Minds We Meet – Interviewing Kathleen McManus

Kathleen McManus is an AU student from southern Ontario. In addition to running her own company, Kathleen is doing a 4-year BA degree, with an English and History double major.

The Voice Magazine caught up to Kathleen recently via e-mail, and interviewed her about school, literature, and speaking Elvish.

Whereabouts do you live, and where are you originally from?
I’m an Ontario girl?always have been.

Describe your work.
I started my own company, KDM Tutoring, when I was seventeen. I soon found the tutoring environment suited me, so I’ve continued to tutor a wide range of clients in the years since.

Describe the path that led you to AU.
As a homeschooled student I found the idea of non-classroom based education appealing. For one thing, I have always learned well studying from books on my own?I did that all through high school and graduated with honours at sixteen. For another thing, online learning meant I wouldn’t have to move in order to go to university. When I first came across a web advertisement for AU (in 2009,) online learning wasn’t as popular a concept as it now is?I certainly had never heard of it. At first sceptical, I soon realized AU offered opportunities I would never enjoy with a traditional classroom-based university?the freedom to study for my degree my own way, in my own place, at my own pace.

What do you do like to do when You’re not studying?
I have a lot of interests?reading, music, art?but especially writing. Novels and poetry are my favourite outlets. Actually, that was an important consideration in deciding on my majors?I loved literature, I wanted to model my writing on great literature (hence the English major,) and I wanted the background necessary to be able to write good historical fiction (hence the history major.) I also do a lot of volunteer work?I especially enjoy teaching free children’s classes with a community education group.

What happens after you finish your education?
I’m going to teach.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
Definitely my parents. By their encouragement of my successes and their patience with my mistakes as a child, they infused into me the value they place on learning. Their dedication to homeschooling has been particularly inspirational and formational for me. Life is the greatest learning experience, and I am blessed to have started it with such wonderful teachers as my mom and dad.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
How about Tolkien? I’d love to discuss his mythology with him, and get some tips about speaking Elvish too. I’d love to know what he thought of Peter Jackson’s movies . . . ooh, actually, maybe I’d spare him the anguish of that after many hours of The Hobbit. (I bet he would like The Lord of the Rings, though.) Oh, and I would refuse to pay the bill until the Professor agreed to finish the mysterious sequel to The Lord of the Rings!

Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like? Dislike?
Online learning is an amazing concept. I like the freedom it gives me, and the fact that the professors aren’t too up-tight about setting a lot of deadlines and rules. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because learning on your own means you have to make your own study time, and life does have a way of encroaching on that. A definite downside is the “clunkiness” of some of the software, like VitalSource. Another minor inconvenience is that the website is poorly organized for an institution that prides itself on leading online education.

Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
Absolutely. I imagine most people do to some degree. But all in all I am glad I carried on with Athabasca.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the courses, but Literature for Children, ENGL 305, was probably the one which taught me the most about myself and my areas of literary interest. The child in me will always need Faerie!

Describe the proudest moment (or greatest accomplishment) in your life.
It’s not really a single moment, but there are few feelings as good as wrapping up a story I have been writing and then sitting down to read it to my family.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
I would consider a serious overhaul of this proposed call centre plan.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a “superpower”, which one would it be?
Would the ability to automatically assimilate languages count as a superpower? It would be a really super power to have! Maybe that way I would actually get around to learning French and Gaelic as I want to (but probably never will!)

If you were trapped on an island, what 3 things would you bring?
I believe the conventional answer involves choosing your favourite books. However, my preference would be a map, a motorboat, and someone who knew how to drive it.

Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people.
My homeschool upbringing, of course, was rather outside the box, and I’m comfortable being there. I tend to resist people who try to invent a box to put me in. You box things that you want to shut up, but I’m not prepared to shut up when I see serious injustices in society.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
Always think for yourself. You don’t have to be pushy about it and foist your views on other people, but you don’t have to follow the herd mindlessly either. When the herd gets running, it winds up going over the rimrock. When that happens, you want to be the fellow going the other way.

What do you think about e-texts or the plans to make the university follow a call-centre model?
E-texts are fine, provided the software is useable. I do like being able to carry physical textbooks with me to study on the go, but It’s not a make or break issue for me. The call-centre proposal is a disaster, though. For the sake of saving some money, it will put students at arm’s length and make follow-through on course issues very unsystematic. We students need to know who our go-to person is and familiarize ourselves with them, not sit on the wrong end of a phone line feeling like numbers waiting to be disposed of by “the next available customer service representative.” I would say this move transforms distance education into distanced education.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?
There are exceptions to every rule, but the course tutors tend to be courteous, accommodating, and relatively punctual about getting back to me. Not 100% punctual, to be sure, but It’s a give and take situation. They don’t all demand that students be 100% punctual with their assignments, either.

Where has life taken you so far?
A year ago I spent two months travelling in New Zealand. It was the winter (or summer, in the southern hemisphere!) getaway of a lifetime.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
A fascinating piece of national literature called the “Canada Revenue Agency General Income Tax and Benefit Guide.” AU ought to add it to one of their Canadian literature courses. It surely tops some of the works that are passed off as Canadian literature.