Minds We Meet—Corey Wren

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 Corey Wren 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.

Voice readers may recognize Corey from his weekly Homemade is Better column, where he demonstrates some innovative ways of making culinary favourites.  Just in time for the warmer weather, check out his recent article on S’mores!

Corey is “currently enrolled in Bachelor of Business Management with a Major in Marketing.” He stated, “I initially took this route because I thought it would open more doors to better jobs for myself and my family.  I already have a Diploma from NAIT’s (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) Hokanson Culinary School.  With that, I achieved my journeyman and Red Seal certifications, and I’ve also received my Blue Seal of Business Acumen.”

He continued, “One of the things about working in the cooking industry is you don’t get a family life.  It’s doable, but not what I wanted.  I was always working when my friends and family were off work, and then there were the weekends, holidays, and the important days.  Sure, I could book time off, but the talented people worked hard and did whatever it took to make it.  I didn’t want that, so I left cooking to join a coffee company.  I worked there for a few years, then tried food sales.  I eventually left food sales and went to part-time work to be the more at-home parent.   My wife’s job isn’t incredibly demanding, but it is more important than what I was doing.”

Like many students, Corey has had his struggles.  He stated, “Over many years depression started to weigh me down, to the point where I attempted suicide.  I know many people can relate, but the short story is I got better.  I learned how to be a better me, but I also realized that I needed more out of life.  So my wife and I made the decision that I would pursue a university degree.  I will be the first person out of my family (meaning my parents and brother) to get a university degree.  I felt it was essential to a) show my children that learning doesn’t stop when you get older, b) if you want something, get it, and c) better myself to better my family’s future.”

Corey was born in North York, Ontario, and has moved around the country several times since.  He explained, “After I was born, we moved to Edmonton for the first time; it might have been late 1980.  We lived here for a couple of years, then moved back to the [Greater Toronto Area] GTA.   Around ‘84 or ‘85, we moved to a small town outside of Saint John in New Brunswick.   Then in ‘89, we moved back to Edmonton.  In ‘99 I moved to another small town, by myself.  I spent nine months there before moving back.  In ‘02, I met my wife, and we were married in ‘04.  We had our first children, twins, born in ‘09, and in 2013 our youngest was born.  My wife is a Registered Nurse and program manager at the Stollery Children’s hospital.”

When he is not studying, Corey holds several volunteer positions.  “I am a Scouting leader, I look after the website for my local community league, and I try to volunteer for any sports teams my kids are involved in.  I also love camping and the outdoors, so I will sometimes go hiking, but I love camping!  I love camping so much!  It’s why I enrolled my kids in Scouting.”

As for the person in his life that has had the greatest influence on his desire to learn?  He stated, “So many people, but the most prominent influences have been my late maternal grandfather, my maternal uncle, my wife, and my father.  In their way, they have all pushed me to better myself in some form.  My grandfather made a life for himself with a grade 7 education.  He fought in WWII, was a POW, then held a couple of jobs until his retirement.  He always pushed us, when we got to see him, to do better in life.  My uncle had worked a menial job then decided to go back to school.  When he retired a few years ago, he had built a great life for himself and his family.  My wife always knew she wanted to be a nurse.  At [age] 10, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes but remembered the nursing care she had received, and it made such an impact on her.  She worked hard and got a nursing degree from the U of A.  Today she is well respected in everything she does.  Lastly, my dad grew up on a farm in the Ottawa Valley.  When he left home, he knew that he didn’t want that life for his family, so he went to college and got a diploma that got him a job with IBM.  He took night classes to get more education, and when he retired, he was also well respected in everything he did.  When I was growing up, he’d challenge me to find an answer to questions instead of telling me the answer.  Sometimes, he didn’t know the answer, but he rarely admitted it, not that I can recall.  It was the push to find the solution that made me realize I needed to further myself.”

Corey has had a positive experience with online learning thus far, revealing, “Athabasca University is hands down the best choice I’ve made for my education.”  He continued, “It allows me to learn when I want, where I want.  I don’t have to sit through hours of lectures taking notes, and I don’t have to go to a brick-and-mortar building and pay high costs to do so.  I will say that it has pushed me to get more organized and to stay committed to something in a unique way.  I hope it’s evident that I don’t have commitment issues, but AU has allowed me the freedom to get a post-secondary degree in my way.”   He does not have too many dislikes, stating, “While I complain at times, it’s rarely about something out of my control.  I’m not sure I can say enough good things about AU.  I realize I sound like a poster child for distance learning through AU.  It has its challenges, just like other universities.  There will be a population that doesn’t like it, a population that appreciates it but has criticisms, and a population that is like me.  And I’m sure there are others.”

