AU Profiles – E. Wayne Benedict

STUDENT: E. Wayne Benedict

How did Athabasca University help turn a locomotive engineer into a labour lawyer? In this week’s profile, E. Wayne Benedict, a 2006 graduate of AU’s Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations (B.HRLR) program, talks about how his initial desire to upgrade his skills eventually turned into a law degree. He explains how distance education changed his life, and discusses why It’s so important to make and pursue attainable goals.

?Nothing opens doors, or minds, like education,? Wayne says. His seven-year journey toward his degree began when, while working as a locomotive engineer for BC Rail (now CN Rail), he was elected as head of the union local, which acted as a bargaining agent for engineers with BC Rail.

?I wanted to educate myself to perform services for the local that had previously been contracted out to labour lawyers,? Wayne says. He enroled at AU, initially in a certificate program. However, after graduating with a certificate in Industrial Relations and Human Resources in 2003, Wayne enroled in the B.HRLR program, transferring his certificate credits and beginning work on his degree.

?A degree had always been my goal, but I wanted to obtain the certificate as a shorter-term goal,? Wayne says.

He kept his goals flexible, however. ?I have had a lifelong policy of taking opportunities that present themselves,? he says. Partway through the B.HRLR program, one such opportunity arose: less than two weeks before classes began, the University of Saskatchewan College of Law offered him a spot in that fall’s incoming class.

While law schools typically require a bachelor’s degree for admission, they occasionally make exceptions for mature applicants with practical experience. ?It was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,? Wayne says.

Even though it would require leaving the railway industry??an industry . . . I had worked in for 15 years,? he notes?and moving his entire family from British Columbia to Saskatchewan on very short notice, any risk was well worth it in his mind. ?I didn’t need to think for a second before accepting the offer,? he says.

Although he initially intended to continue working on the B.HRLR during law school, he found the law school workload to be too intense, and had to withdraw from the AU courses in which he was enroled. However, he continued working on his AU courses during summer breaks and after graduating from law school. In December 2006, he completed his B.HRLR degree and was called to the Alberta bar almost a year later.

Currently, Wayne practices labour law as an associate at McGown Johnson, a Calgary law firm. ?I advocate for workers and their organizations in such areas of law as labour, employment, human rights, workers compensation, privacy, Charter of Rights, and administrative,? he says.

Wayne credits AU and distance education with changing his life and bringing him opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

?I have no doubt that without AU I would not be where I am today,? he says. When he began studying with AU, he was working full-time, had a family with two small children, and ran the union local. ?Distance education was the only option for me . . . campus-based studies would have been impossible,? Wayne says.

?I . . . recommend AU to others all the time,? he adds. Besides its flexibility, convenience, and affordability, distance education is also seen as an asset by potential employers.

?Employers know that distance learners who persevere to degrees [have] self-discipline,? says Wayne. ?When I interviewed for a Law Clerk position with the BC Court of Appeal, the three justices on the interview panel were clearly interested in my AU experience.?

A further advantage of distance education is the autonomy?but that requires a great deal of self-discipline. ?For me, the biggest challenge was procrastination,? Wayne says.

To keep focused, he turned reading and studying into a habit. ?I never went anywhere without my books and if I had five or 10 minutes here or there, I was reading,? he notes. After several years, reading and studying has become such an ingrained habit that ?not being in any courses . . . feels very strange,? he says.

However, that may soon change: Wayne intends to enrol in the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University’s part-time, part-distance Master of Laws program in the fall of 2009. ?I never get tired of learning,? he says.

His experience with independent studying also served him well in law school. Because law school work tends to be autonomous?there is little chance for self-correction and feedback before the final exam?it requires a great deal of self-discipline and motivation.

?Distance education had honed these skills in me,? Wayne says. ?[It] was excellent preparation for the law school experience.?

Wayne believes that goal setting is necessary for success. It’s important to ?[break] big goals into smaller, more manageable goals,? he says. ?Instead of setting your eye on a degree 30 courses away, decide to read one chapter, or complete one assignment, or finish one course, or a certificate program first.?

He’s definitely happy he made that initial decision to begin working on his degree. ?Time flies by,? Wayne says, regardless of whether you are pursuing a goal. ?You might as well be working on a course while it does. You will be surprised how soon you have a certificate [or] degree . . . hanging on your wall.?