10 AU learners and grads who inspired us in 2021
First-person stories about the transformative power of open, online learning
One of our favourite things to do at Athabasca University (AU) is talk about the transformative effect of open, online learning.
When you remove traditional barriers to university-level study, you open a world of possibilities for learners and the communities in which they live, work, and serve.
There’s no better way to show the impact of a university education than through the words and experiences of learners and alumni themselves. That’s what our Transforming Lives series is all about. And that’s also why we’re so pleased to share some of our favourite stories from 2021.
Ever since she graduated from nursing school in 2017, Maribel Jody had thought about pursuing another degree to become a nurse educator. But as a registered nurse, she needed an option that would allow her to continue to work full time and go to school. She found AU and the Master of Nursing program.
“I am looking forward to my online journey with AU and the opportunities that it will provide after graduating. I have thought of pursuing a leadership-type position as a nurse ever since I completed my bachelor’s degree.”– Maribel Jody, AU learner
Gonzo Moreno (Bachelor of Management ’16) landed his first “career” job in the tech sector straight out of college. But when the tech bubble burst, he found himself out of work and trying to figure out what would come next. Eventually, he found AU and started taking business courses as time allowed—and graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Management.
“I had two amazing kids who grew up watching me ‘go to school.’ They inspired me to continue and I like to think that I inspired them to consider learning as a life-long endeavour.”– Gonzo Moreno, AU alum
When Nazira Chatur turned 50, her son enrolled her in university as a birthday present. He thought that, after so many years of giving and caring for others, now was the time for her to do something for herself. Three years later, that gift is reaping rewards as Chatur enrolled in the Bachelor of General Arts program with an eye toward completing a Bachelor of Professional Arts in Criminal Justice and a master’s in criminology.
“Bravo to all of us for taking this step to better ourselves. You are never too old to study. Knowledge is the essence to a successful life.”– Nazira Chatur, AU learner
After dropping out of high school and battling addiction, Annabelle Eherer found rock bottom—and then rebounded. She completed a recovery program, got sober, and married a sober partner before giving birth to her son, Kashton. Shortly thereafter, she completed high school through a general education development and started considering post-secondary. Now a full-time student and full-time mother of two, Eherer is showing her children the value of an education as she works toward a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.
“After dropping out of high school, I was on a terrible journey through addiction. Eventually, this addiction led me to rock bottom and nearly losing all I had, including my daughter.”– Annabelle Eherer, AU learner
Muyibat Omotunde’s (Post-LPN Bachelor of Nursing ’19, Master of Nursing ’21) first job after moving to Calgary in 2012 was caring for older adults and seniors as a health-care aide. The experience set the Nigerian-born, first-generation Canadian on a path to nursing and working with multidisciplinary teams. When she wanted to further her education, the working mom needed a program that would give her work-life balance. She found AU.
“With AU, I learned a lot from the amazing professors and acquired the education necessary to work as a registered nurse and as part of a multidisciplinary team caring for older adults in a long-term care facility.”– Muyibat Omotunde, AU alum
Becoming a business owner was a “gift” for Henry Ochoa and an experience he enjoyed for 18 years. But his life and work began to change after he was left with physical disabilities. He started studying at AU while coping with multiple surgeries to repair injuries to his knee and lower back. Despite some physical setbacks, he’s focused on the future and has enrolled in AU’s Bachelor Science in Computing and Information Systems program.
“Warriors get tired, but never, ever, give up on themselves. We keep pushing in life. The journey at Athabasca University, as a warrior, has just started!”– Henry Ochoa, AU learner
David Newman worked as an accountant before he decided to pursue another career path in academia. He chose AU and the Doctor of Business Administration program because it gave him the flexibility to work and study as his schedule allowed. Now, he’s researching how interpersonal interactions are affected by the way someone with mental illness presents themselves to others. The research topic was influenced by Newman’s own experiences and the stigma he encountered.
“Never give up on yourself and never let anyone tell you that you cannot complete your educational goals whatever they may be. Life is about continuous learning, growth, and development balanced with conflicts, challenges, and mistakes along the journey.”– David Newman, AU learner
As a mom and business owner, Brandi Morpurgo has her hands full. So when the former social worker decided to return to school in her spare time, she needed a program that would work for her busy nine-to-five life. That’s when she found AU and the Bachelor of Arts program.
“I have learned how to manage my time thanks to the self-discipline required to succeed in my studies and assignments, in my own time. This has been so beneficial to balancing a family, business, and student life.”– Brandi Morpurgo, AU learner
After high school, Robyn Hanson (Bachelor of Professional Arts in Communication Studies ’15) didn’t know what to do next. She tried working as a dental assistant and took courses in commerce and general arts. But she didn’t excel in traditional lecture-based classes, which she later learned was due to undiagnosed attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After completing a diploma in public relations, she set her eyes on a degree and AU’s Bachelor of Professional Arts in Communication Studies program. Now, she’s enrolled in a master of education and has a passion for speaking about ADHD.
“AU’s format and completing courses at my own pace and timelines helped me realize that I am smart, but that traditional models of learning do not work for me. Completing my undergraduate degree fuelled my love of learning and gave me confidence.”– Robyn Hanson, AU alum
The AU community lost one of its own this year when Autumne Atwood passed away after a courageous battle with cancer at age 44. To help celebrate her life as a wife, mother, social worker, and mental health advocate, we republished her Transforming Lives article in which she shared her journey through health scares and battles with postpartum depression. She found an outlet in writing and, in 2018, started taking creative writing at AU. She was, as creative writing associate professor Dr. Angie Abdou wrote, “not a typical student.”
“Autumne came to AU not looking for job training or a career path, or even a degree. She wanted only to nurture her love of writing.”
“I was hesitant to put myself out there. I was afraid of rejection and worried I wasn’t smart enough to complete the assignments … But I have learned that sometimes, you just have to go for it.”– Autumne Atwood, AU alum