Meet Chris Horn, AU’s Science Guy and ‘Rising-Star’ Alumnus

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Chris Horn, AU Bachelor of Science in Human Science graduate, AU Alumni Award Winner for the Rising Star category [photo credit: Christy Dean Photography, 2015]

Chris Horn, AU Bachelor of Science in Human Science graduate, AU Alumni Award Winner for the Rising Star category [photo credit: Mclain Swift, 2015]

As a pathology scientist working at Alberta Children’s Hospital, Chris Horn has a big role managing work and research with “Daddy duties.”

But it’s not a whole lot different from three years ago when he was still an undergraduate science student at Athabasca University.

Only now his role has the potential to save lives.

For the layperson, says Horn, pathology involves the diagnosis of disease. Horn is part of a cohort of clinicians that determines disease and patient outcomes and subsequent treatment.

His particular area works with human tissue–”Anything that would be surgically removed from the body from the operating room,” he explains.

“Let’s say you’re getting a tonsillectomy or your appendix out–even bigger cases would be a mastectomy or a hysterectomy. All that tissue would come to us and we would look at that tissue and determine if there is disease and, if so, the extent of the disease.”

His job is as important for science as it is demanding. His day-to-day has him performing a variety of roles including hands-on pathology and research, administrative, teaching and supervisory work.

“Traditionally, the technician would be the hands-on person for a pathologist (the actual doctor who assesses and writes up pathology reports). I’m sort of the intermediate between an actual pathologist and a technician,” says Horn, a Calgary-based, 42-year-old father of three.

Ground-breaking graduate

Horn graduated from Athabasca University in 2012 with his Bachelor of Science in Human Science degree. He directly went on to the University of Calgary as a graduate student in the Pathologists’ Assistant (PA) M.Sc. program, a specialization within the Medical Sciences Graduate Program.

He graduated with his MS in 2014–the first graduate of the program, in fact. That’s how new and niche his field of science is.

“I’m actually the first of this breed, if you will. We’re cutting the pathways for this area of the lab in pathology–to figure out where this profession is going to take us,” he explains.

It’s one of the reasons Horn’s been chosen as this year’s AU Rising Star alumnus; he’s made impressive inroads in an emerging field of science in Alberta. And while he’s been published in numerous peer-reviewed publications, he concedes he couldn’t have done it without his Athabasca experience.

Athabasca University definitely gave me a platform to move ahead,” says Horn.

“My AU degree was a springboard to get to the next level, both in my education and in my career. Finishing that degree gave me the platform to get a better, more in-depth knowledge of what I was doing in the lab, and from there it allowed me to shoot to the next step to becoming what I am today.”

science lab stock photoCertainly that AU science “springboard” helped prepare him for his eventual graduate-level work at U of C. 

Says Horn: “Anatomy, physiology, cellular biology, chemistry–all those courses helped me in the sense that I had the background knowledge necessary for me to succeed at the Master’s level–which is what I needed to be able to do my job at the hospital.”

But the ultimate career catapult, he notes, was AU’s commitment to openness.

My AU degree was a springboard to get to the next level, both in my education and in my career.~ Chris Horn, BS, MS 

“The great thing about Athabasca University was I got to do it on my time,” says Horn, likening himself to the quintessential mature AU student who relies on the institution’s built-in culture of flexibility that accommodates school, work and family commitments.

“I’ve heard stories from other AU students I’ve met writing exams or going to labs and they’re virtually the same as mine,” he says.

Horn remarks without AU in his corner he wouldn’t have been able to fulfill his dream of doing an undergraduate degree, later in life, while raising his family and working full-time.

“I could get up early in the morning to study before work, or at night after I put my kids to bed. I’d just sit down and study, on my time—it just wouldn’t have happened without that flexibility Athabasca offered me.”

Horn says he’s even convinced current co-workers of the value an AU education provides.

“I can name four people off the top of my head who have either graduated or are taking courses right now or are graduates of AU,” he quips.

The great thing about Athabasca University was I got to do it on my time.

“Some people might not know much about AU, at first—but then they hear about it through an alumnus like myself who’s done a program or taken courses there—and it really piques their interest. They start looking into it. So the message really hits.

“The courses at AU are high-quality and you can compare many of them directly to those at some of the bigger [bricks and mortar] universities. If it worked for me, it can work for anyone, right?”

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.

It takes two

But for all his hard work and exclusive status as AU’s Rising Star alumnus, Horn says there’s one person who can’t go without a strong shout-out.

His wife Dana.

After all, she did nominate him for the AU Alumni Awards.  And, he says, his AU journey was as much a grind for her.

“Dana was just there all the time for me. She had to sacrifice to let me study,” Horn acknowledges.

“It’s not easy raising kids when Daddy’s out studying, or writing exams, or working—it freed up the time for me to get my degrees. So I have to thank Dana, just as much, for this award.”