Minds We Meet—Elisa Neven-Pugh

Interviewing Students Like You!

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 Elisa Neven-Pugh from Rocky View County, Alberta, situated in Treaty 7 territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy (the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations), the Tsuut’ina First Nation, the Îyâxe Nakoda (the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations), as well as the Métis Nation of Alberta (Region 3).

Elisa is currently in “the counselling program from a feminist perspective [University Certificate in Counselling Women (UC-CW)].”  However, she stated that her long-term goals are to obtain “graduate training in theology as a minister after completing a BA in feminist theory.”  She continued, “My hope is that these two programs will help me to be more practical when I speak to the woman of my future congregation, and therefore make Christ more approachable for not only woman but those struggling with difficulties that take more than spiritual practice to deal with.  For example, childhood trauma or mental illness.”

Elisa began with a bit of background about her life stating, “I was born three months premature with my twin, and I was diagnosed one year later with cerebral palsy quadriplegia.  The interesting thing is I come from a long line of people who have disabilities and overcame them.  My paternal grandfather—going blind and still skiing until well into his 80s.  My great aunt on that side—contract polio in the 1950s—raised two daughters on her own following her husband’s unexpected death.  She was also a successful businesswoman.  On my mom’s side, my grandparents moved to Canada from Germany when my mom was 14.  She does not have a disability but has overcome many health issues with her perspective on life.  My father is a firefighter.  Furthermore, my sister has overcome her own challenges and is in a job she loves.  So you can say I come from a tough stock.”

When asked about who in her life has had the greatest influence on her desire to learn, Elisa explained, “There’s a couple answers to the question.  The first is my mom.  She completed a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts as a metalsmith while raising two twins with my dad and working with my disability specialists.  If she can do it, I can.  Also, there are so many people with disabilities who don’t have the means or support for post-secondary education.  Consequently, it is a gift of circumstances that I have both a supportive family and the financial means to complete a higher education degree.  As the old saying goes: ‘Waste not want not.’”

She stated that she enjoys online learning, since “it’s very accessible.”  She also likes “how you can work at your own pace.”  She continued, “I do miss class discussion and getting to know other students beyond introductions.”  Despite these positives, Elisa admitted that, like many of us, she did waver about continuing her schooling at one point.  She explained, “About two years ago I went through a ‘I want everything to be happy phase’ when it came to my textbooks.  Meaning I was still looking for a fairytale world in which everybody gets along and the papers focus on a silver lining.  Quite simply, I was a child and refused to grow up.  As ironic is this may sound it was my mom who gave me the pep talk and kick in the butt I needed.  Not to mention my newfound relationship with Jesus gave me a new perspective.  If he can resurrect following the crucifixion, I can come back after reading the harsh realities created by patriarchy.”

Her most memorable course so far has been PHIL 380: Introduction to Eastern Philosophy.  She explained, “It was memorable because I almost failed it.  Well, before the final paper, I was at a C minus and my lowest grade before then was a B minus.  The reason I was there was because I had grown too used to peoples comments about my wisdom ‘beyond my years.’  My shelves were covered with New Age books so I thought this was going to be a piece of cake.   It wasn’t.  Plainly, I have first-hand experience of the truth behind the warning that those who exult themselves will be humbled.  Fortunately, I swallowed my pride and asked for help both from my professor and the [church] father when I received a D minus on the second paper.  And because of that surrender, I received an A on my final term paper despite everything.  It was memorable because it taught me God’s grace.”

She is content with communication with her course tutors, stating, “It depends on the person but for me they have always been very helpful and kind.  The reason I say this is I’m a perfectionist, so I ask way too many questions, but they always get back.”

If she were the new president of AU, Elisa had some ideas for her first project, including getting “the disability perspective on the class-reading list especially in feminist courses.”  She continued, “For example, in the woman and work course and unions.  This is because I find this perspective to be extremely lacking at the present time when it comes to the social sciences.  At the same time, I would hope that I would be able to put this individualized priority on equal standing with the other priorities if I was given such an opportunity and privilege.  That is to say, my first project would be whatever needs the most attention.”

As for pet peeves, Elisa stated, “When people say there is no possibility for improvement.  I am all for acknowledging when something isn’t working but that doesn’t mean something positive can’t come out of a difficult situation.  For example, can I expect a complete revision of feminist courses to include disability perspective?  No.  That is time consuming and unreasonable.  However, I can point out the missing perspective and work in finding a creative solution that works for everyone.  I know too many people with a disability who have their heads down but dukes up mentally.  By this I mean they find speaking up to be nerve-racking because of negative experiences in the past, causing them to be resigned or in a constant state of having to prove oneself as capable.  I am no stranger to these situations but now I know there is a way to fight a good fight and create positive change.  Put another way, my biggest annoyance is when people refuse to open doors just because the one doesn’t open easily, because I know from personal experience how detrimental this is—having had a major depressive episode in my late teens because of this belief.”

As for her most valuable lesson learned in life?  “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I say this because despite my disability I have never been subject to intentional bullying.  (My only experiences of this being the critic inside my head and protective pessimism).  I like to think that, along with Grace, this and other happy experiences happen because I choose to be positive and nice when I interact with people.  That is to say, I never forgot the power of standing in someone else’s shoes and it really helps me.”

And her proudest moment in life?  “The moments when people realize we are more than physical beings because of my interactions with them.  For example, teachers who don’t expect much and then end up saying you taught me something.”

The one thing that distinguishes Elisa from other people is that every day, she prays that she is “being used for the highest good.”  She continued, “And every day, I find out just how human I am.  For a perfectionist, it is both aggravating and liberating at once.  It is a fascinating experience.”

As a final note, Elise stated, “I don’t want to pretend I don’t have any flaws.”  She admitted, “I would like to say that I am prone to a temper, stress easy, overthink, and talk too much about my endeavours sometimes at the exclusion of other people.  However, I was still given this opportunity so I leave you with this.  Despite any flaws you may have, you have a purpose and opportunity to make a wonderful life for yourself and others.  God bless you all.”  Best of luck Elisa!