The AUSU election is coming up, and while distance education makes a lot of things possible, it can make figuring out who to vote for a bit of a challenge. AU does not really have a centre point that students congregate in and that can be used to easily deliver messages to the student body. And while there are some popular Facebook groups for students that some candidates post announcements to, not everybody is aware or uses them. Of course, you can always go to AUSU’s site and look at their Candidate Pages to see what the candidates say about themselves, or perhaps take in the AUSU Eelection Forum where you can ask candidates about the issues that concern you (and if you haven’t looked at that yet, you really should, there are some interesting questions and some good answers that have been brought forward already). But that takes some work, and then you have to keep re-checking to see if they’ve answered you yet, and honestly, who remembers that sort of thing, right?
But that’s okay. That’s why you have The Voice Magazine. We asked the candidates eight questions to help you get a sense of who they are and what they think is important, and gave them a week to answer. We told them ahead of time that the candidates would be presented in the order we received their answers, and their answers wouldn’t be edited except for formatting here on the website. With that in mind, here’s what we got back:
What faculty are you in, if any, and how much longer do you expect to be studying at AU?
Stacey Hutchings: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – Bachelor of Professional Arts – Law, Governance and Management. I have two years left in my undergrad degree and then I hope to go onto my masters or law school.
Katy Lowe: I’m in my third year with AU in the BA Psychology program. I hope to be finished my degree in the next two years.
Darcie Fleming: I am in the Bachelor of Arts – Psychology and I hope to be finished by 2022 and then moving onto a Masters in Psychology.
Fahid Hussain: I am part of the Faculty of Business. I plan to complete my undergraduate degree by August 2020 and continue taking courses part-time to expand my skillset within the next two years.
Devon Romanick: The Faculty of Business as a Bachelor of Commerce program student – two years in, two more to go!
Aleksander Golijanin: I am in the 4th year of my studies, Faculty of Business, and I expect to study for the next two years, while I continue to manage my international humanitarian work and hopefully AUSU council responsibilities too.
Natalia Iwanek: I am in my third year of a Bachelor of Arts in English. I hope to continue on to my Master’s degree.
Jennifer Bouley: I am in the Humanities Faculty and I plan to study with AU until at least 2021.
Natasha Donahue: I’m in the Faculty of Science and Technology until this summer 2020 when I graduate, and then I will be switching to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to pursue AU’s University Certificate in French Language Proficiency.
Jasmine Hernandez: I am currently in the Bachelor of Arts program taking a Political Science major and a Political Economy major. I hope to continue studying at Athabasca University for three more years.
Regan Johnson: Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology. I expect to be studying for another 2 years!
Monique Durette: I am an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. I am in my third year of full-time studies, working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Political Science and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. I anticipate my studies to be finished by October 2021.
Aside from tuition, what do you think is the most important issue AUSU needs to address for students?
Stacey Hutchings: Innovation, Community, and Connection. I feel that innovation, using tech more effectively and efficiently, can help facilitate community and connection so the AU experience can be just as immersive, if not more so, then a traditional brick-and-mortar University.
Katy Lowe: Specifically, AUSU needs to focus on increasing student engagement through increased opportunities to connect with students. AU is a unique learning experience and can be increasingly lonely, providing means for students to connect may result in an enhanced student experience. Specifically, I think AUSU and AUGSA can collaborate and bring these student populations together, this will increase networking opportunities for undergraduate students, mentorship opportunities, and a chance to answer questions of those with experience.
Darcie Fleming: AUSU needs to address improving the students educational experience. With the additional tuition, I believe that AU needs to invest that revenue into an improved online learning platform.
Fahid Hussain: Political change on a provincial level has hurt students. In Alberta changing in funding has become apparent. However, there is a concern about out of province students such as those in Ontario who have found a reduction in student loan and grants, which makes it more difficult to pursue a post-secondary education. They also made changes to OSAP from a grants-based system to a loans-based system.
Devon Romanick: Better programs and services to promote social inclusion
Aleksander Golijanin: The most important issue is ensuring the well-being of our student population and that every student is provided the resources necessary to succeed. I want our student population to know that they can count on us to be there for them at any hour. Everyone does better when we look out for one another.
