Who are your fellow students? It can feel like you are all alone in your studies, but across the nation, around the globe, students like you are also pursuing their AU education, and The Voice Magazine wants to bring their stories to you. If you would like to be featured next, do not hesitate to get in touch!
The Voice Magazine recently had the chance to chat with AU student and newest AUSU Councillor Amber McDuffe from Edmonton, Alberta, located on Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous Peoples, including the Cree, Saulteaux, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples.
Amber was born and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba, before moving to Camrose, Alberta in 2009 and Edmonton in 2010. After buying a home in the city in 2014, she has “put down roots in the community,” (although her father wishes she would move home!). She stated, “I currently work in EMS across the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, which takes me away from ‘home’ quite often. I also own my own first aid training company. Combine these with my volunteer work and I guess you could say I live a busy life.”
Amber is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Human Science, with a minor in Psychology. Although her end goal is “fluid,” she stated, “[U]ltimately I love helping people, that is why I entered into EMS to begin with, however, I know EMS is not a sustainable career for some. The burnout rate is high, co-worker relationships can be quite challenging due to the mental stress of the job and there is always the possibility of injury as it can be very physically demanding, not to mention you’re never really home. It is incredibly difficult to get a position close to home so I chose to pursue this degree as a way to either make myself more appealing to those in hiring or to take it a step further and get into medical school.
“I feel working as a family physician would be a rewarding career and allow me to fulfill that desire of wanting to help people. I quite enjoy the lower priority calls we sometimes get for parents just wanting their child ‘checked out’ by a medical professional or the elderly person who really just needs someone to talk to so family medicine seems in-line with where I excel. I know it is difficult to get into med school however, which is why my goal is currently fluid. No matter what I end up doing with this degree, as long as it helps me to help others I will be happy.”
Although she is quite busy, when she is not studying, Amber “love[s] to get out to the mountains and go hiking.” She added, “I also like to visit my friends (socially distanced of course right now) and just catch up with them. We are all quite conscious about the current pandemic so the cohort is pretty safe.”
Amber mentioned that “a combination of people and situational factors” had the greatest influence on her life. “I was not school focused growing up, in fact, I was that problem child who was constantly skipping and tried to drop out of high school but, with a lot of push back, my parents did get me to finish. I grew up being bullied my entire life so being at school was not a place I wanted to be. Even though I was never there I still managed to pass all of my classes.” She continued, “Looking back on it now, if I would have been in a healthy environment I probably could have had the marks I now have in university as a straight-A student but those experiences made me who I am today and showed me not to be a bully because I know how it feels. When it comes to the decision to go back to school, my desire to learn was born out of a feeling of frustration. I was working office jobs for incredibly low pay, and I would later come to learn all about the gender wage gap and how it had affected my life.”
She continued, “After buying a place to live, I knew this wasn’t sustainable and decided I needed to do something I actually wanted to do and could survive on. Having previously encountered unfortunate situations where I had to use my first aid training, I decided to pursue a career in EMS. It started with a quick 2-week course to get my EMR license then working in the oilfield for a few years to catch up on bills. During this time, I had the pleasure of being on a volunteer committee with our regulatory body and was surrounded by incredibly supportive practitioners who encouraged my growth, which led me to pursue my primary care paramedic (PCP). Again, the frustration set in after not being able to get a job locally on ambulance and not wanting to be gone all the time either working in the oilfield or on rural services hours away from home, so I have now decided to pursue my degree.”
So far, online learning has been easy for Amber. She stated, “The online learning isn’t a new environment to me.” She continued, “I have found each school to have pros and cons with their online delivery. One pro I can agree on across all of them is that I am able to continue to work while also doing school meaning I can still pay my bills and support myself. AU is great because it is learn at your own pace, for the most part, so I am able to do my courses one at a time even when I take on a five course semester. The con however is the turnaround time for marks. When I have a five course load I have to do one course every 3 weeks max as a funded student, which is attainable however, I have walked into exams without having a single assignment back and essentially hoping I haven’t completely missed the mark in my self-teaching. It would be great if the turnaround time was quicker. It can also be tough when tutors only have a couple hours available per week because if I am working during that time I have completely missed out on the opportunity to seek help. My previous school gave us access to a really great resource where tutors were available 24/7 on demand to help with any pressing questions and we could submit any assignment to have the 3rd party review it and provide feedback prior to handing it in. It was a great resource and really helped me with my APA. The best part was you could submit an assignment as many times as you wanted, no limits! I have brought this resource forward to the executive committee with AUSU and am really hoping it will be made available to students at AU as well.”
