Minds We Meet – Interviewing Students Like You!

Talking with Barbara Lehtiniemi

Barbara Lehtiniemi is an AU student living in rural North Glengarry, east of Ottawa, Ontario. After a lengthy career in finance, Barbara has switched gears to become a student and a writer. Barbara is in AU’s Bachelor of General Studies program.

The Voice Magazine easily tracked Barbara down: She’s a freelance contributor to the magazine. Barb usually conducts the student interviews for this series, but this time we turned the tables and interviewed her. Here’s what she had to say about school, hiking, and writing.

Whereabouts do you live? And where are you from originally?
I live in North Glengarry, at the extreme eastern point of Ontario. I’ve only been in this area five years, having lived most of my life in southwestern Ontario.

Which program are you in at AU? Describe the path that led you there.
I’m in the Bachelor of General Studies program. I originally planned to do a BA in English, but the BGS program allowed me to utilize a lot more transfer credits from college courses I’ve taken over the years, which were mainly in finance. I worked for decades in finance, but had never gone to university.

When I sort-of retired from my financial career, I decided to go back to school. I was accepted at Carleton University in Ottawa but they wouldn’t grant any credit for previous studies. In the end, I decided that online studies at AU fit my needs far better than commuting over 100 kilometres to Ottawa.

What do you do like to do in your leisure time?
Reading is my favourite past-time and I never get enough time to read as much as I’d like. I also enjoy walking down woodland trails in summer and cross-country skiing in winter.

What happens after you finish your education?
No idea, really. I’ve made no plans, nor have I given it much thought. Life will reveal itself it due course. I hope.

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
I’ve just always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Even as a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was one of those weird kids that liked to read encyclopedias and dictionaries. Now I’m one of those weird adults that likes poring over college and university course calendars to see what courses I can take.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
Julia Child. First of all, it would be a great meal (assuming she did the cooking.) Second, it would be interesting to hear how she went from being a non-cook to one of the best-known cooks worldwide. I don’t enjoy cooking, so I’m hoping some of her enthusiasm and expertise will rub off on me.

Describe your experience with online learning so far.
Overall I would say It’s been great. The flexibility to study when it suits me really works well. I usually work on my courses in the morning but when conditions are great for skiing, for example, I can drop everything and ski and then study in the afternoon. The downside to online learning is that it is more demanding. Although you have a tutor you can call on, You’re mostly on your own and you really have to work harder than you would in a classroom setting.

Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
Not since I began at AU. I feel I’m finally on the right path. Ever since I left high school, I’ve felt that my education was unfinished business. I began working right out of high school. Eventually I started taking evening courses at college to help me in my career. Each course I took really stimulated my mind but eventually I had all the finance courses I needed. Now, I’m expanding my mind in different directions, taking English, history, philosophy, and psychology courses. I feel I’m on the path I should have been on all along.

What’s your most memorable AU course so far, and why?
I’ve enjoyed most of my AU courses. So far, HUMN 309, Ancient Greece, stands out as the most enjoyable. There was a lot going on in Greece in a relatively short span of time that has had enduring repercussions through the ages.

Describe the proudest moment (or greatest accomplishment) in your life.
The greatest feeling of accomplishment came when I completed a four-day, 140-kilometre hike on the Bruce Trail. The first day covered 40 kilometres and I had never hiked more than 25 kilometres in a day before. I think there was more mental than physical preparation. I just had to convince myself that I would finish the hike, no matter what. I was pretty much toast at the end of four days, but I was still on my own two feet.

Have you given up anything to go to AU? Was it worth it?
Just the time. Spending time on school works means less time available for earning money, spending time with family, or enjoying the outdoors.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
Let me start by saying that you couldn’t pay me enough to be the president of AU! I think my first project would be to review the current funding models for education and start campaigning for changes. Since the funding comes from the province, there’s inadequate funding to cover all AU students. AU is a unique institution which needs a unique?or at least unconventional?funding model. Just like being at the forefront of online studies, AU is well-placed to be at the forefront in breaking the mold for funding models. Since students come from all over, I think the funding needs to, too?It’s not just an Alberta university.

Describe your favourite sound.
A soft wind ruffling through leaves.

If you were trapped on a tropical island, what 3 things would you bring?
Swiss army knife with corkscrew attachment, a case of red wine, and my Kobo. I’m not sure what happens after the wine is gone and the Kobo battery is dead.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
You never know what’s around the corner. Tough times are awful but they seldom last. Something unexpectedly wonderful could happen tomorrow which changes everything.

What do you think about e-texts?
I’m avoiding them. I know that I absorb information better from traditional texts, even though sometimes an e-text would be more convenient. I’m glad that AU has put a hold on converting courses to e-text. Right now, I only select courses with traditional texts?I want to get those courses done first before they too get converted. There are a few psychology courses I’ve been putting off taking because they have e-text; if I get to them, I will probably purchase the textbook.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?
Okay, for the most part. Most respond quickly to queries, and most mark assignments promptly. If I don’t get a response in an appropriate span of time, I contact them again. It’s what they’re there for. And I always ask about the exam. Most tutors have given helpful study tips for the exam that I wouldn’t have had unless I’d asked.

Where has life taken you so far?
Many wonderful places! I’ve been across Canada to the east and west coasts several times, and as far north as Iqaluit. To the south I’ve been to Cuba and St Lucia in the Caribbean, and I’ve been to a dozen or so of the United States. I’ve visited Iceland and the Azores, and I’ve been to Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
I always have several books on the go, mostly non-fiction. Right now I’m reading, among others, In the Shadows of the Morning by Philip Caputo, and The Murder Stone by Louise Penny. I’m also reading Mission Life in Cree-Ojibwe Country by Elizabeth Bingham Young and E Ryerson Young, which I downloaded for free from AU Press.

Final question: you’ve been a regular contributor to The Voice for a while, how has that experience been?
It’s been great! There is no downside. By writing regular articles for The Voice, I get writing experience, publication credits, and I get paid. On top of that, covering some of the council meetings for the magazine has made me a more engaged student; I’m much more aware of what’s going on at AU and AUSU now. Even better, since I conduct most of the student interviews for the magazine, I get to talk with students from all over. Writing for The Voice has really enhanced my AU experience.