Minds We Meet – Interviewing Students Like You!

M. M. is an AU student from British Columbia. Originally from Ontario, M. completed her undergraduate degree through AU and is now in the Masters of Integrated Studies program.

M. is also an administrator of the unofficial Athabasca University Facebook group page. The Voice Magazine recently interviewed M. by e-mail. Here’s what she had to say about school, parenting, and Bob Marley.

First of all, whereabouts do you live? And have you always lived there?
My family (husband and two sons) have lived in Ontario most of our lives but just recently made the move to British Columbia?possibly temporarily (possibly not.)

If you work, describe what you do.
I am a domestic Goddess (that counts right?). Basically I spend my days picking up after two little tornados (and one not so little one.)

You are an administrator for the unofficial Athabasca Facebook page. What has that experience been like?
I was truly honored to be asked to take a position as administrator for the group. Since this is so new to me I haven’t had much experience with it yet, although I have been an active member of the group for a few years now and really think it is integral to the AU experience. I love being able to interact with other AU students, but most of all I enjoy that I have the ability to help new students navigate through what can be a very intimidating time in their lives.

Describe the path that led you to AU.
Well, this is a loaded question. In short, I had just had my second son and was looking at going back to school (a dream I had for a long time) versus working a minimum wage job and paying for daycare. The latter option left me paying more for childcare than I would have made working and so the decision became easy?I needed an education to give myself the opportunity to get a higher paying job in the future. Given that going to a brick and mortar school would have again left me paying for childcare, I started searching for distance-based schools. AU had everything I was looking for. Namely, I could complete my schooling from home at my own pace, and AU offered a wide variety of courses that I was interested in.

What do you do like to do when You’re not studying?
Not studying? I’m not sure I understand (LOL).
My husband, kids and I try to get out every day for some fresh air, and we have a Jeep that was built specifically for exploring areas that not many people ever get to see. Now that we are in BC there is a list as long as my arm of things we want to do and see!

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
This would be a toss-up between my children inspiring me to be a good example for them, and my husband’s constant encouragement to pursue my dreams of getting a University degree (something I honestly never thought I was capable of.) If it weren’t for him I don’t think I would have gotten this far in my studies?if I ever started at all. He has been a continuous source of support throughout my education.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
Bob Marley! Why? Well?why the heck not? Really though, he was an ambassador for peace (among other things.) I love that his songs represent his life experiences?of which he had many unique ones. I would just love to hear what life advice he had to offer.

Describe your experience with online learning. What do you like? Dislike?
Online learning has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Not only do I feel better as a person to be pursuing an education, but it has enabled me to homeschool my children and be there every day to watch them grow.

The downside is that you can feel isolated. There have been many times when I wished I had someone to discuss a topic for a paper with, or just wanted to get out of the house and have some adult conversation. Overall though, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
Definitely! One example comes to mind when I think about this question. During my first semester I was completely overwhelmed. I took on way too much at once and was really doubting everything. I started looking for jobs and other things I might be able to do from home, and I definitely thought that was the end of my life as a student. Although I have had a few moments like that throughout my studies, my first semester was by far the toughest. I think That’s what motivates me to help other students get through their first few semesters?it can be so tough!

What was your most memorable AU course?
This is a tough choice?I have learned so much from (almost) every course I have taken. I think my favorite and most engaging course was WGST 422, Violence Against Women, but if we are discussing the best overall experience, I think WGST 499, Final Project, gave me a unique experience and got me out in the real world. I spent a few months working at the local women’s shelter helping to facilitate their art therapy program?it was a really great experience.

If you won $20 million in a lottery, what would you do with it?
Pay off (part of) my student loans?
I would be lying if I said I had never thought about this. I think of all the good I could do with that much money. I wouldn’t want a fancy car or a big house, I would simply want to make a real difference in the lives of those around me. The first thing I would do is make sure all my friends and family were debt free and retired (or were able to pursue something they truly loved,) and then?who knows. I think I would find creative ways to surprise deserving families with the chance at a new life?whatever that would mean for them. I would probably end up with many letters after my name?I would become a professional student without worrying about how much my student loan payments will be one day.

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
I don’t think It’s so much what I have given up as it is what my family has sacrificed in order to allow me to pursue my dreams. My children have heard “we don’t have the money for that” more times than I can count. They have also had to spend many hours occupying themselves while I sit at the computer reading, writing papers, or studying. Worth it? Well, that remains to be seen. I hope that, by watching me pursue my dreams, my children learn to do the same.

If you were the new president of AU, what would be your first project?
I guess first I would need to find exactly what I was supposed to do as President! Then I would take on the student-tutor relationship. After many years at AU I have noticed a decline in the adherence to service standards. It saddens me when students have to wait weeks and have to chase tutors in order to get their grades. I believe this hinders the student experience, and it really plays a role in what each student is getting (or not getting) out of each course. If students are unable to obtain constructive feedback (in a reasonable time frame,) how are they supposed to learn from mistakes, know where they are going right or wrong, and use that feedback for future assignments in the course?

If you could wake up tomorrow with a “superpower”, which one would it be?
I’m pretty sure my kids are already convinced I have super powers (shhh!), but if I had to choose one I think reading minds would be awesome. Or maybe the ability to turn invisible!

What is your most prized possession?
I have so many cool things that I love, but my parchments are pretty high on the list. I also have a blanket that my 94 year-old grandmother made with the help of one of my aunts? It’s made out of my wedding dress. I love it!

Please tell us something that few people know about you.
Hmmmm?.there’s lots of things to choose from. I make all my own soaps, lotions, and healing balms. I love doing it, and I try to help other people learn how to also.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
Go to school before you have kids (lol)!

Life can change at any moment, take time to enjoy it even when things seem like they aren’t going your way. Appreciate what you have every single day and never lose sight of your dreams.

What do you think about e-texts?
I don’t like them. Not at all. I like a print based text?I want to write in it, I want to bring it everywhere I go, and I get migraines from reading too much on screen, so e-texts are horrible for me. My belief is that students should at least be offered the choice and shouldn’t be charged the same amount if they aren’t receiving a physical book. I also like to use my books for future references, and love that I can display them on my bookshelf?it gives me a sense of accomplishment to know that I have read those and learned a great deal from each of them. In a way, my old text books are a road map of my education.

How do you find communications with your course tutors?
I have had a mix of tutor support. I am a big fan of communicating with tutors and think that they can be valuable resources during your studies. I have found some tutors to be very open to this, and others who are less than helpful (always rushing you and not answering questions clearly?a huge pet peeve of mine.)

Where has life taken you so far?
I haven’t had a chance to do much traveling in life. I became a mother early on and have been through some incredibly hard financial struggles. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t studying even though It’s only been 3.5 years since I started. My life has taken me through many challenges and I have found a great deal of enjoyment in spending time with my children and my husband. Now we have opened a new chapter in our lives?we have made many sacrifices to get here and we hope it is worth it in the end.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
You mean there are books that aren’t textbooks? WHAT!?
Does Curious George count?