Stephanie Ball is currently in her last semester of the Criminal Justice program at Athabasca University. She hopes to eventually be a probation officer. Recently, she took some time to chat with us at The Voice Magazine.
Can you give us a little bit of background information about yourself?
My name is Stephanie, I am 26 years old, and I am from Victoria, British Columbia. I am a student with disabilities and a former youth-in-care.
What program are you in? Do you like your program?
I am enrolled in the Criminal Justice program at AU completing my last semester. I am hoping to use my degree to acquire a Probation Officer position.
I really have enjoyed my program and the flexibility it has given me to work full-time throughout my whole program. I have also really enjoyed the specialized classes such as sex crimes and intelligence analysis that are not offered at other universities.
Could you describe the path that led you to Athabasca University? What was it that made you realize you wanted to go back to school, and what pushed you into the program you’ve signed up for?
I was attending a local college and really struggling to attend classes and balance my crazy work schedule. At the time, I was working 24-hour shifts at a group home and would often be called in last minute or need to stay longer if there was no coverage. This meant I was missing a lot of class. I also had health issues and my disability (deaf in one ear) which made learning in a big classroom more difficult. Twice I became frustrated and took breaks from school. I believe I found AU’s Criminal Justice program while browsing online and felt like I had found a solution.
Any advice for people who are on the fence about going back to school?
The best advice I would give a new student is to sign up for one or two classes and see if this style of learning is right for you. Time management and motivation can be really difficult for some students. But for others, they thrive in such a flexible environment.
What do you do like to do when you are not studying? Any hobbies?
I have to admit, other then working and studying I haven’t made much time to do any of the activities I enjoy doing. However, I am a Harry Potter nerd and often have movie marathons to de-stress!
What are your plans for this education once you finish? What would be your dream job?
My plans for after graduation are to pursue a Probation officer position. My passion is working with high-risk youth in the criminal justice system. So, I hope to have experience working with both youth and adults. Eventually, I would like to affect change in government policy as I move to more senior positions.
Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
I have an amazing support system who have always been so supportive and inspired me to achieve my learning goals. My family, my foster parents, friends, high school teachers and principles, social workers, co-workers and other working professionals.
But I feel the greatest inspiration for me has been being a former youth-in-care and sharing experiences with other former youth-in-care who have struggled to complete their high school education, never mind their post-secondary goals. I feel that I have been given the opportunity to be able to graduate with a bachelors and hope to inspire and support other youth in care and former youth in care to achieve their goals.
What has your experience with online learning been like? What do you like and dislike?
I have loved online learning so far! I am able to do schoolwork from my laptop and even my cellphone. I am able to write papers at work or study for an exam on the plane. It has allowed me the flexibility I need. Further, with my disability I would often miss important information during lectures, however, the online format ensures I do not.
Have you ever waivered about continuing your schooling? What pushed you to go through with it?
I had a lot of family conflicts and the loss of my grandfather in 2011. It took quite a toll on me and made me question my ability to finish school. It took me years to have the confidence in myself that I was able to complete classes. In fact, my best grades were once I left college and started my bachelor’s at AU. School really is a mental game more then it is an intellectual one. If you don’t believe you have achieved a certain mark, you are not likely to succeed. I believe my support system and reaching out to counsellors and school advisors helped me through difficult times in my education.
What’s your favorite AU course that you have taken so far, and why?
My favorite course would have to be CRJS 370 (Youth Justice). I really enjoyed the course content and was able to include my personal and professional experience in the assignments. I have enjoyed all the AU CRJS courses and feel that the courses offered in this program are far more specialized then other university programs offer.
What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most?
You definitely give up the social aspect off your college and university experience. I went to college, so I was able to enjoy some of those years. You do need to weigh the cost and benefits of each style of learning and which is most important to you.
How do you find communications with your course tutors?
I have not been one to communicate often with my tutors unless I have a question or problem. However, I do wish that tutors would be more helpful with giving us guidance for the exams, as my professors in class settings do.
What’s your pet peeve if you have one?
My pet peeve is the exams for sure. Some of our exams are between thirty and fifty percent. We often go into them having little or no idea about the style of the exam (multiple, choice, long answer) or whether the exam is specific or broad in nature. Many tutors are unhelpful and say they do not mark the exams and are unaware of the content. In college or university on campus classes, it is common for professors to give some hints or direction for the exams. Especially when an exam is worth fifty percent and a student can fail a class even if they have one hundred percent in the course assignments, I think it is only fair give more help to students and ease their exam anxiety.
What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
Oprah and J.K Rowling. Both are such inspiring and powerful women who have done amazing things with their success.
Could you describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people?
Being a former youth in care has set me apart from most people sitting in the same room as me.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
That everyone has struggles, insecurities and trauma in their lives that they have to overcome. Everyone should feel loved, supported, and able to achieve their dreams.
Have you traveled? Where has life taken you so far?
I have been to Mexico, Hawaii, Seattle and Florida.
Out of the places you have been to, which was your favorite and why?
My favorite place would have to be Hawaii. It so rich and culture and such a relaxing place to slow down and enjoy your time there.
What (non-AU) book are you reading now? Could you describe the book?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I do not want to give away the plot, but it is an amazing story about the meaning of life.