Sarah Blaney Lew never thought a university education would be possible until she started at AU in 2003. Currently in the Bachelor of Management degree program, she hopes to continue on to graduate studies, between baking, travelling with her family, and tending to community garden plots. Most recently, Sarah ran for one of the two seats available in the AUSU by-election, but ended up being in third place. She was able to free up some time one morning to speak to The Voice Magazine about her experience.
What brought you to AU?
It was one of those things where I was chatting with a friend of mine at work. He was a nurse. He knew a lot of people that had gone to Athabasca University to upgrade their diploma to degree. At the time, I was interested in pre-med. Athabasca was the only school I knew of that did science courses online. I looked into it and I was hooked.
What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?
Right now, I am vegging out with my kittens. Other than that, I have a couple of community garden plots downtown, which I have been working on this Summer. I like to bake but I don’t have the time to do too much lately. I like to read. I have some books hovering around the house to read when I get a chance.
Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
Oh, my gosh, my greatest influence on my desire to learn. My dad went back to earn a college certificate at the age of 60. He took some night classes. He went a couple of times a week and got a college certificate. Back in the day, when he was my age, you graduate high school, get the job, and have the job for 40 years in the technical areas. He did most of his practical education in high school. You didn’t need much post-secondary education at the time. My dad gave me that little push, and taught me that it’s never too late. My kid brother went to university and that was a huge push. He is a bright apple and did university the traditional way. Moving out, going to school for 4 years, he gave me the kick that I needed to get this done.
So your dad had a life-long career before taking post-secondary, but as a student now, are you worried that that kind of existence may not be possible anymore?
Absolutely, absolutely, especially in healthcare, I am in secretarial administrative areas. In healthcare, you need to stay relevant. It is all the more important for you to have that post-secondary education. Nurses can’t do that with the college education anymore. They have to go through and upgrade their education to the same par as the new grads, especially to get into management areas. Even for me, I am doing the bachelor of management, so that I can run an office. Basically, an office is a business. It is even more imperative. My 10-year-old niece will have to get a Masters degree.
Describe your experience with online learning. What do you like or dislike?
I dislike e-books. For example, I am on a computer all day, every day. The last thing I want to do is go home and have to read from a tablet for retention purposes. That said, I do have e-magazines. But not something I have to stare at for hours at a time for material that I need to retain, I can just surf them. I am an old school type of girl. I like to highlight my books. This was the first course where I needed an e-textbook. I was conflicted. I actually took the PDF and printed it out. I might try the e-book next time, but it’s not helpful for flagging important information and referencing information back-and-forth.
I did like it before they got Moodle when they sent you your materials ? I found it more conducive to learning remotely. You don’t have to rely on technology to learn. I understand that that’s the progressive way of learning, though, with the new technologies. But when I started, they sent the manual and books, and I felt comfortable and became acclimated to that.
Does this reflect other students’ experiences based on your conversations with them?
I haven’t interacted with students beyond the Facebook page. I do get the sense that they’re frustrated that it was not offered as a choice. I think when you’re in university that it is very challenging to begin with. There should not be an additional challenge to that. I prefer learning with paper books. Some of the newer students might like it with the electronic books wherever they go.
Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
Never. My education is ultimately important to me. It is not something I’m willing to give up without serious consideration. I have worked on this for a long time now. It started off as a bucket list thing, but now, it’s an essential security requirement for my work. It is not something I am willing to sacrifice.
What was your most memorable AU course?
Oh my goodness, I had a very, very good success with my anthropology course in linguistics, ANTH 354: Language & Society. I have always been interested in language and how we develop language, and how languages and dialects vary around the world. It was perhaps one of my most favourite courses, and I did well in it due to my aptitude. My least favourite course was definitely math, Math 100: Developmental Math. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. Probably, one of the influencing factors of me leaving pre-med in the first place.
What is most valuable thing in life to you?
My most valuable thing is definitely self-care. It is important to take the time to care for yourself. We are always spread very thin. We are always so focused on work and education. My favourite tangible things would be my fur kids. But as far as favourite thing would be my necessity for wellness and self-care, that is a very recent development. It’s been in the last couple of years. You get so overextended, and it is important to take that time for yourself.
What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
Time, it is definitely worth it. My biggest regret about AU, not AU itself, but the university experience itself. I went away to college in Toronto for 2 years, but it wasn’t nearly as arduous as university! It was music school. It was not the same at all to going to university for 4 years. I would love to go and devote 4 years to my education and just be done with it. I work near Queen’s University campus. I am always remarking on frosh, when they come in, that I would love to be one of those university kids. They don’t realize how lucky they are. When you’re my age and working, putting yourself through school, it’s a son of a bitch. It’s really hard.
What’s the single best thing AU could do to improve your student experience?
I think my student experience has been pretty amazing so far. I don’t think there’s much room for improvement. I have gotten insight into other people’s experiences. I am getting a lot of insight into others’ experience being on the boards and chatting with some of them. I think accountability is really important and something we need to adhere to with regards to the expected turnaround times for marking, conversation, especially now having gone to the school of business. They do it with the school call centre rather than a specific tutor for your class. With regard to that, I am losing some benefit of the experts in those fields and having to deal with the call center. That is important, to have that person who is completely and utterly expert in the subject you’re studying at the moment. The ability to get feedback from them. The communication and accountability are important. We need to revisit those.
You mentioned being on the boards, as in social media? What perspective on AU and the undergraduate student body does that give you?
It is very hard. I think that interacting with students on Facebook gives me insight into other students’ experiences. It tunes me more into some of their needs and experiences. My experience is completely different than other people’s experience. I have had limited interaction with tutors. I haven’t had any problems with deadlines or turnarounds. Other students might have had those problems. Having that communication is important to have insight into their experiences, it is not too difficult of an experience. I think interaction on any level for that insight are important in getting that insight to know where the problems are, to fix things.
What is the most important lesson in life?
A little existentialist this early in the morning! The main thing is to keep going, keep one foot in front of the other. We can learn from the past and from mistakes. We can’t learn unless we keep moving forward.
E-texts or textbooks? Any particular reason(s)? Other than the aforementioned ones.
I like books. I like the visual of books. I like the tactility of real books. I like the smell of a real textbook. I like that no one else has touched that book. I think the e-texts detaches, from my experience, the tactility and the wonder of embracing a subject for the first time. I am a book person. I prefer books.
How do you find the tutors?
In my experience, I have never had any problems with tutors. I have had nothing but the best experience with the tutors. I have deserved the feedback I have gotten from my tutors. It is not anything that I would feel conflicted with or would challenge. I feel like I have earned either the kudos or reprimand from tutors in the past. I know it is not the same for everybody. I can’t say enough about how much these guys work, how diligent and how expert they are. Their expertise astounds me. It is amazing we have all of these pioneers in the fields working for us.
Where has life taken you so far? (travels for pleasure, work, etc.)
Definitely, they’ve been travels for pleasure. I would like to do more travelling. I have traveled to Europe over the years. It has been 4 ½ years since I’ve been to Europe. I am getting cabin fever, the hankering to go again. The last few years have been a little unstable. I’m getting back into a good place with my health and stuff like that. I would love for that to be my next goal, which is to travel to Europe and enjoy what it has to offer. I do what I need to be doing at the time that I am doing it. It sounds hokey, probably, but I think that everything we have done has shaped us for where we are and how strongly we can handle what comes at us.