Minds We Meet – Interviewing Barry Wheeler

Barry Wheeler is an AU student from Corner Brook, NL. He’s in the Bachelor of Professional Arts program, majoring in Governance, Law, and Management. Barry’s got five more courses to go and hopes to complete his degree next year.

Barry was recently interviewed by The Voice Magazine about school, work, and community service.

Where exactly is Corner Brook?
It’s on the west coast of Newfoundland. From St. John’s, it’s 701 kilometres; that’s about an 8-hour drive for me.

Describe the path that led you to AU. What was it that made you realize you wanted to go back to school?
I was a bit of an overachiever in high school. But my Dad passed away when I was fifteen, and I couldn’t afford to go to university. I worked for two years, then went to technical college. I did exceptionally well and, after getting my diploma in business and computers, I was hired by the college to run their computer department. I ended up teaching at the college, and got my teachers’ license. Now I’m working for the federal government. I needed to upgrade my education and AU was exactly what I was looking for. It fits.

What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?
I volunteer with a local recreation group. We provide a slew of programs for youths, seniors, everybody. There’s no charge for participants; we fundraise to cover costs. We have bingo, pumpkin carving, sock-hops for the kids, you name it. I also run a number of websites and blogs, covering such topics as community events, winter driving, and hockey. I run Newfoundland Hockey Talk, which gets millions of page visits per month.

What are your plans for this education once you finish? How does it fit in with where you want to go?
It really helps in my current job?I’ve already gotten a promotion because of this education. Also, I’m getting close to retirement so I’m looking ahead to that. This degree will help me take on a bigger role in the community. Maybe a non-profit venture or maybe I’ll get into politics; it will be something where I can give back to people?that’s really important to me.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
I guess that would be my father. He never completed high school, and he had to work exceptionally hard to get the licensing he needed for his job. He really impressed on me that education is important.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
There are so many! I think I’d say John F. Kennedy. He really looked at things differently and didn’t shy away from a challenge. He was a true leader and made some inspiring speeches. JFK did things that he thought would improve the world.

Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like? Dislike?
Online is ten times harder than sitting in a classroom. There’s way more reading, and you have limited access to instructors. There’s no interaction with other students, which is something that helps with learning. In the beginning I figured six months was ample time for a course but I find I’m cramming material in to get it covered in that amount of time. I also try to do a lot of the supplemental readings to give myself an edge?it really helps at exam 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 was when I was taking my last course, Aboriginal Government and Law. That was the toughest course I’ve ever done. It was a good course and, being First Nations myself, I was keenly interested in learning where First Nations are today. But it seemed no matter how much work I did, I couldn’t achieve my desired grade. I set a pretty high standard for myself, and I ended up getting an extension so I could maintain my GPA. The tutor for this course was an amazing resource, but the course was just tough. I almost threw in the towel on that one.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
Same course: Aboriginal Government and Law, INST 426! I have a personal connection to the subject matter, and I wanted to know more about the plight and fight that First Nations are facing. Even though we’re First Nations, we’ve often been treated like second class citizens. I certainly was aware of that growing up. I feel that if we as a community have better knowledge, we can have a better say.

Describe the proudest moment in your life.
Two moments: the birth of each of my two children. It’s an amazing experience bringing life into the world, to know that what you do influences the next generation. It’s also an opportunity to learn about something that terrifies you!

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
I haven’t given up anything?that’s why I like online studying. I structure my time so that I can still do all the things I did before. I still have time for work, volunteering, running a small business, and my hobbies. It takes more discipline and I definitely enjoy my free time that much more.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
I’d probably address the situation around the learning services provided by tutors. These are the people students reach out to, so it’s critical that tutors are responsive. I’ve had some great tutors and some terrible ones, too. The response time in some cases is really slow. I think some tutors find it easy to ignore students when they’re not right in front of them. It would be easy to set up an automated response system whereby a student receives an e-mail to let them know their e-mail got through?not stuck in a spam folder?and will be responded to. This also allows some tracking into response times so remedial action can take place when tutors aren’t responding to students within a reasonable period.

Tutors are a student’s lifeline. I’d like to bestow a sense of pride in the services they provide to students.

Describe your earliest memory.
It was winter and I was about 2 ½ years old. My sister and my first cousin were pulling me and another cousin around in a sleigh. It’s a vivid memory. My mother couldn’t believe that I remembered that far back, but my sister, who is older, remembers the occasion, too.

If you were trapped on an island, what three things would you bring?
A bottle (or bottles) of red wine. My guitar. And my wife. If we’ve got wine, music, and each other, we’re set.

Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people.
One thing that freaks people out is my memory. I can recall things in explicit detail, even decades later. At meetings, I don’t take notes because I retain it all.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
To know when to bite my tongue and shut my mouth. I like to share my opinion on any topic but sometimes that just leads to fruitless arguments. I’ve had to teach myself that sometimes it’s better to shut up and keep my opinion to myself. It’s taken 15 years of practice to do this.

What do you think about e-texts?
I’m old-school. Even though I’m a computer guy I still write everything out in longhand. I print everything out that I have to read. I find I can’t retain the information online as well as paper?I can’t concentrate. I even write my exams in longhand. I’m a two-fingered typist, so a 3-hour exam would take me 14 hours. I’ve got an exemption from AU so I do all my exams on paper. I figure a student shouldn’t be penalized for not being a touch-typist.

Where has life taken you so far?
I’ve been to every Canadian province, and most of the eastern seaboard of the US. And I’ve been to Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. I like experiencing the culture and lifestyle of the places I go to.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
I’m reading Bobby Orr’s My Story. He’s my all-time sports hero. My father was born in Boston, so growing up we could only cheer for Boston or Toronto. I got to meet Bobby Orr once. I’m a professional blogger and run the largest hockey discussion website in Atlantic Canada. I was approached about promoting Orr’s upcoming visit to Corner Brook on my blog. I said sure, but only on the condition that I get to meet Orr during his visit. I did meet him, and I got to interview him for my blog.

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