The Returning Student Award is AUSU’s newest student award, and was first offered in May 2009. The award is ?intended to recognize the courage of students who return to university after two or more years away from formal schooling,? with preference given to those students who ?have been away from formal education for longer periods,? as well as to those who ?have overcome or are in the process of overcoming significant hardship in pursuit of their education.?
While AUSU generally offers two of these awards each year, one every November and May, AUSU has decided to offer six of the awards this fiscal year. AUSU has lately been unable to hand out their Academic Achievement Awards due to difficulties in acquiring a properly drawn winners list from the university, and AUSU council decided that it would be best to use these designated awards funds for their intended purpose: student awards. As recently reported in The Voice, AUSU will be giving out four additional Computer Bursaries, Returning Student Awards, Student Service Awards, and AUSU Bursaries this fiscal year, with any remaining funds allocated to Travel Bursaries.
As a result of this decision, three Returning Student Award winners were chosen from the November 1 awards deadline applicants. Congratulations go out to Pauline Morris, Denise Sandberg, and Dawne Price, who will each receive a three-credit AU undergraduate course, and were all kind enough to discuss their recent win.
Morris is naturally reserved, but explains that in her essay for the Returning Student Award, she discussed her struggles with social anxiety. ?I’ve struggled with social anxiety for most of my life,? she says, and this has ?been a major factor in my delaying post secondary education.?
?I was thrilled to win the award,? Morris continues. ?Because social anxieties aren’t always visible, the difficulties are not acknowledged. So for me, the reward is a validation of my challenges.?
Denise Sandberg, meanwhile, is a 43-year-old mother of two who had been away from formal education since graduating high school in 1984. ?The day of my high school graduation, my one-month-old daughter was very ill,? says Sandberg. ?I left the hospital to attend graduation and receive my diploma along with my peers . . . There was just enough time to dance once with my Dad and then dashing back to my daughter’s side. That was the memory that stayed with me of my ending (or so I thought) education.?
After cancer claimed the lives of both Sandberg’s parents, she married, thinking that ?anything was better than being alone.? Sadly, ?he was a very abusive, alcoholic man,? she says, and though the marriage lasted ?10 long years,? she eventually wound up ?once again, a single parent, now with two children.?
In addition to these struggles, Sandberg was also ?diagnosed with Graves? disease, a thyroid disorder.? This autoimmune disorder has caused many health complications in her life.
In 2000, Sandberg remarried, and explains that her husband ?was and is the key? to helping her ?realize [her] dream and step into the university world.? She has now completed 15 credits through AU, and expects to see her name on the 2009 Honours List when it is released. Sandberg is ?literally ecstatic? to win the Returning Student Award. ?In a few words,? she says, ?It’s humbling.?
Dawne Price, finally, says that her ?future plans had always included obtaining a bachelor’s degree.? After marrying, she and her husband ?worked together . . . through the many challenges of farming, to create a fabulous place of work and a wonderful home for our family. Our oldest son was born in 1993 and was followed by a second son in 1995. I had set the goal of the fall of 2004, when my sons would be in grades 4 and 6, to start on my degree and an end date of 2011, which would be my fiftieth birthday,? says Price.
In August of 2004, Price’s youngest son was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, the same form of cancer that took the life of Terry Fox. ?The next 10 months were spent travelling from our home community,? in rural Alberta, to Edmonton for her son’s treatments. ?During that time, we had to make the painful decision to have his leg amputated in an effort to increase his chance of survival. Signing the consent form was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,? says Price.
Her son went into remission in May of 2005. ?Life seemed to be falling back into a bit of a routine, with great hopes, not only for his future?but mine of ?going to university.??
Unfortunately, ?in September of 2005, we received the most devastating news that any parent could ever hear. His cancer had returned, had moved to his lungs, back and his other leg, and there was nothing they could do to save his life,? Price says. ?He had spent so much time in the hospital during his treatments that he wanted to die at home. With the help of our home community medical team, we cared for him, until he died in his own bed on November 26, 2005, at the age of 10.? Price eventually self-published a book about her family’s journey.
?My main goal in pursuing post-secondary education was the legacy my son left me,? Price says. ?He was wise beyond his years and amazed me with his knowledge. I hope that he would be extremely proud of what I am doing.? In his honour, Price has ?set a goal of finishing [her] degree in 2013, the year he would have graduated high school.?
?This award means a lot to me,? Price says, ?as I know there are many people who have overcome difficulties or hardships in their pursuit of their education after a lengthy absence. My story is only one of many that are out there.
?It is easy to say that you will take a few years off and then work towards a degree, but you never really know what life is going to hand you. I admire anyone who is able to complete a post-secondary education, but for those who do it after a life-altering event, I have great respect,? Price says.
?I think it is marvellous that AUSU offers such an award, to recognize those who are able to work towards a diploma or degree after being out of school for many years.?
AUSU and The Voice congratulate all three November 2009 Returning Student Award winners!