Minds We Meet—Toni-Lee Blanchard

Interviewing Students Like You!

The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Toni-Lee Blanchard (she/her), a Bachelor of Health Administration student from Gillams, Newfoundland and Labrador.  Toni-Lee stated, “I acknowledge that the land on which I live is in traditional Mi’kmaw territory, and I acknowledge with respect the diverse histories and cultures of the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu, and Inuit of this province of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Toni-Lee is a health care worker and executive assistant to the Vice President of Medical Services and the Vice President of Patient Services.  She stated, “I currently work in health care and am the executive assistant to the Vice President of Medical Services and the Vice President of Patient Services.  I just finished a temporary posting as the Executive assistant to the CEO, CFO, Board of Trustees and VP Corporate Services.  I chose to study Health Administration as I see ending my career with health care and it would be fitting to hold such a degree.  I have sixteen years punched with Western Health and have another 17 to go for early retirement.  By achieving this degree, I could move into a different management role within the health care system.  We are moving to a provincial health authority as of April 1, 2023, and I suspect there will be further opportunities for advancement.”

“Mostly, I wanted to achieve my degree for me, not necessarily an advancement in my career.  I know I am capable, but the timing and avenues were just not in the cards in the traditional time that a person would achieve a degree,” she continued.

On a personal note, she let us know, “I am a firstly a mother, secondly a professional and then a part time, distant learner.”  She continued, “I decided at 38 years of age that I wanted to finally get my degree.  I became a mother at the mere age of 16 years old.   My ambitions of completing a university degree were still high as my determination kept me driving to be the best mother I could be, no matter my age.   I went from a small high school in rural Newfoundland which only offered advanced, academic, and basic high school courses, and computers were just moving their way into the school stream in my final year in 1997-1998 to a small university in the closest neighbouring city of Corner Brook which was a hard transition as a student mom.   I completed my first year of general studies but, given there were not many degrees that could be completed at this site, and how I was not interested in moving away from my daughter nor take her away to school with me, I went the alternative route at College of the North Atlantic to complete a two-year Office Administration course (again, not many choices in my area).”

When she is not studying, she enjoys spending time with her family, outside and in the woods.  “My family are avid hunters and fisherman which means trouting, salmon angling in spring and summer, hunting big game in the fall, rabbit catching and ice fishing in the winter.   I have a wonderful small circle of the best girlfriends and we try to catch up as much as possible to decompress from our work and family pressures whenever possible,” she explained.

Toni-Lee had a unique answer for who in her life had the greatest influence on her desire to learn.  She stated, “Leadership at my workplace has been the driving force of me wanting to move forward in my learnings.  Their confidence in me has taught me to have confidence in myself to set and achieve goals.  They have achieved so much education themselves and their guidance has inspired me to want the same.”

Toni-Lee described online learning as “a whole new ‘kettle of fish.’  The access to so much information is almost overwhelming at times, and not having a paper textbook is somewhat of a disadvantage in my eyes (highlighter and bent corners were always my jam).  Being able to create my own timeline really has an advantage to be able to juggle family/work/school life.  And when in doubt, just Google or watch a YouTube video—it’s like having teacher access 24 hours a day!”

However, like many students, there was a point in which she wavered about continuing her schooling.  “My last course was beyond challenging.  Accounting is filled with very technical, process lead strategies, and without a textbook I found it difficult to follow the process from beginning to end.  This, some health issues, COVID flare ups creating a lot of overtime and weekend work in my position, as well as contracting the virus myself, added to the challenge of completion.  I preserved and achieved a passing mark in the course, a year after registering.  This truly felt like peaking the top of Mount Everest!  I still have a long journey ahead of me in completing my degree; however, this determination and reaching this goal just reinforced my desire to walk across the stage at convocation day,” she explained.

Her most memorable AU course so far has been CMIS 245: Microcomputer Applications in Business (Windows), “as it was testing on the Microsoft package which I use daily in my current position.”   She continued, “It wasn’t difficult for me to achieve an ‘A’ and I still learned so many new features within the programs that have helped me in my worklife!  It was a win-win course!”

As for communications with her course tutors?  “From my experience it has been second to none.  My only complaint is I don’t utilize them enough.  Every time I have reached out, I get feedback in a timely fashion, and they genuinely want you to achieve your goals!  I have never felt like a burden in my questions.  I would advise students to utilize this worthwhile resource more.”

Toni-Lee also shared a pet peeve with The Voice Magazine.  “I’m pretty easy going generally but not being kind has got to be one of the highest on my list.  It costs nothing to be kind and even a small gesture of a smile could help someone’s day.”

When The Voice Magazine asked Toni-Lee which famous person, past or present, she would like to have lunch with, she chose Betty White, explaining, “I am such a big fan of hers and I think she would be such a hoot!”  And the lunch?  “If we were to stay in Newfoundland, I would suggest fish and chip with dressing and gravy on the fries.  It’s a Newfie tradition.”

Her most valuable lesson learned in life has been that “¨everyone has their own story and not to judge a book by its cover.  Yes, I was a teen mom, but the stigma of such is not everyone’s story.”

And her proudest moment?  “So many proud moments as a Mom of two.  It’s hard to choose.  I am always the ‘coordinator’ of any events, whether it is work or family related.  I love accomplishing and feel proud when I pull off another great get together.  I really think I was meant to be an event planner; however, it isn’t really a sustainable job in small, rural Newfoundland.”  Best of luck Toni-Lee!

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!