AU Profile-Redux – JoAnne Formanek Gustafson

The Voice Magazine spoke to one AU student who epitomizes the late bloomer mindset. Many students will recognize JoAnne Formanek Gustafson from the unofficial Athabasca University group page on Facebook, where she volunteers as the group’s administrator. Some may remember her from our AU Profile in 2009, and if you ever wondered what became of her, now you’ll know.

She wants to tell her story to encourage others. She notes that “I love to tell my story because I think it demonstrates that as adults in different stages of life we can pursue our goals, not only for economic purposes but also for personal fulfillment. I think the latter is frequently overlooked.” Here is JoAnne’s story in her own words.

“I left high school in grade 10, after having been in the foster care system and then finally going out on my own at age 15, in 1980. I needed to work, so I left school and got a full-time job. For a while I tried to do high school correspondence courses, but that didn’t work very well. I managed to get a decent job where I learned my way up to a management position. In 1988, at age 24, I started taking courses from AU with the intention of getting some kind of Business Admin certificate. I took a handful of courses, which tapered off as I got married in 1992 and then had my children in 1994 and 1996. As you can guess, those were busy years! All studying halted after kids, and I started again in 2000 after being laid off from my job.

In 2006 I enrolled in a college diploma program, delivered locally. I completed the Educational Assistant at the top of my class in 2008, at age 43. I’d been considering teaching, and had been looking at a locally delivered teacher education ATEP program through Queen’s University that leads to either a Diploma in Education for candidates without an undergraduate degree or Bachelor of Education for candidates with an undergraduate degree. I started the two-year program in 2009 and completed it in 2011. As a status First Nation person, I could be certified to teach in Ontario with the Diploma in Education, so, in November 2011, I quit my full time, permanent job as an Educational Assistant?that took years to get?to work as an Occasional Teacher, also known as a supply teacher or substitute teacher.

Meanwhile, through all of this I had continued to take undergrad courses from AU, finally settling on the Bachelor of General Studies program around 2008 because it was the program that would give the best in transfer credit for the assortment of other courses I brought into the mix. In 2013, after 25 years, I finally completed the requirements for the Bachelor of General Studies and because of that, was able to apply to have my Queen’s degree recognized as a Bachelor of Education.

I also took one year of an Anishinaabemowin Immersion diploma program [which focuses] on the Ojibwe language and culture. That was definitely a personal interest thing, and helped me develop some cultural competence for my own culture.

Based on these academic credentials I was admitted to the Lakehead University Master of Education program. This spring I should be finished my program.

What happens if you don’t have your life figured out? Move forward. I tell my kids, now aged 20 and 22, that we’re all making it up as we go! Follow through with what you’ve started, because, even if you don’t stick with that field (or work there at all), you’ll be giving yourself things to build on.

I’ve made career shifts for a variety of reasons. I’ve moved for better offers, because I had to make a move due to an unsatisfactory work environment, because I was laid off, and because I was pursuing something I’d worked and planned toward. In all those situations, I ended up pleased with my personal progress in meeting new challenges and learning new things. I’m finally in a place where I think I belong (teaching) and I have many options to choose from with my work and with my union. I’m Vice President with the Rainy River District Occasional Teachers local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. I’ve participated in opportunities to develop resources and a workshop for other teachers. I do some teaching at the college level as well. The one thing that seems to be eluding me is a full-time teaching job; I get the sense that my age might be a factor in that.

My life has more uncertainty than it once had, but It’s much more interesting. I’m doing work I love and, though It’s not “permanent”, I work as much as I want. In Ontario, Occasional Teachers (OTs) contribute to a pension, so I’m in a good profession where I make a living wage. I’m not sure if this will be the end of my academic career, my uncle and mentor keeps whispering ?PhD? in my ear. But we will see.”

Editors note, Joanne’s age at graduation in 2008 was mistakenly listed as 47. That has been corrected to 43. Our sincere apologies