Natalia Iwanek: Although I will advocate on behalf of all students, I feel that in our current political climate, many students, such as those with disabilities, chronic and mental illnesses, new immigrants, the queer community, Indigenous students, mature students, and many others, need increased support. In addition, I would like to attract more attention to distance learning, as well as improve its reputation.
Jennifer Bouley: I think that knowledge about support services that AU offers students regarding mental health, depression, and stress are important. I also think that it is important for the university to offer students more opportunities for connecting with each other in person is important because with an online university it is important to continue to feel engaged. Also, academic support and awareness of the services offered to students is important.
Natasha Donahue: My belief is that reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is deeply important to the institution, especially considering the mandate of Athabasca University to serve under-represented populations. Reconciliatory work is central to the health of our Canadian society, and as an institution of higher education Athabasca University is in a prime position to work toward reconciliation in order to improve access for Indigenous peoples and role-model for the greater community.
Jasmine Hernandez: Student well-being should be the primary focus for AUSU since Athabasca University is a distance learning program; many students do not have the support they need. Connections within Athabasca University are essential to provide rewarding outcomes.
Regan Johnson: An important issue for me is the lack of peer support, as that plays a big part in my well-being as a student. Distance learning can feel like such an isolating experience so I believe that access to AU community based programs would really help student engagement and propel student success. AUSU does have the student app, and there are a few groups available on Facebook, but it would be great to see AUSU implement more of a mentorship program, student mixers in varying locations, etc.
Monique Durette: I believe that there needs to be designated representation for certain demographics such as students with accessibility needs or Indigenous students. Each represent a segment of the student population with different needs in comparison to the general student body…needs that can affect their studies.
What’s the best thing about an average day for you?
Stacey Hutchings: My children, my dogs and finishing a to-do list.
Katy Lowe: First thing in the morning, I get up at 5:30 every day to take advantage of the level of silence. My brain is so much more productive when it has no option but to focus on the task in front of me, and at that time even social media is still asleep!
Darcie Fleming: My first reaction was sleeping, but I will say getting some fresh air taking my dog Penny for a walk.
Fahid Hussain: Being able to schedule between family, groceries, and other errands around distance education.
Devon Romanick: Waking up! …and crossing off completed tasks, one-by-one, on my good ol’ paper and pen to-do list.
Aleksander Golijanin: I am a simple person, the best thing about an average day for me is waking up and starting it with a good attitude. It really sets the tone for how the rest of your day will go. When things go well that’s great, when they don’t that’s okay too, but a good attitude never came across a terrain it could not trek.
Natalia Iwanek: This may sound ridiculous, but as much as I love my program (reading and writing) and my job (more reading and writing), my favourite part of the day is nighttime when I can read solely for myself. I am currently in love with Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.
Natasha Donahue: Seeing progress on my projects, especially innovative work! I love getting things done and in new ways. This works great for AUSU since we have such a unique environment.
Jasmine Hernandez: During my regular days, I drop off and pick up my little sister from school, hearing about her day when I pick her up is one of the most rewarding moments of my day. I believe that family is an important value in life.
Regan Johnson: COFFEE! – and a really good book.
Monique Durette: The best thing about an average day for me is being able to be home with my family. AU’s online flexibility allows me to not need to miss out on my child’s special moments while obtaining my degree.
If there was a new service, program, activity, or degree you could convince AU (not AUSU) to offer to students, what would it be?
Stacey Hutchings: A Sustainability Certificate or a degree in Disaster Management – something that would align with the UN Sustainable development goals. It would create opportunities for AU students to be at the forefront of the new economy.
Katy Lowe: Hands down, an honours thesis option to complete alongside an undergraduate designation. This is a requirement for a lot of graduate programs that unfortunately AU cannot provide.
Darcie Fleming: I would like to see an increase in Indigenous degrees offered, as currently, the only degrees offered are in the Bachelor of Management.
Fahid Hussain: A major in FinTech (for Bachelor of Science), which is a combination of finance and technology components due to the increasing use of technology in the financial services industry that is in demand.
