Louise Baptiste is an AU student. Recently, she completed the last course to be finalized for the Bachelor of Nursing degree and was accepted in a master’s degree program.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen recently interviewed Louise by e-mail, and here’s what she had to say about near-graduation, master’s degree program acceptance, and being an Indigenous student with five kids at AU.
How did you get involved in the AU community?
I originally was a licensed practical nurse, and decided that I would like to go back to school to obtain further education. I was drawn towards AU because it allowed me the opportunity to work fulltime, while being able to attend my children’s activities, and complete my degree.
What about the Bachelor of Nursing (BN) degree program?
I chose the BN program because I love my career field of nursing. I have worked as a nurse for 13 years, 7 of those have been as a nurse educator to practical nursing students. This program allowed me to complete my degree in my chosen profession while still working in that same profession full-time. In my current workplace advanced education is encouraged and required, so I felt that this was the best route to do so.
What made you interested in nursing?
I originally chose to become a nurse after I had my first daughter and saw how the nurses loved their job in the NICU. I felt that working in this career would allow me to help others, especially those from more vulnerable populations, such as where I come from. I wanted to help others, teach others, and be a role model to others from a similar background.
What kind of work have you done in relation to the BN program, your course and extracurricular work?
In the BN program there are three course clusters: Cluster A is non-nursing courses, Cluster B consists of mainly nursing courses and 3 clinical practicums that have online and in-person components; and, Cluster C contained an extensive final practicum. I just completed Cluster C recently.
As an Indigenous student – First Nations, Inuit, or Métis, what is your specific heritage?
I am a First Nations status student, my father is Caucasian and my mother is Cree, originally from Samson First Nation in Maskwacis. My mother initially lost her status when she married my father, but my mother, sister, and I gained our status back at a later date.
Do you think your heritage influences your personal perspectives?
My heritage has had a huge impact on me. I did not grow up on my own reserve, but spent most of my adolescence and young adult life living on or near a couple of reserves close to Rocky Mountain House, called Sunchild and O?Chiese. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by my father, who was close to the Aboriginal culture despite being non-Aboriginal. I was raised outside the norm, without power or running water, and was very poor most of my formative life.
I have recently grown to know family members from my mother’s side, and it has been an eye opener for me. I can see how the residential school system almost destroyed many members of my family who are suffering from addiction issues. My grandmother (nokhom) was taken from her family and raised in residential schools, and the trauma of this affected her ability to be a mother to her own children. My mother was also raised in residential schools, and had similar difficulties. I feel that our family would have been closer to each other, and our traditional culture, had this not cascaded down and had such an intergenerational impact. I left home at a young age due to the circumstances in my household, and ended up dropping out of school and being homeless. I would have had a deeper connection to my community if my mother had raised me, but, as I grow older, I feel myself being pulled closer to my roots. I feel that it is my responsibility to help improve and lead the way for my people, since I have been given opportunities that others may have not.
What kind of support have you received from the community this heritage connects you with?
I have been actually received support and encouragement through some family members and role models. One particular role model is Dr. Lisa Bourque-Bearskin, who has a PhD in nursing. She is the president of the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada (ANAC). I aspire to be like her, and am honored to be the recipient of her support.
Is it a different experience being an Indigenous student?
I do not know any other Indigenous students in the BN program or at AU, but I do know of 2 students who are applying to the program who are Aboriginal. Although there was a lot of group work in the program, other than clinical practicums, I did not have face to face interaction with other students; so I feel that it is probably less of a variable at an online institution. However, I did find that I was able to focus on my culture throughout some of the assignments, as health care and access to health care is a huge issue for many First Nations people.
Have you noted any common experiences between yourself and other indigenous students that you think other students may not have to deal with?
I have found that many Indigenous students seem to struggle with education in general, especially those who live on reservations. I know that a lot of this has been due to lack of funding or less funding provided to reservation schools. The effect of such has had an impact on Indigenous students in being able to attend post secondary institutions in general. Even at the institution I work at there are not as many Indigenous students as I thought there would be. I feel that people often have misperceptions of post secondary funding provided to Aboriginal students. Unfortunately, there are limited funds for large groups of people, and many people are turned down each year.