Despite his positive experience with online learning, Corey admits that he did waver about continuing his schooling at one point.  “I initially decided to try taking one class at a time over several years in 2015, but after my suicide attempt (and I’m thankful that I’ve thus far been well enough to have only tried once), we looked at our life and tried to decide what is the best course of action.  It was a hard choice; we knew that we’d have to rely on funding from the governments, we’d have to cut back on several costs, and we’d have to live reasonably sparingly to make it work.  If my wife didn’t have the job she does with the pay she does, this wouldn’t be possible.  COVID-19, though, has cemented our decision.  Last year I was able to be home, and we didn’t have to worry about childcare like many of our friends.  We didn’t have to live on a further reduced income like many people we know, and we were still able to do the things we wanted to do within the guidelines.”

His most memorable course so far has been COMP 214: Interactive Technologies.  He stated, “It’s the only course to date, including primary education, that I’ve gotten 100% in.  My final grade was 100%; I was so happy with the work I put into that course.”  He continued, “For the most part, communications [with his tutors] is excellent.” “I rarely need them for anything, but eventually, they get back to me.  I honestly think I’ve only ever had to get further information from a tutor three times, and each time I’ve gotten the information I needed within the time frame I needed it.  “

If he were the new president of AU, Corey’s first project would be “health insurance for all students.”  He explained, “It would likely increase student fees, but if I have to pay less tuition than the U of A, McGill, McMaster, U of T, or any other university, I’d still be happy about it.  I feel like too many single students do not have enough health coverage, and as someone who lives with a spouse with high-cost medical needs, I feel like having to pay out of pocket for many drugs is really hard.”

As for pet peeves, Corey has several, including “[p]eople who misquote movies,” although he admits that he is also guilty of this.  He continued, “Yams are often referred to as sweet potatoes.  And while they are part of the same family, I think of sweet potatoes as white.  And lately, the term ‘social distancing.’  I hate that term because it suggests something different from what it’s supposed to mean.  We are supposed to physically distance ourselves while being social.  I realize I’m possibly petty.”

When asked which famous person, past or present, he would have lunch with, and why, Corey chose musician Dave Grohl.  “He’s someone I believe to be really interesting, but I don’t consider him a hero of mine.  He’s led an interesting musical life, and I think he’d have a lot of great advice about how to overcome adversity.”  And the lunch?  “As I love to cook, I mean, I write about it every week; I think Dave and I would go to New York City for a slice.  It’s a leisurely lunch, and we can both be people eating New York-style Pizza.  I have yet to try New York-style Pizza.  We would shoot the breeze, and I’d get to ask him about his early days with Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, the other bands he’s been involved in like Tenacious D, Them Crooked Vultures, and more.  Plus, he seems like a genuinely cool guy to hang out with!”

The most valuable lesson Corey has learned in life is that “you’re never too old to learn,” and the one thing that distinguishes him from other people is that he is an introvert.  He explained, “Few people know that I’m an introvert.  I act extroverted very well, though, and I have my whole life.  But in truth, I’m happy when I get time to myself to do things I like.”  He has also had several proud moments, including the “day my wife said she’d marry me, our wedding day and the birth of my children.”

When asked about non-AU reads and binge worthy TV shows, Corey mentioned, “I wish I read more.  I have so many books by my bedside.  I will occasionally read the autobiography that Bill Nye released a while back; my wife bought it for me.  As for TV shows, my wife and I are watching ER together, and I’m also working my way through MASH.  I also throw in a couple of other series that I like.  I just finished The Queen’s Gambit; it was extraordinary in a good way.  My kids and I are going to watch Falcon and the Winter Soldier right away as well.”

As a final thought, Corey revealed what made him decide to write for The Voice.  “While I didn’t see myself in the culinary industry for much longer than I’ve been in it (about 20 years), I do love to cook at home.  I love cooking at scouting camps, regular camping, and just for fun.  I love when my friends send me pictures of stuff they made, and I love to read blogs about recipes then try them.  I genuinely believe that with the proper guidance, anyone can cook.  It takes patience, though, and I think we’re starting to lose that patience, replacing it with more instantly gratifying items.

“Fast food has become an enormous industry, and I’m not just talking about the burger chains; companies like Uber Eats and Door Dash can bring you whatever food you want.  But there is something about buying raw ingredients and making it from scratch that gives you more pleasure.  There was a time when we had no choice BUT to cook for ourselves.  Since then, we’ve had such a proliferation of food that it too has become one of life’s instant gratifications, similar to a Facebook like or someone following you on Instagram, or Tik Tok, or whatever other social platforms the kids are using.  But I genuinely believe that making food at home for your family is one of life’s special moments.  You can sit down with them and talk about the day or the week.  No screens, no loud music, just the family talking about life.  I wanted to give people the opportunity to try that, so I decided I’d see if I was good enough to be a writer and viola; here I am!”  (For students interested in seeing their own writing featured in The Voice, contact our editor Karl Low for more information!)  Best of luck Corey!