The Voice Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Samantha Altomonte (she/her) a 34-year old, first-year Bachelor of Arts in Psychology student living in Edmonton, Alberta.
This “mother of an amazing 7-year old girl … grew up in Ontario but spent most of [her] life living in the BC interior.” She explained, “Once I became a mom in a small city in BC, I decided to make the move to a place with more to offer, so my daughter and I came to Edmonton in 2019. Since then, we’ve been enjoying the resources and opportunities that the bigger city brings.”
Samantha let us know a bit about her future plans, “In a perfect world, I would like to get a PsyD and become a psychologist, but if that doesn’t happen, I’d be happy to get my Masters in Counselling. I want to be able to help people in a clinical setting, but I am also someone who tries to find the ‘why’ behind things so I would love to be involved in researching and studying psychology as well.”
She also had some great study tips to share with fellow AU learners. “I worked from home for 5 years and the shift to learning from home has definitely been an adjustment, because at least when I was working, I had coworkers to keep me motivated! I am honestly still figuring it out but one magic ingredient for me is walking while learning. I will listen to audio of my textbooks on my phone while walking outside, or I will walk on my treadmill and listen. Walking keeps the “distractable” part of my brain occupied so the rest of my brain can focus on learning and taking notes. Also, I use Monday.com (they have a student plan) to help organize my reading, assignments, and deadlines!”
In addition, she has some valuable advice for new students and/or prospective students. “I will be honest and say that I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of information that seemed to be in so many different places – I felt like I didn’t know where to begin looking for answers to my questions. For a while I didn’t even know where to find my coursework. I wish I knew that others were also struggling to learn new programs because then I wouldn’t have waited so long to stubbornly figure it out on my own when I could have just asked someone and saved time. I’ve found support by messaging classmates, reaching out to my tutor, and by using the AU Student Union App on my phone. Recently I discovered that there are Facebook groups for different AU programs too!”
When she is not studying, Samantha “love[s] going for drives, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, going on nature walks, playing board games, and … doing anything creative!” She continued, “I am an artsy person who likes to draw and paint, so whenever I can create something, I am a happy camper. I also love to garden and watch my flowers bloom, knowing that they’re happy with the little home I’ve made for them.”
She also enjoys reading, mentioning a book that has had a great impact on her life. “After being on disability for an entire year with an inflammatory illness that came out of nowhere, I found a book called, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress and that was my first time learning about Gabor Maté. The things I read made so much sense to me. It made me realize how much I had been ignoring my body over the years which could have led to my illness because none of my doctors had an explanation for it. Gabor Maté and that book reinforced how fascinated I was about psychology and the body.”
She credits her daughter, “hands-down,” as having the greatest influence on her desire to learn. “Before she became my daughter through adoption, she was my biological niece. She became an orphan after the unexpected death of my brother when she was only a few months old. Her life after that, before she came to live with me, was a wild ride filled with the ups and downs of the foster system. When I finally welcomed her home, there was a spark in me that inspired me to be the best person I could be, for her. After everything she had been through in her little life, I knew she deserved nothing but the best and that meant I had to learn more about myself and how to support her through her development, which eventually led to the desire to learn more about psychology.”
As for her experience with online learning so far? “As someone with ADHD, I love online learning. As someone with ADHD, I don’t love online learning, haha. I love being able to do it on my own time, in my own comfortable space that is set up for me, and most of all, I love not having to pay for parking. The most difficult part is getting myself into a good routine and keeping myself motivated to avoid procrastination.”
Her most memorable course has been PSYC 289: Psychology as a Natural Science. She explained, “Just the amount of stuff they throw at you, I never expected to learn so many different things all in one course! It fascinates me which keeps me motivated because I am eager to see what I will learn next!”
She has also had good things to say about communication with her course tutors. “I have had positive experiences when I’ve needed to reach out to a tutor. They were polite, kind, helpful and fairly quick to respond, which was great,” she stated.
The Voice Magazine asked Samantha what her first project would be if she were the new president of AU. “It would be a two-part project. I would work on refining the AU website and MyAU, organizing information in a way that was easier to find, since I really struggle with navigating them. This would lead into the other part that provides jobs for students and helps them find jobs while studying, such as website maintenance or information organization and management. There are resources to help students after they graduate, but school and life are both expensive so it would be great to see some resources that help students think outside the box when looking for jobs while studying. It would be cool to maybe even partner with some companies that would hire students remotely.”
We also asked which famous person, past or present, she would like to have lunch with, and why, and Samantha chose Robin Williams. “He was just such a wholesome person with a genuine soul. I had a friend that met him in downtown Vancouver when he held a door open for them and he wished them a great day while he did it. It just takes a special kind of person to know the kind of fame he did and remain down to earth.” And the lunch? It “would be some sort of comfort food, something delicious but nothing fancy.”
Samantha’s most valuable lesson learned in life has been: “Trust your gut and trust yourself.” She continued, “I’ve realized that there have been so many times in my life where my body tried to tell me something and I ignored it, or I knew that I knew something but second guessed myself because someone else made me question it. I have been so disconnected from myself that I put more trust in others than in me.”
And her proudest moment? “The day my daughter’s adoption became official. I got her when she was just over a year old and had to foster her until adoption went through when she was four. I was a complete mess when I opened the letter in the mail. It’s like all the build up from over the years just exploded out of me and all I could do was hug her and tell her how much I loved her. Then I had to explain to her what ‘happy tears’ were because she didn’t understand why I was crying so much.”
As a final thought, Samantha added, “In early 2023 I returned to work after being on disability. I was back at work for three months before being part of a massive layoff and, as a sole parent, I was scared. I decided to see it as an opportunity to make a major shift in my life, so I decided to enroll in Athabasca University. I was scared to go back to school in my 30’s especially as a mother, but I wanted to lead by example and show my girl that she can do anything she sets her mind to. I wanted her to know that chasing a dream can be scary, but we can do it anyway. For anyone else who is scared to take a big step, you can be scared, and you can still take that step anyway.” Best of luck Samantha!
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!