Devon Romanick: Improved mental health services (in-person counselling options by affiliation); Legal Studies as a major/minor option for the Bachelor of Arts (similar to the University of Waterloo)
Aleksander Golijanin: I would like to see access to greater learning opportunities that would ensure students develop professionally, specifically through co-op programs and partnerships. Other universities across Canada have agreements for placements such as nursing programs with hospitals. There are also many grants that are provided by the public/private sector which cover an employers cost to hire students and pay them a living wage. I feel extremely confident that we can have co-op programs up and running by 2022, and that will be one of my big priorities as your AUSU councillor.
Natalia Iwanek: In today’s era of globalization, the importance of languages is fundamental. While AU offers a French Major and Certificate and Cree courses, the Spanish program offers six courses, with no option of even a minor. Courses in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Arabic would also be beneficial to students. Increased support and options for study abroad programs would also be something to consider.
Jennifer Bouley: I would say a new service that AU could offer students would be more widespread counselling services to various issues that students face.
Natasha Donahue: I would love to see more options for science majors. I have a passion for the natural sciences and would have loved to take a major in physics/astronomy but because this was not offered, I decided to take a general science pathway.
Jasmine Hernandez: Athabasca University could focus on more student involvement. For many individuals, university is a learning experience, and AU has the opportunity to increase student involvement and allow for student input. Athabasca University can focus on the marketing of AUSU, as it is vital for many students who are unaware of the student council program.
Regan Johnson: I would love for AU to offer an undergrad research program or an honours thesis option!
Monique Durette: I believe that having Academic Strategists available to AU students who use ASD services would be extremely beneficial to a student’s success. Though AU currently offers assistance to students to apply for funding to access this type of support, this creates many additional barriers for students who already have many barriers in their daily lives. It would be a much more seamless, much less stressful situation for these students who already have added difficulties that non-ASD students do not have. Also, it would ensure that students utilizing ASD services have a person within AU whom they can refer to regarding the specialized strategies they need for their studies. This service can easily be provided for by phone, email, or video calls, effectively maintaining the same “online” format AU is known for. Removing systemic barriers is important to equality for all students, including students utilizing ASD services.
What’s going to be the biggest challenge for you should you get elected?
Stacey Hutchings: I would welcome the challenge of creating more connection within the AU student body. Community is key for completing degrees as it creates the connection needed for students to thrive in hard times. That would be my biggest goal.
Katy Lowe: This one will sound strange but bear with me. The biggest challenge for me is going to be ensuring student concerns are at the forefront of conversation. I feel I am connected to the AU student community and I really want to believe I can represent the unique and passionate perspectives of my peers. However, I would be naïve to assume that my sole opinion is shared among an entire population and changes with the same pace and direction as others. I want to ensure that I am actively involving students within my role as a councillor and I therefore propose an open forum for students to keep in frequent communication with student councillors. Attendance of monthly meetings may pose a significant obstacle for students to voice their concerns, however, an open communication that can be completed via email may make this significantly easier for students to voice their concerns and AUSU to actively and continuously address them. I know that I am far from alone in prioritizing student advocacy and I think one of the biggest challenges for anyone is being cognizant of the specific and changing concerns of the AU undergraduate student body.
Darcie Fleming: It is not really a challenge, but I would say getting to know the other councillors and building a team that is cohesive and focused.
Fahid Hussain: This is my first time as a nominee for student council in a post-secondary institution, so the challenge is to see how I can work with those who are experienced as AUSU Councillors.
Devon Romanick: If elected, as with any new endeavour, there will be a learning curve. Fortunately, I catch on quickly!
Aleksander Golijanin: The biggest challenge will likely revolve around getting accustomed to the daily councillor routine.
Natalia Iwanek: If elected, my biggest challenge will be making sure not to make promises that I cannot keep. In a perfect world, we would implement changes to benefit absolutely everyone; however, it is important to keep in mind what is realistically possible.
Jennifer Bouley: My biggest challenge would be my full-time job vs studies. I think that also of AU students try to balance this each day.
