AU Profiles – JoAnne Formanek Gustafson

Student: JoAnne Formanek Gustafson

?Many people are shifting gears in their mid-life years,? says AU student JoAnne Formanek Gustafson. She should know! The Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) student, who’s been taking courses from AU since 1988, explains how she unexpectedly ?fell into? a completely new career field.

She also weighs the pros and cons of distance study over ?traditional? classroom-based education, and explains why family support and clear goals are important to staying on track.

JoAnne’s journey with AU began back in 1988, when she decided she wanted to upgrade her skills with a business administration diploma. ?I started with business admin courses specifically relevant to my job at the time,? she says. After studying for three years, she took a break from school, married, and had two children. But in 2000, she decided to re-enter the educational arena after being laid off from her job. The big question: what to study? ?I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do,? she says.

She soon found out. ?It was strictly accidental,? JoAnne says. ?After volunteering in my children’s classes, I was surprised to learn that I liked being in a class[room]!? A career in teaching had never occurred to her: ?I was amazed to discover it,? she says. She’s now enrolled in AU’s BGS program, and is hoping to eventually apply her courses to the Bachelor of Professional Arts program, with her long-term sights set on a teaching degree.

Because the BGS program has no residency requirement, JoAnne has been able to do a mix of both distance and classroom-based studying between 2006 and 2008, including a two-year educational assistant diploma program at a local college. In the end, however, she prefers distance study.

?Two years of classroom-based college helped me develop some really good scheduling skills,? she says. ?I benefited from the feedback you get from discussing face to face and ?seeing? your instructor.? The rigid class schedule was more problematic: ?It was difficult to work my job around this daytime program,? she notes. ?Now I work part-time, and can do the AU courses in the afternoons . . . and in the evenings.?

?Distance is great in that It’s so flexible,? JoAnne adds. When she initially began taking classes from AU, her remote location made it the best option. Moreover, she points out, distance learning supports a different kind of student. ?Many students are now older, [and] going into different fields [or] upgrading,? she says. Online delivery has opened new worlds: ?In my college program we had about 35 people graduate . . . mostly distance [students],? she says. Although there was a campus, ?there were distance students accessing . . . in ?real time?,? she says. ?In Ontario, That’s huge because of the geographics of the province.?

One advantage of studying while working has been the ability to apply new skills in the real world, where she works as an educational assistant in a third-grade class. ?The students that an educational assistant works with can have a variety of needs, sometimes conditions like ADHD, learning disabilities, [and] behavioural disorders,? JoAnne points out.

Her current psychology classes, where She’s studying learning and learning disabilities, have been especially helpful, she says. For example, one class ?focuses on strategies used to assist students with . . . these types of needs.? There’s also a behavioural component, she adds. ?How do educators contribute to these problems, how do we analyze that, [and] how do we address it? The course talks about specific strategies, how to select one, [and] considerations in applying strategies.?

What about strategies for juggling family, work, and studying? JoAnne’s advice: ensure that everyone around you understands your goals. ?I had to train my family to recognize that what I’m doing is important,? she says. That comes with its own benefits as the kids get older. Although JoAnne admits it was difficult to study when her daughters were younger, now they are teenagers they all do homework together. ?It’s been great for them to see that being focused and valuing education can be a positive thing,? she says.

It also shows the value of pursuing personal goals, step by step. What’s JoAnne’s next step? Hopefully a teaching degree, she says. This fall, she plans to begin Queen’s University’s part-time teacher education program, concurrent with continuing her AU studies. Although she will need to spend some time during the summer at Queen’s?1,000 miles away in Kingston, Ontario?most of the program can be done locally. ?They partner with three different First Nations organizations to offer this across the province,? JoAnne says. ?It helps to bring aboriginal professionals into teaching.?

Taking two programs at once won’t be easy. ?The next two years will be tough,? JoAnne admits. But She’s enthusiastic about staying focused and attaining her goals. ?Keep your eye on the prize!? she says. ?Sometimes the path to get there is unexpected, but we sure learn along the way!?