A lot can happen in a year. With AU Convocation 2016 just a week away, we thought we’d provide a snapshot of one of last year’s graduates, to depict just how far the AU experience can take you.
2015 graduate Kirstin George’s AU journey has certainly led to some interesting adventures and achievements since receiving her parchment a year ago.
When she enrolled at AU in 2010 from Mount Royal University, little did George know her science degree would work so symbiotically alongside her busy role tending to the family farm and teaching dance.
In fact, she says it was AU’s flexibility factor, about which she’d been hearing so much, that led her here, and enabled her to graduate with her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Sciences.
“I realized I could have the best of both worlds. I could be home helping with the family farm while continuing my academic pursuits from a distance,” says George.
She could also continue with a beloved pastime: teaching dance.
“My science degree has lent itself to my continuing dance education,” George explains.
“The anatomical knowledge, knowing the mechanics of movement and how the body works has helped me become a better educator.”
Still, like so many AU graduates, George had to overcome large hurdles that interfered with her studying. The family farm, located in the village of Marwayne, Alta., 35 minutes northeast of Lloydminster, was a lot to juggle alongside university course work and teaching.
The century-old farm, with attached original homestead, is a full-fledged business rearing 500 heads of cattle, and producing wheat, canola and barley. It’s a family-run operation carried out by George’s parents, her grandfather and her brother.
True to her roots
It’s the same home she grew up in—as the fourth generation of Georges—and worked on that land while she attended AU. George explains, she was set on maintaining that cattleman continuity throughout her learning journey. But when her grandfather suffered an aneurysm and wound up paralyzed from the breast bone down, she had to take a year off school to help out.
The setback “changed all of us,” she says.
Her dad had to take on everything 100 per cent. But they made sure that George’s elderly “Papa” was well accommodated—renovating the house ergonomically, and propping him with a “side-by-side,” ramp-equipped quad so he could still get around on the farm.
“He’s very independent for an almost-80-year-old paraplegic,” says George, noting her family made sure to give the patriarch many odd jobs to keep him spry, active and a feeling of inclusion.
After all, says George: “that was his life for 75 years.”
“He’d come out when we branded the cattle and would get the tags ready and fill up the needles for us. It was quite cute; he’d be in the grain truck hauling grain or silage and suddenly he’d pop up beside you in his side-by-side with a soft drink.”
Farm labour aside, there was also the matter of her part-time gig as a dance teacher that was starting to encroach on her AU studies.
She had been introduced to dance as a teenager. Now, teaching it to young girls, to help offset the costs of doing an AU degree, had the added effect of reigniting her passion for the art form—to the point where, she says, she decided to embark on further continuing education in that field.
My science degree has lent itself to my continuing dance education…The anatomical knowledge, knowing the mechanics of movement and how the body works has helped me become a better educator.”~ AU 2015 alumna Kirstin George
While she was still at AU, George actually received accreditation with the Canadian Dance Teacher’s Association in acrobatics, tap and jazz, and even got the opportunity to dance with the New York City-based American Tap Dance Foundation.Needless to say, she wasn’t able to do a full-course load at AU at one time. As such, she explains, getting her degree was a “long drawn out process,” taking six years to finish.
After graduating, not only did she become a full-time dance instructor, but she still managed to tend to her farm duties through the harvest season last fall, where she helped out with the cattle branding and silage duties.And if that weren’t enough, she added circus performer to her balancing act.
Doing so required her to step back into the educational arena. This past year, she was accepted into École Nationale de Cirque for its online Circus Arts Instructor training program.
“I am expanding my knowledge of acrobatics by branching into the world of cirque—and I am very excited to be training and studying under such a prestigious school and faculty,” says George, noting the institution is closely affiliated with the famous Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil organization.
Come October, George can also add “bride” to the list of post-AU adventures. Her dentist- fiancé recently opened his own practice, College Park Dental, in Lloydminster, and the couple now resides 60 km west, in the Central Alberta town of Vermilion.
While she no longer plays such an active role on the farm, she is fulfilled to be living close enough to her heritage.
“It’s good to be so close and tied to those roots still—and to be able to help out whenever I can,” says George, adding she enjoys returning to the farm as much as possible in her spare time.
“I hope that my kids will be a part of this lifestyle one day and get to experience the same upbringing that I did. I could definitely see myself moving back out to the Marwain area. We’ll have to see what my husband will say about that!”
Reflecting on her time at AU and her milestone graduation, the 28-year-old George concedes she’s happy it’s completed, and feels a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
“It just feels so good—I’m really glad it’s finally out of the way and that I have those credentials behind my name,” she says.
Most of all, she remarks, she is grateful AU allowed her to graduate while enabling her to continue doing everything she loved on the side.
“I probably would have had to walk away from my education altogether had it not been for the flexibility that Athabasca was able to provide me with.”