Student: Cheryl Braden
AU student Cheryl Braden has been following an ambitious goal: to earn her degree one class at a time, completing a new course every eight to 10 weeks. For the BPA (Governance, Law and Management) student, who works full-time, careful planning is the key to her success. Here, she shares her strategies for creating a study schedule?and sticking to it. She also discusses the pros and cons of independent learning, and tells why distance study has worked so well for her.
Cheryl is no stranger to part-time education. After receiving a Law Clerk diploma from Niagara College, she began studying public administration through evening classes at Ryerson University in Toronto. However, although she had planned to finish her degree at Ryerson, she received a work promotion that required her to move to Calgary. ?I decided AU was my best bet to finish,? Cheryl says. ?In case I moved again, I could finish from anywhere.?
Currently, Cheryl is the director of the Calgary and Regina offices of the Federal Courts Administration Service. Although she hasn’t made a job-related move recently, she appreciates that AU’s continued flexibility has allowed her to study while travelling for work. ?I would have a hard time attending regular classes now,? Cheryl says. ?I travel . . . frequently enough that it would impact my attendance.?
With full-time work and a new course every eight to 10 weeks, Cheryl has her hands full. ?It’s a bit of a juggling act,? she admits. However, strategic planning has helped her keep everything in balance.
She starts with her longer-term goals. ?My studies at AU will make me eligible to move into either an executive position . . . or possibly another position at my current level,? Cheryl says. She has her sights set on Convocation 2011, and hopes to finish her coursework by the spring of that year. With those broader goals in place, She’s then able to start planning out her individual courses.
?I set schedules from the start of each course,? Cheryl says. Using the course’s Study Guide, Student Manual, and online resources, she’ll plan out a calendar of goals. ?I’ll break it down: first by when I need to get assignments in and exams booked, and then more specifically,? Cheryl explains. She also makes a point of booking her exams ahead of time. ?It helps me from getting too far behind,? she says. ?The exams are booked, so I have that to motivate me!?
Equally important, however, is including planned downtime. ?Be realistic,? Cheryl advises. ?Incorporate some time to take a break!?
To minimize distractions and keep on track, Cheryl avoids studying at home. ?If I’m away from home, I’m better able to concentrate,? she says. Although she takes her work with her when travelling, she also has found local study venues. ?I have used the Calgary public library and sometimes I just go to Starbucks,? she says. Even the office makes a good study spot after hours: ?Sometimes I end up . . . staying late at work to study after everyone has gone home and there’s peace and quiet.?
Because she works in government management, Cheryl feels that her studies aren’t in total isolation, as her coursework is often relevant to her professional life. ?I do discuss [material] with my staff and my boss,? she says. ?The topics are relevant to what we do.?
However, she does miss the interactive aspect of in-classroom learning, particularly the opportunity to ?[hear] other people’s questions and perspectives,? she says.
Nonetheless, the benefits of distance learning make it worthwhile. Says Cheryl: ?I’ve worked out of hotel rooms, my home, my office, on a plane, [and] on a train . . . the flexibility can’t be beat!?