Graduate Reflections: A winning “Future Alumni” prepares for a lifetime of educational contributions

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Kathleen Kelava, MC, AU Alumni Award Winner for the Future Alumni Category [photo credit: Christy Dean Photography, 2015]

Kathleen Kelava, MC, AU Alumni Award Winner for the Future Alumni Category [photo credit: Mclain Swift, 2015]

It’s been a sensational year for Master of Counselling student Kathleen Kelava.

Last April, the soon-to-be graduate represented Athabasca University at the 3MT Western Regional competition in Kamloops, B.C.

Kelava joined 14 graduate students from across Western Canada, at Thompson Rivers University, to compete among and present the ůber-challenge that is the “Three-Minute-Thesis.”

(Kelava, had previously won the coveted first-place spot at the AU local level, along with $1,000 cash prize, donated by the Research Centre, where she competed among five graduate peers in the contest hosted by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies.)

For the presentation pare-down, Kelava provided her actual thesis research from her Master of Counselling: Counselling Psychology program in AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines. Essentially, that which would normally comprise 40-to-80 pages, she managed to impressively cut down to an elevator-pitch-like three minutes.

“It’s very difficult to be able to reduce a [lengthy] thesis—as something that is quite scientific and filled with disciplinary jargon—to three minutes. As well as to make it concise and clear for a lay audience,” confirms AU’s Dr. Pamela Hawranik, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Kelava’s topic was The Ubiquity of Suffering: Role of Dichotomy in Psychology’s Forces and Population.”

A suitable and succinct title considering the ubiquity of academia’s penchant for the super-long title trend (unlike the Three-Minute-Thesis, the “Ten-Second-Title” competition has yet to be conceived).

“It’s tricky to get a good title!” Kelava retorts.

“There’s often a word limit and you want to capture everything so that when people are doing journal searches they actually come across your stuff.”

This past September, Kelava reprised her 180-second feat for attendees of AU’s 2015 Graduate Student Conference in Edmonton.

Yet, as impressive and to-the-point this proposal might be, Kelava’s actual graduate research embodies much more than the sneak peek she podium-presented to her fellow academics.

To be sure, she spent hundreds of hour preparing, inquiring, delving and culling to make her thesis captivating and grad-worthy.

And it paid off.

It did not go unnoticed by the powers that be. This past spring, Kelava’s thesis supervisor Dr. Paul Jerry, associate professor and program director in the Faculty of Health Disciplines, nominated her for the AU Alumni Awards in the Future Alumni category.

And here we are.

Graduate gratitude

“This award is so encouraging and validating—not only for reflecting the successes I’ve already had at AU—but also to encourage those possible future successes that are out there,” Kelava remarks.

The 36-year-old mother of three boys, ages 10, eight and five, knows the “AU Way” really, really well. Especially the tailoring of one’s course load to fit with the demands of life, personally, professionally and family-wise.

Kelava believes future AU graduates that experienced and, therefore, will ultimately remember what it was like to  manage courses with other commitments, ought to “harness gratitude for the opportunities Athabasca University presented them,” which, says, Kelava, will ultimately be there for the next lucky group that comes forward.

Remembering the connections she made throughout her AU adventure won’t be hard for her, she says.

She started taking undergraduate courses at AU in 2009 and decided to go the distance with her MC degree. She’s in her 6th and final year of continuous studies and she’s still getting her balancing act down-pat.

The nitty-gritty

Kelava’s husband works full-time, upward of 60-to-80 hours a week. The word ‘nanny’ doesn’t exist in their  household. Kelava started her practicum placement for her Counselling Psychology program and is now working part-time.

Her littlest guy is in half-day kindergarten so while she’s still at work, she’s fortunate to have a neighbour friend step in to help—even going so far as to pick the other two kids up from school if Kelava’s still on the job.

Bottom line, this hard-working Master student and mother wunderkind has had to work magic to find a solution that would fit every part of her and her family’s hectic lives.

“It’s been challenging,” Kelava concedes.