Natasha Donahue: The biggest challenge for me will be to not take on too much. I really love helping and supporting others when they need it, but sometimes that means I say “yes” to work-related tasks that I don’t have enough time or energy to take on when I should instead help the individual or group find more fulsome support.
Jasmine Hernandez: Focusing on connecting students worldwide is going to be difficult because of the cultural, language and physical barriers. With the help of student involvement and student council, we can connect students globally.
Regan Johnson: Each student is unique, with differing challenges from my own; so, my biggest challenge would be to ensure the accurate representation and advocacy of concerns related to the diverse student population here at AU.
Monique Durette: My biggest challenge will be holding back. When taking on any new opportunity, I tend to go at it at 150%, often at the expense of myself. However, I have been through some difficult mental and physical health issues lately that required some significant work to help me see that I can not “do everything” …no matter how passionate I am about it all, and that my physical and mental health suffers when I try to do more than I should. Therefore, it will be a challenge for me to continue the student/family/life balance I have created while also pursuing a passion of mine: non-profit work and advocacy.
Is there a program or activity AUSU does now that you think it should expand on?
Stacey Hutchings: AUSU has meet ups in larger centers like Calgary and Edmonton, I would like to see a virtual meet up for those who live in remote communities to participate in, maybe earn some AUSU SWAG in the process.
Katy Lowe: AUSU currently holds socials in several cities which I think are great, however, can be intimidating for students who do not already know other students. I think that AUSU can expand on these in-person social events by providing an increased frequency of events, and perhaps additionally organize casual events, such as in person study groups. In this way, students may connect over shared interests and activities and build upon their student networks.
Darcie Fleming: In light of the tuition increases, I believe that AUSU needs to expand on the scholarship and bursaries offered.
Fahid Hussain: Bursaries should be revaluated under a new council and expanded to help tackle challenges students will be facing in the coming years such as providing a bursary to cover out of province fees for out of province students in Canada.
Devon Romanick: Social programs – being a distance/online learner can be isolating, as well as student benefits/perks.
Aleksander Golijanin: With significant increases in tuition, I believe that AUSU should explore the idea of offering more financial aid grants. There are many grants that go unawarded due to no applicants. When this happens, I would like to see the grant funds get reallocated as financial aid grants. A little can go a long way for someone that is struggling financially. I do not like seeing people left behind due to circumstances that are out of their control, so the student population can count on me to champion their best interests.
Natalia Iwanek: Although AUSU already offers a phenomenal bursary and award program, the tuition increase may mean the discontinuation of education for students below a certain income level. Perhaps, if offering more awards is not financially possible, AUSU could consider implementing more frequent, smaller awards.
Jennifer Bouley: I think that AUSU should consider bringing back health insurance for students to purchase if needed.
Natasha Donahue: I think the AUSU student social events could be expanded on to include more innovative approaches to student engagement and opportunities for mentorship and relationship-building.
Jasmine Hernandez: Student Wellness is an essential program because, as a distance learning university, not many students are receiving social interaction that may benefit their quality of life. More awareness of the programs and the services offered can be a benefit to many students as they can be more successful with their studies.
Regan Johnson: One area that I would love AUSU to expand on is the career development page featuring access to an easy to read template with prospective career paths, various graduate programs and their requirements for possible admission, email access to available connections in our study of choice, etc. In brick and mortar post secondary schools, this information is frequently shared between like-minded peers, coop programs, and in mentorship programs, so without that available communication, students may not know what avenue to take for continuing studies and career opportunities.
Monique Durette: I think AUSU should expand on the social events that are organized. There have been occasional events organized in the past, but in order to build on the sense of community amongst AU students, I feel the idea of in-person events should be further explored.
Is there a program or activity AUSU does now that you think it should cut support for?
Stacey Hutchings: No, I think the last thing student needs is more cuts. We need to build more for students.
Darcie Fleming: All AUSU programs are valuable, but AUSU should revisit the additional services of the eyewear discounts and pharmacy savings as they should be paying a fee to advertise to our students.
Fahid Hussain: I would cut support for course evaluations. We can leave it for students to evaluate how they wish either with AU, through The Voice or through a third party.
