Marshia Whitman is forty-seven years old and lives in Stony Plain, Alberta. She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts with a major in English program with the goal to eventually write and sell a novel or work at a publishing firm. She explains her struggles with her health that affected her ability to continue working towards her degree in the past and the reasons why she switched degrees. This is her story.
Can you give us a little bit of background information about yourself? Who are you? Where do you live, where do you come from?
My name is Marshia or Darth Marr on the student mobile app. I am a 47-year-old woman who lives in Stony Plain, Alberta. I live with my parents, my youngest daughter, her best friend, three dogs, and two cats. I work in a daycare, so my days are busy. My dad is retired military, so I was born in Winnipeg, but I’ve lived in many places over my life.
What program are you in? Do you like your program?
I’m working on my Bachelor of Arts with a major in English. I started in May and so far, I’m enjoying it a lot.
Could you describe the path that led you to Athabasca University? What made you decide to return to school and what interested you about the English program?
I have always wanted a degree but my original plan, as a teenager, was to be a child psychologist. I joined the military so that, when I was done my degree (with cheaper rates that military personnel could sometimes get) I could work with military families coping with the stress of having loved ones in combat zones and with returning soldiers. Well, long story short, I ended up being released because of bad knees, then married to a military man, then pregnant. So, I thought “well, I’ll see what I can do to start school after the baby’s born”. During my pregnancy, I was in a car accident. I was rear-ended and was left with a lot of injuries so, going to school had to be put off once again.
Time passes, another child and a divorce, and I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia from the accident. I decide it’s time to go back, but because of my injuries, I had to make the painful decision not to be a psychologist. The stress that line of work can bring would increase my pain and could potentially make me very sick and I still had two children to think of. I thought of my other passions in life, which are writing, reading, and anything to do with literature. That’s when I decided to get my English degree. I did some research online to see how I could work and go to school at the same time, and that led me to Athabasca University.
What has your experience been like completing your English degree?
I actually tried once before to work toward this degree. However, between work, dealing with the ex, raising children, money problems, my health, and school, I got really sick and had to drop out of school and stop working for a year. I left school behind for a long time because health wise it wasn’t manageable. I had to choose to either work or go to school and when you have children to care for, I had to work. My children are pretty much grown now (ages 24 and 20) and my health is somewhat better, so here I am trying once again at nearly fifty years old. I needed to go back to university now while there’s still time for me to make a decent living and English is the best option for me.
Do you have any advice for people who are on the fence about going back to school?
If you can, just do it, because you will regret it if you don’t. Do not worry about age and don’t worry about naysayers. You deserve it. The right people will back you up and help if they can. Everyone else should be kicked to the curb if they are a negative influence, I had an ex-boyfriend who was annoyed that I went back to school. He was worried I would no longer need him and was not supportive. Do what you want to do and what will make you happy, because that is all that matters.
What do you like to do in your limited spare time? Do you have any hobbies?
Oh, this is where the nerd in me comes out! My hobbies are anything to do with Star Wars, reading, writing, binge-watching seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, spending time with my family, gaming, helping as I can around the house and yard, watching movies, going to museums or art galleries, and cosplay.
What genre of books do you enjoy reading, what type of writing do you do, and what games are you currently playing?
My favorite genres include science-fiction, fantasy, philosophy, classic literature, and history. Really, I enjoy most genre’s, aside from romance! Also, I am currently working on a science-fiction novel and have several ideas floating around! As for gaming, I am currently playing Star Wars the Old Republic online as well as replaying Mass Effect, Morrowind, and Dishonored, as I can’t afford any new games right now!
What are your plans for this education once you finish? What would be your dream job?
My dream job is selling the great Canadian novel or working for a publishing firm, preferably a local one. Really, I would just be happy making enough money to take care of everyone and be able to go on a vacation every couple of years. I don’t care about getting rich. I wouldn’t complain if it happened, mind you, but it’s not my realistic end goal! I get asked all the time if I want to become a teacher, which I don’t. I teach my preschoolers and after a long time of doing it, I’m burned out from teaching.
Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
My parents, my grandfather, and two amazing elementary school teachers in Nova Scotia have had the greatest influences on me. These two teachers were married, and we called them Mr. and Mrs. T. (for Taylor). They were so loved. Hundreds of people showed up for their funerals when they passed. They were funny and they loved every single kid, including the ones others would give up on. They treated us like people and respected intelligence, but they assumed we were all intelligent and not just “stupid kids.” No teachers have ever impacted me like they did, though I did have some good ones.
Could you describe your experience with Athabasca University and with online learning so far? What do you like?
For the most part, studying at Athabasca University has been really good experience. I have some great tutors who I feel would be good at answering any questions I have or help me through any concepts. I also feel that the courses I have taken are well laid out.
Is there anything that you dislike?
The astronomy course I’m taking, ASTR 205 (Universe—The Ultimate Frontier) is good, but the textbook sometimes provides students with the wrong answers, or they round up for the math equations, but fail to explain that. I would appreciate more examples of the math equations and that the answers they provide are correct. Also, the textbook has odd things like “A Common Misconception” followed by something like “Sometimes people confuse solar systems with the universe.” I was raised by an amateur astronomer, I write science-fiction, and I have hung out with a lot of people throughout my life and I have never heard of any of the misconceptions this textbook talks about. Though, I just find these entertaining, and it is not really a complaint. Honestly, I’m really enjoying the courses and cannot wait to finish my whole degree through AU.
What’s your favorite AU course that you have taken so far, and why? Would you recommend the course to others?
I’ve only taken three courses so far, so I don’t think I could pick. I’m enjoying them all and I am learning things I did not learn before. If I really think about it, it would probably be between ANTH 277 (The Archaeology of Us: First Humans to First Civilizations) and ASTR 205 (Universe—The Ultimate Frontier) because the English course I am enrolled in is just to teach students how to write essays.
How do you find communications with your course tutors?
I have not had a need to really contact them a lot but from what contact I have had, it’s been great. They are all nice, helpful people. My ANTH 277 tutor even phoned me to discuss the course in the beginning with me because it is a new format for it; very nice person.
Could you share something that few people know about you?
I’m pagan. I work with old gods and goddesses (primarily Sekhmet of the Egyptian pantheon). I am a firm believer in following your own path. So, as long as you’re good to yourself and others, what spiritual or nonspiritual path you follow makes no difference. I have been close to Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Druids, and those who have yet to find their path and more. I always take them as chances to learn but most of the time I have to hide my beliefs because of misinformation and hatred. So, yeah, not too many people know that about me.
Have you traveled? Where has life taken you so far?
I’ve traveled to many places in Canada because of my dad being military and through some northern states as well, but I have two places I call home: Nova Scotia and McBride, B.C. I spent a total of six years in Nova Scotia and the scenery is breathtaking and the people were always, for the most part, good to me, and there are so many things to see and do that bring a sense of inner peace to me. I hope to one day take a long vacation there. McBride is a hamlet nestled in the mountains. It’s where my grandpa lived, and I spent a good amount of my teen years going there to visit him. I love small places and in McBride I gained some very special memories, so it has a very special place in my heart, and, like Nova Scotia, the mountains bring me a sense of peace.
Are you reading any non-AU books right now? Could you describe them and are you enjoying them?
I like how you specified non-AU! At the moment, I’m reading two books. One is The Martian by Andy Weir and the other is Archangel Down by C. Gockel. The first is hard science-fiction and the next is a far-into-the-future-not-so-hard science-fiction! Both are great books and I would recommend them.