Charla Arnold is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce program at Athabasca University with a major in Accounting. Charla was kind enough to share her experience with online learning and what pushed her to enroll at AU.
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 Charla Arnold. I am a mom of four kids, ages 7, 9, 10, and 11. Due to “life” responsibilities—running a house, taking care of children, working part-time—a traditional full-time program wasn’t a good fit for me. I live in Port Colborne, a small town in southern Ontario (not far from Niagara Falls), and though the university is out-of-province, the flexibility makes it worth the logistics.
What program are you in? Do you like your program?
I am currently working towards my Bachelor of Commerce Major in Accounting and I love my program!
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 Bachelor of Commerce program that you have signed up for?
I was a good student in high school, strong in math, and I applied to several universities. I was accepted into all that I applied for, but when it came time to choose and enroll and get things into place, I was terrified. I wasn’t ready to take that step and decided instead to take up a trade – I was able to take a six-week course through Niagara College and got my welding ticket. Thanks to a friend in the industry, I was hired right away by a smallish company and started working in a fabrication shop. One day, I helped out the invoicing clerk when it came time to bill for some of the jobs and the Vice-President of Administration picked up on my math and accounting skills. When the invoicing clerk moved to another position, I was offered the job and made the transition from the shop floor to the office. I loved my high school accounting classes, but I did not consider it as a career. I started to take night courses in accounting and economics, but once I married my husband and had kids, the education stuff took a back seat. We agreed that I would stay at home until the kids were older – the plan was to have four kids close together in age – and so life continued on.
When our youngest started kindergarten I was offered an opportunity to work at the school as a “lunch monitor”. Three hours a day, mostly in the hallways and outside during recess. The principal complimented my ability to work with kids and asked if I ever considered working as a teacher’s aide. The school board (French Catholic) is always looking for qualified aides and I had a knack for it. College Boreal has an apprenticeship program that is very affordable (about $1,000 altogether for the two-year program) and with a few extra courses, the opportunity to earn a college diploma. I decided to go for it and graduated from college three years later. I’m currently working as supply staff. It doesn’t feel, however, like the job I was meant for. I don’t “light up” when I talk about the work and I miss working with numbers. So, I decided to pursue my degree. I researched some of the different online options—the college programs had all been online and I had excelled—and decided on Athabasca. I was awarded a block of transfer credits thanks to my diploma and several course exemptions from college courses I took in my twenties. I’ve worked in the accounting department for years but had not realized all that goes into it from the management side, it’s insane! I’m finding the courses at AU so far to be challenging, and although I’m still getting good grades, it’s a lot of work!
Do you have any advice for people who are on the fence about returning to school?
Make it work! There will never be a “good time” and it will never get easier to get started. I was terrified of university all those years ago, but AU made it attainable. Instead of getting this great big schedule outlining my next four years, AU gave me a list of what I need to accomplish and I am able to tick one box at a time. I can plan the next few years if that’s what works for me, but honestly, some of the courses are extremely hard, and I’m glad that I’m not enrolled in five of them right now.
Do you have any hobbies? What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?
When I’m not studying, I like to craft—scrapbooking, cross-stitch, crochet. It’s funny actually, I’m not particularly creative, but I’m resourceful. I love the way certain things look, but I need to find a pattern, something to follow. It fits right in with how I study. I’ve been teaching my kids some of the crafty things and they love it!
What are your plans for this education once you finish? What would be your dream job?
I’ll continue to supply as long as my kids are still young so that I can be home for mornings and after-school homework. I would love to eventually pursue my MBA or CPA and work as an accountant, but there isn’t one particular job that stands out at the moment. I’m enjoying the schoolwork, learning, and don’t want to rush to “the next thing”.
Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
Growing up, my parents didn’t push anything in particular and they let me choose my own path. My husband, more recently, has encouraged me to follow my dream (accounting) rather than just taking the jobs that sort of fall in my lap. I hate that I sound so ungrateful about my current job when I say that. The work at the school is fantastic—I’m able to say yes or no to a day of work depending on my schedule and my kids (when one gets pink-eye, they all get pink-eye). It works out really well and there is something very satisfying about teaching kids how to read and add and cooperate. But it’s not what I wanted to be “when I grow up”. My desire to learn, I think, has just always been there.
Could you describe your experience with online learning? What do you like?
Online learning rocks! The schedule is flexible and that works really well for me. I am very self-motivated, so it’s great that I can finish the course work quickly if I have the time. When I have less time due to other commitments, sick kids, or exhaustion, I’m able to take a few days to regroup. I love being able to read ahead at 2 a.m. if I can’t sleep, that I have access to all of the materials from the beginning, and that the videos are recorded ahead of time. I don’t have to wait on staff or other students to progress in the course.
Is there anything that you have found that you dislike?
I do miss being able to ask small, silly questions without having to submit a request – like can I go out-of-order on the questions during an online quiz. I’m also not crazy about online e-textbooks – I like having a book. But the benefits far outweigh the cons.
What’s your favorite AU course that you have taken so far, and why?
I really enjoyed CMIS 245 (Microcomputer Applications in Business – Windows). I was familiar with about half of the Word and Excel elements, so I really felt like I was building on to a solid base. I have worked a lot with Access as an “end-user”, so learning the programming end was fantastic. I have only used PowerPoint once in my life – I learned a lot by working through the textbook!
Would you recommend CMIS 245 to other students?
I would definitely recommend it for anyone working with the Microsoft Suite on a regular basis. There are so many shortcuts that I’ve incorporated into my everyday life!
How do you find communications with course tutors?
Communicating with my course tutors has been great, even when I haven’t been particularly easy to work with. I was graded 99% on an assignment and wrote in asking what I missed. The feedback has been helpful and my assignments have been marked promptly. It’s been a very positive experience.
What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with?
I would love to have lunch with C.S. Lewis and just listen to him talk.
Why C.S. Lewis? What would you like to ask or learn from him?
I’ve read quite a bit of his literature and I’m fascinated by the way he thinks. I hate to admit that I haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, but I’ve read the Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy among others, as well as some of his non-fiction. I want to hear about what influenced him, his pet peeves, and who he would like to sit down with! I’m Catholic and his views on Christianity are fascinating!
Could you explain your proudest moment in your life?
The proudest moment of my life would be when I gave birth to my daughter. There is something special about becoming a parent, becoming that person’s whole life (for a short while, at least), that warms my heart. It’s the moment that changed my life the most, in that moment and ever since. Following up, of course, is graduating college, buying a house, getting married… Life’s “regular” events. Parenting for the win!
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in life is that it’s better to listen than to talk. Most people love to talk and you can learn so much if you just listen rather than trying to think of what else you can say, how you can contribute to the conversation, or what you’re planning for dinner. People, in general, want to be heard, and if you can really be in the moment and listen, amazing things can happen.
What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
I just finished We All Fall Down by Daniel Kalla, a Canadian author.
Could you describe the book? Would you recommend others to read it?
It’s about the return of the black plague and I bought it because there have been a few cases of the plague in Asia recently and it piqued my interest. The book was fantastic and I highly recommend it!