What is your favorite thing to do during time off?
My favourite thing to do is to spend time with my family during time off. A lot of time is spent at hockey, and their other extracurricular activities. I also enjoy date nights with my husband, because they are very rare.
You have five kids, which can be hectic. How do you manage the demands of a mother in the midst of classes at university?
I have found that being a mother while working fulltime and going to school is very hectic, but one gets good at multi-tasking. I have often had to bring books and my computer to my kid’s activities, games and practices. They are usually required to be an hour early, so I have spent that time studying, writing essays, etc. while waiting for their games/practices. Three of my children are 12, 14, and 16, so they sometimes help with the younger ones. I had my younger children while attending AU, and it has been a struggle. I found it especially hard with my youngest because he wanted my attention continuously, I often found myself typing with one hand while nursing him or holding him with my other hand.
I also provided care to my niece before her mother passed away in the last couple of years, and often still provide care for her on the weekends. It has been challenging because her mother was, unfortunately, one of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Alberta. I have been very lucky to have the emotional support and help of my husband, and my sister while attending AU.
What is the experience of being a mother-student, or working-mother student?
I feel that my children see how hard I have worked to gain an education, and I know that it has instilled the importance of education into them. I know that they appreciate how hard it is to work, be a student, and a mother at the same time. It is challenging because my house is not always perfect, and they are expected to help out, but I know that they are proud of what I have accomplished.
Was there a particular reason for AU over other universities?
Yes, AU allowed me to attend school while being able to work and provide for my children. As well, I live in a rural area, although I work in Calgary, and found AU convenient because I was able to spend quality time with my children.
What is your favorite hobby?
I love singing. In my free time, I sing a lot, especially country genre.
Who is your favorite artist?
I love the artistry of the late Dr. Dale Auger. He was a Cree Aboriginal artist from Alberta. His artwork is so vivid, and he was known for sharing the ways of the Cree people. He was also a role model for me, as I eventually plan on obtaining a Doctorate of Education Degree as well.
Who is your favorite poet?
I am not into poetry too much, but I find that music is a form of poetry. I love Dani and Lizzy’s song Dancing in the Sky.
Any recommended authors or books?
To be honest, I have not had a lot of time to read books recently, but I have a couple of books on my to-read-list written by Eden Robinson, which include Monkey Beach and Traplines.
So you’ve completed the work for the Bachelor of Nursing degree, but are still waiting for the mark for the last course to be finalized. What does it feel like to be so close to done?
It is a wonderful feeling, like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I have been working towards this, initially since 2007, and then re-enrolled in 2011 due to life’s circumstances. Being a high school dropout, I never thought I would be able to do this, I will be the first person in my family to obtain a university degree. I am very proud of this accomplishment.
You’ve also been accepted to a master’s program, congratulations! Which program and why did you pick it?
I will be starting my Masters of Education in July 2016. I chose to apply for this program because I have worked as a nurse educator since 2009, and I feel that having this degree will help me to focus on leadership, and influences on Aboriginal as well as nursing education.
What was your single most important experience while at AU?
My final practicum was my most important experience. I felt that I was able to put everything together, and finally feel as though I saw the end in sight.
What is your greatest regret?
My greatest regret is that I did not finish my degree sooner. I found that at times I was not as motivated as I should have been.
Any thoughts on e-texts?
I am old fashioned, and prefer opening up a textbook, and making notes. However, the nice thing about e-texts is that you do not need to drag textbooks with you to study.
Any recommendations for first- and second-year nurses?
Make sure to set up a study schedule, and I would recommend taking the program with a friend, so that you can help to motivate each other.
What do you think is the most important skill for any undergraduate student?
I feel being organized is very important. It does not matter if one has children or works fulltime, there are always other distractions. I would say that the majority of undergraduate students choose AU because they have other obligations. I think that organizing a study schedule and sticking to it is important for success, as well as remembering to take breaks and doing what you enjoy, so as not to feel overwhelmed.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
I am very grateful to have been able to attend AU, and I think that distance education is important for those of us who are unable to attend the traditional route. I feel that many Indigenous students living on reservations with internet access would benefit from this type of education, due to having responsibilities to their families and children.
Thank you for your time, Louise.