work won’t do itself . . . [and] it has to get done.?
His secret to getting it done is making good use of those blocks of time that we typically waste without thinking. ?Lunch time at work is prime studying time,? Peter says. By spending half the lunch hour on homework, he was able to get a great deal accomplished while working full-time. ?I’d [also] go into work early and do homework before I started my shift,? he says.
Peter is approaching the end of his degree: with only six courses remaining, he plans to finish one shortly and begin the remaining five in January. He has not yet decided what will happen after graduation. ?I’m always looking for a career change,? Peter says. ?It is a great way to meet new people, and have valuable new experiences.?
On the other hand, he also feels that further education with AU fits well with his situation, and he is considering applying to AU’s Master of Arts?Integrated Studies (MAIS) program. ?The MAIS program is a natural progression of what I’m doing now because I can do the work while at the hospital,? he points out. ?I’d like to take it at the very least to advance within my current company.?
In his spare time, Peter has begun a forum website for Athabasca students, www.aurocks.com. He envisions it as an ?independent . . . community where AU students [can] gather to discuss the university.? He adds, ?The site is also there to let people know that there’s an independent place that thinks that AU is a great place to be a student. Let’s . . . let people know It’s a great, credible place to study.?