STUDENT: Katie Tippelt
This week, we introduce AU student Katie Tippelt, a single mom in her first year of Athabasca University’s Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations program. Katie, who lives about an hour east of Toronto, is enthusiastic about AU and the opportunity it provides for single parents. She explains why AU’s flexibility has been the perfect fit for her, and describes how the university could broaden its appeal.
Katie believes that distance education, particularly through AU, is the perfect opportunity for single parents to get ahead. ?I think there are a lot of single moms out there who are struggling,? she says. ?To break out of that kind of situation, you have to have [that] ?piece of paper?.?
Unlike traditional universities, studying with AU doesn’t require a babysitter, allowing Katie to work on her degree while still being available for her kindergarten-age daughter, Boston. ?In a way, I get that stay-at-home mom experience,? she says. ?I don’t know why more mothers aren’t doing this!?
In addition, AU is covered by the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which has a special program in place for single parents.
?You can get your living expenses pretty much covered as long as you keep your grades up,? Katie says. Although eventually some funding must be repaid, a large part is forgiven for single parents. ?It could help out a lot of people . . . in situations similar to mine,? she says. ?It really helps break the cycle of being a poor sole support parent.?
Katie began attending a traditional university right out of high school, but because she had no particular career goals, she ?blew the tuition? by arbitrarily choosing classes. It wasn’t particularly exciting, and without direction, she decided not to go back for year two.
?I had a pretty good job,? Katie explains. ?I figured I didn’t need [that] piece of paper.?
However, while she was on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter, her employer went out of business. ?The next thing I knew, all I could get were retail jobs,? Katie says. ?That wakes you up pretty fast!?
As she began working, Katie soon discovered that her interests lay in corporate consulting. ?All the companies I worked for . . . seemed to be a mess,? she says. ?I had . . . ideas for . . . improv[ing] their methods and corporate strategies . . . I wanted to help companies that were having problems, fix them.?
After speaking with practicing business consultants, who recommended studying labour relations, she began planning for her degree.
For Katie, the journey to AU was a search for flexibility. She’d begun by taking online courses through a local college. However, she wasn’t able to complete the program online, and there were many other hassles despite the fact that she was a top student. ?I started to look elsewhere,? she says.
This led her to the typical research starting point for today’s computer-driven society: run a Google search. She did, and Athabasca University came up. ?I recognized the name,? she says. ?And when I looked at [AU’s] website, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for.?
AU would allow her to complete her entire degree at a distance, while being able to spend time with her daughter. She could start studying mid-semester, and had the choice of four-month grouped study courses or six-month flexible course contracts. And she didn’t have to sit in a classroom with many younger students.
?I feel guilty it took me this long to figure out where I was going!? Katie laughs. Now, however, She’s much more focused. Although the Bachelor in Human Resources and Labour Relations is a three-year program, Katie’s goal is to finish in a year and a half. ?What I like about Athabasca . . . is that I can accelerate [my degree],? she says. She is taking a full course load plus an additional class, and plans to continue studying through the summer.
Katie is also happy with the non-course-related skills that distance education is helping her to acquire. ?I’m . . . learning . . . how to manage my time, and force myself to stay . . . focused,? she says.
She feels that procrastination is one of the biggest challenges distance students face. ?It’s so easy to put it off ?til tomorrow,? she says. ?[There’s] nothing pushing you.? While she recommends setting up and closely following a work schedule, She’s also found that taking the four-month grouped study courses helps motivate her: ?I need the pressure to stay focused,? she says. ?[With] the six month [classes], I find I just leave it all to the end!?
Katie’s excited about her AU courses, and finds the case-study approach that many use particularly effective. ?I think the classes give structure to my . . . creativity,? she says. ?You have to know the rules before you can break them . . . so the courses are teaching me all the basics I need.? In fact, She’s using both as she evaluates various organizations around her, looking for possible improvements.
Athabasca University is no exception. ?I think the university needs to get out of [the] ?distance ed? mentality and work toward a more university experience with ultimate flexibility,? she says.
For example, she recommends that AU begin hosting large events with well-known speakers like Canadian environmental scientist David Suzuki or British entrepreneur Richard Branson. Holding such events in major centres like Toronto would give AU ?really good exposure? in the greater community, Katie feels. ?It would increase the university’s reputation and visibility,? she says. ?Plus, students would get more of that university experience . . . [and would] get to meet people in [their] area. I think it would be a brilliant marketing strategy.?
In the meantime, Katie’s busy studying for her degree and recruiting others to Athabasca University. ?I don’t think that enough people really understand the opportunity that it offers,? she says. ?It’s brilliant. I wish I had known about [it] a few years ago!?