Minds We Meet – Interviewing Nicole Whitaker


Nicole Whitaker is an AU student from Edmonton, Alberta. She is two courses away from completing her Bachelor of Health Administration degree. After balancing AU studies with full-time employment for seven years, Nicole is looking forward to rediscovering what she used to do with her spare time.

Nicole was recently interviewed by The Voice Magazine about school, work, and marathons.

Has Edmonton always been home for you?
No?I’m originally from a small town in BC. Fourteen years ago a friend of mine was moving to Edmonton and wanted a roommate. There wasn’t much going on in Williams Lake, BC, so I went with her to Edmonton and got a job there.

Describe the path that led you to AU. What was it that made you realize you wanted to go back to school, and what pushed you into the program you’ve signed up for?
When I first moved to Edmonton, I worked in retail for a while. I recognized I would need to do more, so I went to CDI College and got my medical assistant diploma. In 2005, I started with Capital Health, which is now part of Alberta Health Services. I wanted to stay in the healthcare industry but didn’t want to pursue a nursing degree; I wasn’t really interested in clinical work. I liked the admin part of healthcare so I did some research and found the AU program in healthcare administration. It works well for me because online study is flexible and I can continue to work full-time. I’ve spread a 3-year program over seven years and I have no student loans at the end of it. I’m just finishing up my final two courses, so I should be done by the end of October.

What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?
First of all, I spend time with my husband and our dog. I’m also a devoted runner. I’ve done a few marathons and half-marathons, mostly around here but I also did a half-marathon in Vancouver. I’m planning to participate in the Okanagan International Marathon in 2015. My goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon within five years.

What are your plans for this education once you finish? How does it fit in with where you want to go?
Having my Bachelors of Health Administration will take me farther?it really opens doors to have a degree. I’m fortunate to be with Alberta Health Services where there are growth opportunities.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
My grandpa, definitely. He was a real history buff. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was young. Grandpa had a real love of history so everything he told us had a history lesson built in somewhere. I think being around him really developed my desire to learn and kept me curious about things.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
I’m going to have to say Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine was an American long-distance runner who competed in the 1972 Olympics. He was known for his unorthodox training regime and he really sparked the running boom in the ’70s. I’d like to figure out how to channel all the energy and enthusiasm he had for running.

Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like? Dislike?
I absolutely love the flexibility. It’s total freedom to have a course that needs to be completed in 6 months but it doesn’t matter when I finish the assignments during that time. Of course, that means sometimes I’m sending in a flurry of last-minute submissions! It definitely takes willpower. I find that scheduling study time in my planner keeps me on track?most of the time.

When was the point where you wavered the most about whether it was worth it to continue your schooling, and what made you decide to keep going?
It definitely gets to be overwhelming at times. I’m doing a 3-year degree, and at first I was taking only one or two courses at a time. For a long while it felt like I wasn’t making a dent in the degree requirements at all. So I changed to doing three or four courses at a time. I’ve done more in the past two years than I did in the first five. It’s been tough, but if I hadn’t made that change, I probably would have given up.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
I think the most enjoyable courses for me were Biomedical Ethics, PHIL 335, and Professional Ethics, PHIL 333. In the healthcare industry, you hear about adverse events and the resulting harm to patients. It’s an intriguing topic, and I got to write some interesting papers, on eugenics, for example.

Describe the proudest moment in your life.
I have a couple. I had two practicums in my degree program, so submitting the final paper for my last practicum was one of those moments. The other was completing my first half-marathon around 7 years ago.

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
Mostly it’s been the training time for running. It’s too hard to balance the training needed for long runs with getting schoolwork done. I’ll have more time for training once I finish my degree but it will be a real challenge to get back to my previous fitness level. I don’t have kids, so I didn’t have to give up family time. I admire people who balance family, work, and school. At times, when I was taking four courses on top of full-time work, I got someone in to clean my house so I could focus on important things.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
It would have to be the e-text issue. I would change the e-text question to a student-based decision. Either build the text cost into the tuition and give a discount to students willing to use e-text, or exclude the text cost and charge extra to those who want a traditional textbook. Students know what works best for them; give them the choice.

Describe your earliest memory.
It was on my 3rd birthday. I was with my family in Vancouver, and I was feeding the geese at Stanley Park. That was one of the last times we were together as a family before my parents separated. My grandparents were there and all of my aunts and uncles, as well as my grandmother on my dad’s side. I think it really sticks with me because my whole family was there and we were all having a really good time. My dad and uncles playing football and my grandparents feeding the geese with me. I’m fortunate to have a very close family, and I think that is where it starts for me if I look back.

If you were trapped on an island, what three things would you bring?
My cell phone! I couldn’t live without it. And then a bathing suit and a pair of sunglasses.

Editor’s Note: Heh. Might as well make a holiday of it, eh? -Karl

Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people. What is unique or remarkable about you?
I guess I have eclectic interests?they’re really all over the map. I’m interested in running, but also Star Wars, and World War II history. It seems an odd mix.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
“This too shall pass.” Gets me through a lot.

What do you think about e-texts or the plans to make the university follow a call-centre model?
Personally I don’t like the e-texts. I prefer to be able to touch a book, make notes and highlight, dog-ear the pages. I also find my info retention is higher with traditional texts. I’m lucky because I’ve only had two or three courses with e-texts. Having used both, my preference is paper textbooks.

For the call-centre, I haven’t had much contact. I’m pretty low-maintenance so I don’t need to contact tutors very often. However, for one economics course, I think I called the tutor during each of the available times, so I appreciated the ability to contact the tutor directly.

Speaking of tutors, how do you find communications with your course tutors?
They’ve been very positive for the most part. Sometimes it’s a challenge when the tutor has a different understanding of an assignment’s requirements. I’ve only had one that was a real struggle; most tutors have been helpful.

Where has life taken you so far?
I spent several months in Portugal a number of years ago. I went with my best friend who had family there and fortunately she knew the language. I’ve only been to a couple places in Canada. Last year I went to Mexico with my sister for the “First International Sibling Adventure.” We plan to get away somewhere hot and exotic every second year.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
None! I usually feel guilty when I’m reading what I call “real” books. I feel as though I should be spending the time on my course books. However, I did just finish The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and I can highly recommend it.

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