Minds We Meet – Interviewing Allison Stewart

Allison Stewart is an AU student who lives in Edmonton and is the director of the public library in nearby Stony Plain, AB. She’s working on her Communications Degree at AU and, once done, will begin her Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) at University of Alberta.

Allison was recently interviewed by The Voice Magazine about school, work, and long journeys.

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?
I really got started on my education late in life. In was in my 30s when I took Information Management and Library Technology at Grant MacEwan College. My kids were young, so I studied part-time in the evenings and online; I attended full-time later on. It took me four years to complete a 2-year program. I had intended to go on to get my masters, but study for that wasn’t available online, and I still had to have a degree to get into that program.

After college I got a job as a school librarian. That worked out great because it meant I had the same hours, and the same holidays, as my two daughters. I was a single-parent at the time, so that was critical. As my kids got older and I was ready for new challenges, I accepted a position as the assistant director of the Stony Plain public library. Last year, I became the director. A condition of that position is a masters degree, so I had to start working toward my MLIS in order to accept the position.

What do you do like to do when You’re not studying?
I’m a runner but I’m sidelined with an injury right now. I can still bike, though, and I belong to a women’s mountain biking group called “Dirt Girls.” I bike with them once a week but I don’t have time to go on their weekend trips. In the winter I cross-country ski. My husband is a runner too, so some weekends we’ll head to Banff, Jasper, or Canmore for running events.

What are your plans for this education once you finish? How does it fit in with where you want to go?
I love my job and this community, but I would never say that this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. Right now, my masters is a hoop I have to jump through. The library is required to employ someone with an MLIS so, in order for me to be director, we had to fill the assistant director’s position with someone with a masters. There’s really nowhere for someone with a masters to go in our library, but It’s said we’re a “farm team” for the Edmonton library. That’s where our previous director went. But I’ll be at school for another 7 years, finishing my degree at AU then on to get my masters from UofA, so I’ll be here for a long while yet.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
I would have to say some of the teachers I worked with in high school. Some of them were so passionate about teaching and instilling a love of learning. I always enjoyed school. I’m really knowledge-driven. Learning is a real priority for me.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
I would love to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth I. It wasn’t easy at that time to be a female ruler. She resisted pleas to wed and produce an heir. She inherited an impoverished reign and rebuilt England into a strong country with a mighty navy. Strong women have always fascinated me.

Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like? Dislike?
I like that I can go at my own pace. And everything is right there when I need it. The downside is less involvement with other students. I miss those in-class discussions, which give you better insight into a topic. Online, you can’t bounce ideas off each other like you do in class. I find the lack of student activity on the AUSU Forums disappointing. It’s such an important tool but many posts go unanswered. I understand we’re all busy, but that student-to-student contact is so valuable.

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?
Never. I am knowledge-driven and I find it exciting to be learning. What makes it work is that I have a supportive husband. It makes a difference to have someone helping with essential household chores like laundry and vacuuming.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
Without a doubt it was Critical Reasoning, PHIL 252. If I could talk to new students I would tell them, “take this course first!” It’s so useful?the skills you learn in this course will help you in every other course.

Describe the proudest moment in your life.
I have a couple. The first one was having the courage to leave my dysfunctional first marriage. It was incredibly difficult, but nothing I did since that would have happened if I hadn’t left. The second was getting my Library Technician diploma. Okay, one more: getting the director’s position at the Stony Plain public library without having my masters. It felt great that they recognized that I would be right for the position.

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
I’ve given up most of the vacuuming at home, but I confess I don’t regret it! Seriously, what I miss most is just having casual time to spend with my daughters. Time is so restricted?I have to make a conscious decision to make time for them. they’re both older now, 19 and 17, but I think time with them becomes even more precious as they get older and develop their own lives.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
I think I would ask, “what are we not doing that we could be doing to better serve our students?” I’d want to talk to the students to find out. I’d also want to talk to staff to find out what their challenges are.

If you were trapped on an island, what 3 things would you bring?
I would bring a magnifying glass so I could start fires. And a knife. That would be a useful tool for cutting wood and making fishing lines. And a tarp for shelter. No! Scratch the tarp?I think I would want a survival guide.

Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people.
I have never learned how not to act like a 6-year-old when I’m excited. Honestly, if I’m excited or happy about something, I jump up and down and clap my hands. I’m in my 40s, so that sometimes takes people aback. I’m just very enthusiastic and I don’t think It’s wrong to show passion or excitement.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
You’re never too old to have fun! You have to look for positive things.

What do you think about e-texts?
I do lots of online reading for my courses already. I also have access to a lot of electronic reading through the library, so I don’t really have any issue with e-texts. One thing I like is that, with my tablet, I can do electronic reading anywhere.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?
It’s been very good for the most part. I think AU needs to review turnaround time for the marking of assignments. Is seven days realistic? I think I only got one back in that time. I don’t think It’s the fault of the tutors, or of the university?It’s just the system. It really needs to be looked at. By saying seven days they create expectations in students that are often not fulfilled.

Where has life taken you so far?
In 2011 I went to Greece to run my first marathon. I started running in 2009, and, given my romantic soul, wanted to make my first marathon meaningful. What more fitting place to run my first marathon than where the first marathon took place?from Marathon to Athens?

I was born in Zambia, in southern Africa. When my family moved to Canada in 1976, we took a cruise ship from South Africa to England, then another ship to Montreal. From there we took a train across the country to Edmonton. I’ve also been to Whitehorse, in the Yukon.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
Well, being at the library I do a lot of book-club reading. I just finished Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards. It’s a gritty book about poverty in the Maritimes. I’m looking forward to reading The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. My daughter read it and laughed all the way through it, so I think it will be more uplifting than the previous book.

Editor’s Note: Allison wanted to point out that she’s a football fan as well, as you can see by the jerseys in the picture she sent us! -Karl