Minds We Meet—Interviewing Darlene Miller

Interviewing Students Like You!

The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Darlene Miller (she/her), a non-program student located in Rosemere, Quebec.  She stated, “I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which I live is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka or Mohawk nation.  The Mohawk Nation is also known as the ‘Eastern Door Keepers’ and is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which also includes the Seneca, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Oneida Peoples.”

On a personal note, Darlene is “from Quebec, but spent 3 years working in Wildlife Centers and Zoological institutions in NYC.”  She continued, “I am 56 years old and currently live in Rosemere, Quebec, with my two rescue border collies and my rescue geriatric (25 years) ball python.  I am the principal of a small, alternative high school.  I love my job, as I have the opportunity to work with and help guide at risk youth.  I have a BSc and a MEd from a traditional university.”

She is currently enrolled in GEOL 200: Introduction to Physical Geography and GEOL 201: Introductory Historical Geography.  “My goal is to fundamentally understand how the geosphere around me was formed.  Specifically, I want to know how, where, and why rock and land formations came to be.  When I retire, I would like to continue to travel and fully appreciate the various landscapes and natural beauty that I see,” she stated.

On an interesting and related note, Darlene let The Voice Magazine know about a vacation “that pointed me towards AU” and her courses.  She explained, “Last summer I rented a chalet on a lake in the Laurentians.  Walking in the woods was beautiful.  The rock formations including the Canadian Shield were stunning.  I realized that while I had heard of the Canadian Shield, and I could look it up on Wikipedia, I had no real understanding.  I spent the afternoons researching geology online, but still did not feel that I really understood.  I then decided that I needed a university class and found AU.  The rest is history (or rather geology).”

She had some great solid tips for fellow students.  “Studying is fun as I am usually genuinely interested in the subject matter.  I have found YouTube channels from profs from other universities.  In general, I listen to these lectures while I am driving to work: that acts as an introduction.  I then work through the study guide, first by carefully examining the learning goals, then by reading the textbook, taking notes on the readings, and answering the study questions.  I do not move forward unless I feel that I fully and deeply understand the material.  Finally, I go back and reread the learning objectives verifying that I can adequately meet the objectives,” she let us know.

She also had some great advice for new and prospective students.  “When I first started my class, I worked on the assumption that if I did not understand something, the problem was me.  I would read, reread, watch YouTube videos trying to figure something out, and then finally ask the tutor.  Several times the answer was that the study materials were not accurate.  My advice would be to not wait to reach out for help, as it may, in the end, not be you.  This goes for assignments and exams; make sure you understand why you lost marks, as the marking guides may be wonky.   Several times a lab mark was reversed as my answer was right and the marking was wrong.  Most of the time it will be a valid mistake.  But it is important to understand where you made a mistake and where your understanding needs adjustment.  This goes for exams as well.  You are allowed to ask to know what your mistakes were.  For my final exam the professor spent time going over where I made my mistakes.  This helped me immensely, as I was able to know where my writing was not clear.  And in addition, the computer had marked a multiple choice wrong, when in fact it was right.  Nobody is infallible, and we as students should be learning from our mistakes.”

Darlene also keeps busy outside of her study schedule.  “My job keeps me busy, but on the weekends and evenings I am learning the piano, I cross country ski when the conditions are good, in the summer I kayak with my dog, and I take daily walks in the woods with my dogs.  I am also learning agility with one of my dogs.  Her name is Bethany and she is in the photo on the back of my kayak.  We have our first agility competition in the end of April!”

She also finds time to read, letting The Voice Magazine know about some books that have had an impact on her life, namely Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  “The former beautifully articulates the darkness and cruelty of life, the latter the humor and lightness of life.  Both outlooks are necessary for gratitude and perspective,” she explained.

Darlene credits her grandmother with having the greatest influence on her desire to learn.  She let us know, “Long before the internet, she had a wall of literature and reference books.  I would ask her a question and she would head to the books.  In many cases the answer would lead to more questions and more books.  We would spend hours learning, between cups of tea.  She was a strong, independent, inquisitive woman.  She would have loved the internet!”

Darlene’s experience with online learning so far has been positive.  “I love the ability to work at my own pace, when, and where I want.  My experience with the exams via ProctorU was positive: writing an exam in my dining room helped me relax and concentrate (although at first, I was a tad freaked out that somebody was watching me, but that faded).  I love that my tutor is responsive and helpful.  I was surprised that there were no recorded lectures from the professor nor any direct access to the professor (as is the case in other universities).  I miss the camaraderie of my undergraduate, where students would get together and try to figure out the assignments, and work through difficult material.  But I do not miss the schedule and need to keep up to a predetermined pace.”

As for communication with her course tutors?  “Fantastic.  My tutor thus far is extremely accessible and responsive.  My tutor is amazing!  He replies to all of my questions within a day.  Often, I am working after work and before bed.  I will email a question and when I wake up in the morning the answer is in.  The same is for lab assignments.  They are usually returned within 24 hours.”

The Voice Magazine also asked Darlene what her first project would be if she were the new president of AU.  She stated, “I would advocate for teaching at AU.  Historically and prior to COVID, the AU distance model was cutting edge.  During COVID, many universities migrated to distance education via recorded lessons.  AU can be the best of both worlds.  By maintaining the work at your own pace, and adding prerecorded lessons from the professors, I believe many students would benefit.  Nothing would be lost, as students need not use the video lessons if they do not find them helpful, and they are always there for those students who may benefit from direct teaching.  The lessons that I listen to from other professors have graphics, videos, and notes.  They were great as you can listen as many times as you like.  I also feel that marking rubrics should be made available for all assignments and projects.”

As for her most valuable lesson learned in life?  “Life, at times, can be hard and that is OK.  It can also be joyous and beautiful.  I have noticed that people who have had an easy life, fail to notice how fortunate they are when things are good; rather they seem to expect it, and become angry and bitter when life becomes difficult.  As a young girl, probably with my grandmother, I read Kahlil Gibran’s poem, ‘On Joy and Sorrow.’  I frequently return to the phrase ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’   Life is a journey filled with joy and sorrow.  Don’t resent the sorrowful parts, they are carving a space to hold the joy that is around the corner.  And when the joy comes, bask in it, be grateful for it, and if it does not last, that too is OK and part of life.”

And her proudest moment in life?  Darlene considered this a difficult question.  “I have won awards for social justice programs that I have helped develop and promote, and I have stood up to racist policies (and suffered the consequences).   But more importantly, in general, I try to live my life with integrity.  At the end of every day, I look back for proud moments, and for moments where I could have been a better human being.  I then make plans for where I need to improve and/or make amends.  Taking pride in seemingly little moments is as important as the photo in the newspaper and the plaque on the wall.  We live our life in the little decisions.  It is in those little decisions that we sometimes trip and fall, but where we also grow and improve.”  Best of luck Darlene!

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!