AU Counselling Services provides educational and career planning advice to both current and prospective AU students, as well as offering assistance and learning support to current students. According to the Counselling Services website, ?counsellors can help you clarify your educational and career goals and overcome barriers to your learning; they support you in your studies, help you learn to cope with change, recognize problems early, and identify solutions. Counsellors may recommend print or electronic materials, provide individual assistance for specific concerns, and suggest appropriate referrals.?
Rhonda Guay is a Counselling Services Coordinator with Athabasca University, and is responsible for ?coordinating the intake functions for the Counselling Services Unit.? This means that if ?a registered or prospective student contacts Counselling Services (by phone or email), they would initially speak with either Monica [Wolanuk] or me,? Guay says. ?We provide students with information about our university’s programs and processes, and book telephone appointments for students with our counsellors (when necessary).?
While Guay has been with AU ?26 years this July,? she has held a variety of positions within the university. ?My work history started in the Office of the Registrar, moved to the Office of the President, and finally Counselling Services,? Guay says, explaining that one thing she has ?always appreciated about the university is that it allows staff to work in various units and get a better understanding of how other areas operate.? Guay also represents Counselling Services ?on a variety of university committees.?
?It’s a big step for an adult learner to either return to formal learning or approach it for the first time. Hopefully, if they reach a friendly voice (or email presence), they feel more confident, relaxed and informed about their decision/issue and less isolated,? Guay says.
?While I’m a strong advocate for distance education, it can also be difficult and students sometimes do feel alone and isolated in their situation which can be quite stressful. Or, it may be an issue of juggling home, work, family and community commitments. Many of our adult learners also work outside the home, so keeping it all together for the length of time it takes to complete a university degree is a huge accomplishment! we’re here to help . . . [and] have worked hard to develop a variety of educational and career resources on our website.?
Julia McDonald, also a member of the Counselling Services team, has been a counsellor at AU for the last 10 years, prior to which she was ?a College Counsellor and briefly a Guidance Counsellor in the K-12 system.? In her position, McDonald ?counsels prospective students and registered students regarding education, career and study skills matters, in person, on the telephone or by email, individually or in workshops.? She also works to ?design, plan, implement and evaluate services to students which includes printed and web materials for counselling and guidance programs.?
When asked about her schedule, McDonald explains that she tries to ?book four one-hour appointments per day (sometimes more),? in addition to completing counselling notes, answering emails, preparing for sessions with students, and participating in committee work and various short-term projects. She also likes ?to keep the schedule a little flexible in case of an emergency call.?
One unique aspect of AU’s Counselling Services is that ?AU is one of the few universities that offers counselling services for prospective students. We help prospective students choose the right program for their career goals, answer any questions they have about AU . . . We see prospective students, so we serve a recruitment function and we help students with career issues, study skills, time management, etc., which will help the student to be more successful and stay a student so we have a retention function,? McDonald explains. ?If a student is in crisis (i.e., threatening suicide), other frontline staff will send them to us. We will assess the situation and help the person get help in their area. We generally do not do ongoing personal counselling but will help a student to [find] help in their community.?
?I love talking to the students,? McDonald says. ?I am a people person and I enjoy helping them with the career choices, study skills, time management issues, etc. My least favourite part of the job is when I cannot help a person . . . Sometimes students contact me when it is too late. If they contacted me sooner for help with their study skills, etc., I may have been able to give that person the tools to help be a successful student.?
?We all seek to provide the best services to meet the unique requests and needs of our students,? Guay says. ?Athabasca University has been in the business of providing post-secondary education since the 1970s and I still think we do it the best . . . Student satisfaction with Athabasca University is among the highest for all universities and I think AU’s commitment to service for our students is what sets us apart from other distance education providers.?