“We’ve had some major life events too—deaths in the family—they all kind of came at once—so that was a little bit tricky.”

She affirms she’s not sure how she would have made her drawn-out education happen, given her stage of family life, had it not been for AU. She commends the institution’s open-online learning format for making it possible for her to keep on going—albeit in an “altered sense.”

So how does a mother of three juggling a Master’s program with a part-time practicum make it all work?

“Because I can do this whenever I want—family commitments notwithstanding—and under the parameters of when things are due,” she explains.

“Whether it’s doing my assignments at 4 a.m., before everyone gets up, or bringing my books with me to a soccer practice and reading and article or two there—for me it has really worked in terms of the way I like to learn.”

Her advice to future alumni on how to stay connected to AU is simple: “Never forget how lucky you were.”

Alumni that want to make a difference, she suggests, should, upon graduating, really reflect on the whole AU package—to have been fortunate enough to experience the institution’s open-online learning format, and to recognize that value as they move into their future lives and careers.

“Think about everybody who makes AU happen,” Kelava ponders.

“Its collective resources—the faculty, staff, the learning culture—together it has allowed so many students to reap the reward of an Athabasca University education.”

Whether it’s doing my assignments at 4 a.m., before everyone gets up, or bringing my books with me to a soccer practice and reading and article or two there—for me it has really worked in terms of the way I like to learn. ~Kathleen Kelava, AU Future Alumni award recipient

AU Faculty of Graduate Studies Master student Kathleen Kelava and Dr. Simon Nuttgens. [photo credit: Kathleen Kelava]

AU Faculty of Graduate Studies Master of Counselling student Kathleen Kelava and Dr. Simon Nuttgens at the 3MT Competition in Kamloops April 2015. [photo credit: Kathleen Kelava]

More words from the wise

Having won the award for fabulous future alumna, we asked Kelava what it is about AU that makes her want to continue contributing and being a proactive ambassador when it comes to future AU initiatives.

Her answer is straightforward and from the heart.

“It comes back to that whole gratitude thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just reflected on the fact I’ve been able to accomplish everything I did because of what AU is and stands for,” says Kelava.

AU = Opportunity

“AU stands for opportunity—providing the opportunity for those who are driven to better themselves in some capacity, whether it’s education or personal development.”

Moreover, she adds, it’s the opportunity to be able to make that happen “without having to irreparably sacrifice the other areas of our lives.

“So you can still have a career, you can still have a family, you can still volunteer or get involved in your community or personal commitments of any sort. And you can make this happen because the AU format of open-online enables that to occur.”

Each year, four AU Alumni Awards are presented to deserving Alumni who each receive this print award depicting the beautiful work of renowned artist Ted Harrison.

Each year, four AU Alumni Awards are presented to deserving Alumni who each receive this print award depicting the beautiful work of renowned artist Ted Harrison.

Since her award category is “Future Alumni,” we felt it apropos to ask Kelava what she hopes to see in terms of new AU innovations down the road.

She posits she sees the potential for the continued development new undergrad- or grad programs.

“Given the way that social media and online learning are encapsulated in our new wave of technology, I think there are so many opportunities for what, at one time, weren’t available, or even possible in this format. Those can be explored and, hopefully, implemented.”

AU stands for opportunity—providing the opportunity for those who are driven to better themselves in some capacity, whether it’s education or personal development.

It’s all of the above, which Kelava says makes it easy to want to continue contributing after she’s graduated. To fellow AU graduates/future alumni she suggests:

  • Get involved in some capacity, whatever that is.
  • Network with new colleagues, professional peer groups, and new friends; spread the word about AU’s unique and open program
  • Contribute financially when the time is right; or
  • Contribute in a “tactical sense,” says Kelava. “Perhaps there’s an opportunity to organize a fundraising drive. Any of those types of things really help to build upon the foundation that AU has already established, in a really strong way.”

As for her own academic future, she has no plans for “un-juggling.”

Says Kelava: “If it were offered and appropriate to my learning, I would love to continue on to a doctoral program—through Athabasca University, again.”