Minds We Meet – Interviewing Dustin

Dustin Blumhagen is an AU student living in Cochrane, Alberta. Dustin is a teacher, writer, and music lover, and he’s currently enrolled in the Labour Studies degree program at AU.

Dustin’s schedule as a freelance writer is a bit chaotic, so The Voice Magazine caught up to him via e-mail, and interviewed him about school, writing, and music.

Whereabouts do you live, and where are you originally from?
I am currently living in Cochrane, where I can see the glorious Rockies almost every day. I grew up on a ranch on the flat prairies of east central Alberta, so this is a nice change.

You mentioned you are a freelance writer. Can you describe what you do and how you got into that?
These days freelance writing is one of my hobbies. I currently write for a number of music sites (thepunksite.com, New Noise Magazine, etc.) and do it when I have some free time. In the past, I have been a photojournalist for a few community newspapers and took part in a wonderful internship with Metro News Edmonton while working on my first university degree. I love to write and try to do it on a regular basis.

Describe the path that led you to AU.
I am a secondary school teacher who started in the field a few years ago. Due to cutbacks last year, our school downsized a number of teachers and support staff and, being one of the newer hires, I found myself with unexpected time on my hands. I was teaching at a great distance education school and gained a lot of respect for online learning, so I thought that working on my second degree while job hunting seemed like a great way to build my resume and expand my career options for the future.

What do you do like to do when You’re not studying?
I like to be busy. I have three young children who are very active and we spend a lot of time out in the Rockies or in museums or at sporting events. I coach baseball, hockey, and I am planning on starting to coach lacrosse. I love to read and write, which is always an enjoyable time filler. On top of all of that, I am a huge music fan and I try to attend as many live shows as possible, although admittedly that is more difficult to logistically manage these days. I’m in the launch stages for a boutique record label, Dusty45 Records, which is intended to be a way to share music that I enjoy, rather than a legitimate business. I am travelling with a friend (Joe Vickers) down south in April to record some songs to be pressed for a vinyl release. I’m trying to organize a tribute album to late cowboy country singer, Chris LeDoux, although the red tape when talking with artists? management is discouraging. I just want to honour an artist who makes up the soundtrack to my childhood, but everyone wants to discuss dollars. I’m a terrible Capitalist, believing that all art should be shared freely.

What happens after you finish your education?
To begin, I am hoping to get another teaching position and carry on with that for a few more years. I really enjoy being a teacher and would like more experience in the classroom. In the long term, I hope to use the knowledge gained from my second degree to support my goals of becoming a superintendent in the public school system.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
From a young age, I loved to read and I think that this naturally grows into a lifelong love of learning over time. But I floated for a few years after high school, unsure what to do with my life. Once I became a father my whole outlook on life was altered. I want my children to be compassionate, successful, and happy people, and I strongly believe that a good education plays a big part in achieving that. In order to provide a better life for them, I knew that I needed to become educated myself, so I enrolled in university for the first time after my second son was born. It has been challenging (I spent time living in my car on the streets of Edmonton, I would often go a day without eating anything, I lived half a province away from my sons and missed out on a lot of their first few years?), but now I feel at ease with my path. My struggles will provide a better way for my children.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
I always dread this question because there are so many great and interesting people that I would love to have a conversation with (Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hemingway, Bukowski . . .), but right now I would have to say Ian Tyson. I grew up listening to his music on dusty cassettes in my dad’s pickup as we were headed off to a rodeo somewhere or bouncing down a dirt road with our horses to check on our cattle at pasture. I’ve always enjoyed his Canadiana songs and it would be wonderful to sit and talk for an afternoon with him. From his folk days in Greenwich Village with Dylan to his simple, quiet life on a little ranch out near Longview, it would be great to listen to him talk about everything that he has seen and learned over his 80 some years.

Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like? Dislike?
I am enjoying learning online. The majority of my tutors have went above and beyond to help me reach my personal goals and ensure that I am completing my work. As an adult with ADHD, I admit that my organization and time management skills are weak and I do occasionally struggle with maintaining a regular timeline for my courses. That being said, if I feel like spending 3 hours in the middle of the night working on something, I love that I have the option. I used to hate having to make it to a 6am class every single M,W,F at UofA. Learning at my own pace on my own time is a wonderful thing. I just need the occasional crack of the whip to remind me to keep moving forward.

Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
When I was the victim of Conservative education cutbacks, I was frustrated. I have three children whom I love and while I can offer them my time and give them emotional and educational support, as a parent I still have to worry about paying the most basic bills. Seeing that there were lots of well-educated teachers laid off because of what I perceive as a lack of respect for education hit me hard. I thought to myself, “if the government sees me as worthless and I back that up by being essentially unemployable because of my degree, what good is an education?” Time and reflection helped guide me past that dark time and I realized that what I was lacking was something to make me stand out among the other 1000 applicants for the job that I was applying for. I am continuing my education and working on myself to hopefully be able to present a sought-after employee in these upcoming months. I am driven, and have definite long term goals, but getting my foot in the door is frustrating. I respect and value education and I hope to be able to show my children that it is a worthwhile endeavour once I re-enter the professional workforce and rise to meet my goals.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
This is difficult because I am enjoying being an AU student so much. I am currently loving my English courses, but I would have to say that the most memorable was MUSIC 286. I had always wanted to take a Music course at university, but never had an opportunity to fit it into my schedule. This time, I am supplementing my required courses with some that will likely be extra to my degree requirements. My tutor was fantastic and helped guide me toward a deeper understanding of the material. The content was fascinating and ultimately inspired me to take a deeper look into the history of music. I am going on a pilgrimage to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana in April to dig deeper into the history of the blues, jazz and country music. Dr. Kevin Whittingham pushed me to improve my research work and encouraged my interest in the subject. I have enrolled in MUSIC 285 this term (although I wish I had been able to complete them in the other order!) and I am enjoying it as well.

Describe the proudest moment (or greatest accomplishment) in your life.
I was proud of my wife when she gave birth to our lovely children. I have been proud of my children for a million reasons as they grow, never failing to surprise me with their awesomeness. I have been proud of students who excel beyond their own expectations. I have been proud of players who have performed exceptionally well in games. I don’t really reflect on what I’ve done; I feel that I have way too much to still do.

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
Compared to what I went through to be a student at UofA, my time at AU has been a breeze. Granted, my grades have room for improvement, but I am home with my children every day now. I have food to eat and can shower at will. I have an operating cell phone and don’t have creditors trying to track me down. I remember getting stuck one day during my practicum in the school parking lot. The principal of the suburban school I was at helped to push me out, then berated me and told me to go buy some new winter tires. I thought then that he had zero concept of my life and likely the life of many of the students in the school. I hope that even when I reach my goals, I remain humble and remember how hard it was to get there.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
The distance education format of AU allows for a bit of disconnect from the university. I feel that the everyday workings don’t affect me as much as being on a physical campus, so I’m not really sure what my first project would be. I would have to reconnect and evaluate what would be most beneficial to students/potential students and go from there.

Describe your favourite sound.
No question: “I love you, Daddy.”

If you were trapped on an island, what 3 things would you bring?
An acoustic guitar so that I could play music, a large empty journal, and a well-stocked pencil case.

Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people?
I’m just a regular guy. 

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
Keep a Positive Mental Attitude. Life isn’t always fair, but learning to shake off the difficult times and enjoy the beauty of everyday life will make living a much happier experience.

What do you think about e-texts or the plans to make the university follow a call-centre model?
I have a soft spot for certain things, like music played on vinyl records or physical books, but I recognize that times are changing. I see e-texts as being disposable like MP3s. If I’m no longer paying textbook fees, I’m okay with e-texts, but if I am paying, I would love to see actual texts. The majority of my courses so far have used physical books, which is great. Of course, there are positives to everything. Using an e-text makes citing and copying direct quotes much simpler. I tend to be an independent learner, which is why I love the freedom of distance learning, so I’m not offended by the call centre model. I very rarely reach out to anyone for help. I understand why it is a controversial idea, but I don’t feel that it affects me either way.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?
I am an independent learner. I appreciate that tutors are there if I should have a question and value their feedback on course work.

Where has life taken you so far?
I haven’t travelled too far outside of Alberta over the years. My upcoming trip to the Southern US is exciting though.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
I am reading Light in August by William Faulkner. I love Southern Gothic literature and I look forward to visiting Faulkner’s home when I am in Oxford, Mississippi.