Minds We Meet—Rita Barry

Who are your fellow students? At times, in an online learning environment, it can feel like you are all alone, but across the nation and around the globe, students just like you are also pursuing their Athabasca University (AU) studies! Each week, The Voice Magazine will be bringing you some of these stories.  If you would like to be featured next, do not hesitate to get in touch!

The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Rita Barry (she/her), currently residing in Airdrie, Alberta.  Rita is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services.

She explained, “Once I finish my degree, I plan to work for the community of Airdrie.  I am currently working at Clothing for a Cause; I am hoping my employer will be able to put my degree to use with this company.  Clothing for a Cause is a company that accepts donations … and the donations that are in the best quality are sold to Chile and Africa.  Once the donations are delivered to these places they are sold in small clothing and department stores to create local employment in Chile and Africa.”  She continued, “Working at Clothing for a cause fits in with the degree I am working for because it is great community work, both local and international.”

When Rita is not busy studying, she likes to “go out with friends and family, watch movies, and … make dream catchers from time to time.” She also finds time to read and watch TV, having recently completed reading Magical Strings of Frankie Presto, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, and The Woman in the Window by A.  J Finn.  She continued, “As far as TV shows go, I like Call the Midwife, Young Sheldon, and I also like Market Place and The Nature of Things.”

On a personal note, Rita was born and raised in Canada, is originally from Calgary, and is ethnically Ukrainian and Irish.

When asked who in her life has had the greatest influence on her desire to learn, Rita had difficulty choosing just one.  “There are many influential people in my life, so it is hard to choose one.  At my age, I felt stuck, I am not fresh out of high school anymore, but I am not too old to improve my future.  I decided enough is enough and took action.  I guess I would have to say what influenced me was a conversation I had with my Aunt Chris shortly before she passed away.  I wanted to get an education and get a career so I could take care of my elderly parents.  She told me that was noble but it’s my future I need to work for,” she stated.

Her experience with online learning so far “has been interesting.” She explained, “I like that I can study or work on assignments on my own time.  I also like that there is always access to support.  What I dislike is the support can sometimes be hard to reach, but that’s the way of the internet.”

Like many AU students, Rita’s journey to post-secondary education has been unique.  She explained, I spent many years working as a cashier and was not happy.  I knew I did not want to retire behind a cash register.  So, I pulled up my big girl pants and did some research on Social Work programs and found my way to Athabasca.  I knew Athabasca didn’t have a Faculty of Social Work (I wish they did) but I needed to get some university credit under my belt.  After obtaining my university diploma in arts at Athabasca, I was 46 years old.  I discovered I would have to wait almost a year just to get an application to the U of C, and if I was accepted, I would not start until the following year.  I am not young anymore, but I am not old either.  I looked at the BPA in Human Services program at Athabasca and where it could take me, and I am happy with that.”

Although she has taken many memorable AU courses so far, she mentioned WGST 266: Thinking from Women’s Lives: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, which “taught [her] so much about feminism and the history of women that [she] wanted to take more WGST courses, so [she] did.”

As for communications her tutors?  “I find communications with course tutors depends on the tutor, some of them are easy to communicate with and others are extremely busy.  However, I have always been able to contact all of my tutors one way or another.”

If Rita were “the new president of AU, [her] first project would be creating chat rooms, or video chat groups in each course so students in those specific courses could have easier ability to study together while online in the AU website or the AU app real time.”

Her pet peeve is “When someone answers your question before you finished asking it, because that person assumes they know what you are going to ask.”

When asked which famous person, past or present, she would like to have lunch with, and why, Rita chose Freddie Mercury “because he was down to earth, and he enjoyed socializing if he didn’t have to talk about his work.”  She continued, “It would also give both of us a reason to talk about our darling cats.”  And the lunch?  “Chicken Dhansak, because it was one of his favorites, and wine.”

Rita’s mentioned several valuable lessons that she has learned in life.  She stated, “Can I only pick one?  The first most valuable lesson I have learned in life is doing what is right is always hard, but it is always right.  Second, no one can change your life but you, and finally complaining will get nothing but gratitude will get you everything.”

Her proudest moment has been obtaining her university diploma, explaining, “It was a hard time in my life.  I had one surgery in my first year and two surgeries, and I had bacterial and Covid 19 in my second year at AU.”

As for the one thing that distinguishes her from other people?  “What distinguishes me from most people is that I am not afraid to say what is on my mind.  I think it is best to express your thoughts and feelings honestly with a level head.  What most people don’t know about me is I find it difficult to talk about me, yet here I am talking about myself!” she laughed.