Like many students, Amber is currently “struggling with the motivation to do school work.” She explained, “I think everyone reaches that point where they feel like maybe they have a bit too much on their plate. My friends and family are really helping me get through it and I honestly couldn’t imagine doing this without them. They have definitely been my biggest support system. My family provides motivational support from two provinces away while my friends provide physical and emotional support. When I was struggling to find items for my labs because COVID buyers had stock piled everything my friends raided their pantries for me and brought me supplies. When I was under deadlines and wasn’t getting feedback on my papers in one of my courses my two friends, who I only recently found out have English degrees, … offered to read my work and give me feedback.” She continued, “They also pull me away from school when they see it is getting to be too much on me (hence the two fishing trips this summer) and support me after writing exams, I don’t know how many times I have had dinner cooked for me after going to my friend’s house on exam days. I think the biggest thing we can do is just make sure we have a great support system because school can be incredibly overwhelming on the best of days not to mention the worst.”
Her favourite course so far has been COMP210: Introduction to Information Systems and Computer Applications, because she bonded with a fellow classmate over their “general dislike for the course.” She stated, “We both found it frustrating that it is required for most degrees and that the content was so ridiculous. It is that course that is so easy it is difficult because it makes you over think and question yourself. It includes playing a kids game, downloading a VR game, etc. none of which is helpful in any way towards our degrees. When I saw this fellow student posting questions about it in one of the Facebook groups I couldn’t help but laugh to myself thinking thank goodness I am not the only one who had these same thoughts. I quickly reached out to her and helped her through it, gaining a new friend in the process!
As for communication with tutors, she revealed, “Some are great, some not so great. I find email is not an effective means of communication when you’re stressed out because there can be a lot of back and forth and the limited office hours make talking to them difficult. I have had some tutors who were beyond amazing, they went way above expectations and reached out to the course coordinator to make sure they were able to answer my questions in the best way possible and support me. Then I have had other tutors where when I ask a question about how to do an assignment they state they can’t tell me causing me to have to guess and it turns out poorly which is incredibly frustrating and disheartening. It definitely presents a unique challenge. Previously, at other schools, our instructor/tutor/professor used collaborate which is a tool within Moodle to host video sessions once a week where students are able to log on and ask questions, effectively learning from the questions of others. I would love to see this implemented at AU as I feel it will also help with the social aspect some students find challenging when coming from a traditional brick and mortar school. They can meet their fellow peers within the course while interacting with their tutor, asking questions and learning.”
As for non-AU related reading material, Amber is “currently reading Neuro Dharma by Rick Hanson.” She stated, “[H]is other book, Resilient, is one of my personal favorites. As for TV, a few shows I watch have just come back so while I hate the medical inaccuracies, Grey’s Anatomy always has an interesting story line and as my friends and I say ‘gives all the feels’ (it makes us cry … a lot).”
If she were the new president of AU, Amber would start with “an overhaul of the current staffing system.” She continued, “So many students, myself included have had negative experiences from not being able to get a hold of someone at the school or a lack of communication and transparency. Things need to change because this has been going on since well before COVID. I was supposed to start my AU experience in January but had to wait until March because I hadn’t submitted the course plan as a funded student which was never communicated to me anywhere that I saw and wasn’t on the welcome letter. This was something completely unique to AU as that was not something I had to do at my other schools, and, from what I see, I am definitely not alone in that frustration. I feel the accountability goes both ways, a portion on the student to ensure they are submitting what is required but also on the school to ensure students are informed of their requirements. If we want students to have a positive learning experience, we need to make sure they get off to a good start and can reach people when they need to.”
One thing that distinguishes her from other people is that she is “a history nerd.” She stated, “Not in the sense that I can tell you cool history facts but more along the lines of you will find me in a museum exploring the culture and history of an area when “vacationing” before you’d find me doing normal “tourist” stuff. I have never had a “real” vacation though as all of my travelling has been for work but it has allowed me to have some pretty great experiences!”
The most valuable lesson that she has learned in life has been “Be kind to others, you never know what someone else is going through.” She explained, “Oddly enough I see this phrase used on social media and other places now too but it is true. When people lash out (and unfortunately, we sometimes see it recorded) in videos shared in the media nowadays, people are so quick to condemn and judge based on that behaviour when we really have no idea what is going on in that person’s life that has brought them to that point. Everyone is quick to point fingers, make fun and judge but if the situation were reversed or if that was someone they cared about they likely wouldn’t feel the same. Think back to the last time you were having a really bad day, were you rude to anyone? Did you project what was occurring in your life onto others you encountered? It may not be right, but it happens. And, if you’re saying “no” I ask you to dig deeper. So, the next time someone is being rude, aggressive, or volatile in front of you or towards you just remember they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about, so instead try to diffuse the situation by acknowledging their feelings and asking them how can I help? Put the camera away and reach out to one another.”
As for her proudest moment in her life, Amber revealed that it has been “a combination of walking across the stage to accept my PCP certificate and receiving notification that I passed my regulatory exams.” She stated, “I had faced a lot of adversity recently, both right before and during being in school. I had a lot going on in my personal life but I still managed to push through and was the recipient of the dean’s scholarship and academic achievement award in the program. Being in the program brought back previous feelings from school of being bullied because my class was very cutthroat and I was often the target, including from faculty because a classmate was close friends with the lead instructor. To make it through the issues at school, the issues in my personal life, the oil crash, and inconsistent income while still coming out on top with the highest marks felt really good.”
Best of luck Amber!