Aleksander Golijanin: I think AUSU is doing a great job, and they strive to be even greater. There is nothing immediate that comes to mind which we should cut.
Natalia Iwanek: Honestly, no. The varied programs, from The Voice, to pharmacy discounts, to the mobile app are so important to a variety of students. In addition, I cannot make this decision without seeing financial data.
Jennifer Bouley: No, I do not believe, I believe that AUSU offers a lot of the necessary supports for students.
Natasha Donahue: At this time, I believe the vast majority the work of AUSU is valuable and workable. If we experience challenges, then I believe we can adapt to those challenges or use the opportunity to transform things to meet our needs and goals.
Jasmine Hernandez: Many students aren’t aware of the services that AUSU has to offer, and unfortunately, the Podcast service is underused. More resources could be allocated towards the Student Wellness program.
Monique Durette: I believe that periodic reviews of any AUSU services are always warranted, to ensure that their use versus costs are justified. However, only upon review should cutting support of a program or activity be suggested or implemented. It is impossible for me to make this recommendation without having seen this type of information.
What are you most hoping to gain personally from this experience if you’re elected?
Stacey Hutchings: I would like to expand and develop my leadership and public speaking skills. I am also very interested in politics, so this is a way for me to run and be a part of a team that is furthering a group of my peers – the social justice warrior in me loves that I get to be an advocate for my fellow AU students.
Katy Lowe: Personally, I am hoping to build on my connections with students that can relate to my experience as an online undergraduate student. I hope to bring my passion and ideas to the student council to have a meaningful impact on the student experience for the AU undergraduate students.
Darcie Fleming: I aspire to be a positive and active participant in decisions that not only affect me but all students, as well as increasing the knowledge I gained over the past two years about governance and advocacy.
Fahid Hussain: Connecting with students based on their needs and learning strategies in advocacy.
Devon Romanick: As a law school hopeful, if elected, I am hoping to develop my advocacy skills. With that comes the personal satisfaction of being in a position to help my fellow students in meaningful ways by improving their AU experience.
Aleksander Golijanin: When I look back at this experience, I want to know that I did everything I could to leave AU and AUSU better than I found it.
Natalia Iwanek: I hope to learn more about AU, including all aspects of student government, about the issues affecting our student body, and make some sort of difference.
Jennifer Bouley: I hope the engage with AU students more. Being an alumni and current student, I know what it is like to study and feel alone, and I also find now that with the expansion of technology it is now easier to feel connected with other AU students. So overall what I hope to gain and a better understanding of AU student needs and more build connections and relationships.
Natasha Donahue: I love relationship-building and storytelling, and I think both of these skills will be bolstered by more experience with the student council. I have had the pleasure of working on student council for the past two years, and the relationships I have built between our SU and other student associations, the government, Athabasca University, as well as external stakeholders benefits both myself and our organization. It is so important to me to see AUSU succeed in these endeavours and being able to build these skills up will only help strengthen these relationships. Storytelling is one way in which these relationships are built, especially when it comes to advocacy work. I am passionate about advocating for those who need support, and these skills will continue to serve me as I journey through life.
Jasmine Hernandez: Interpersonal connections with many student council members as well as students that I will have the opportunity to represent.
Regan Johnson: Community! It is so isolating as a distant learning student, so I’m most excited to connect with others that are also passionate about making a difference.
Monique Durette: I am hoping to gain recent, relevant, working experience that can be applied to my post-graduation goals of working within the non-profit sector. However, I also hope to bring to the role my wealth of knowledge and past experience that may be of use to the AUSU council.
And there you have it! Their own words, unedited. We were surprised by the amount of variation in the responses to some of the questions, so hopefully this helps give you some idea of who these twelve candidates are and what they’ll be standing for if you choose to cast your vote for any (or all) of them. But if this has only spurred more questions for you, the vote only starts on Tuesday, February 25, and goes for several days, so there’s still time to ask directly on the AUSU candidate forums.
Don’t be shy, these people will be using your money to represent you to the university and the government. Make sure they’re who you want, and then be sure to vote as well!