Convocation 2020: Robin Bleich, from Future Alumni winner to BPA
Looking back at her educational journey with AU, Robin Bleich noticed one thing, it wasn’t obtaining her Bachelor of Professional Arts in Criminal Justice that mattered most, rather, it was the life experience it gave her and the importance of education it showed her.
Bleich’s journey at AU began in 2009, she was looking to go back to school and with working a demanding full-time job as a veteran police officer in the Niagara Regional Police Service, she knew that taking her degree online was the best option. In order to balance work and school, she took one to three classes a year, and really appreciated the flexibility that was offered.
After the birth of her daughter, in 2011, Bleich took a year off from her studies, which is where she realized how important having an outlet like school was for her.
“AU had a very subtle way of keeping me grounded. When you attend in person, there’s the off chance that you’ll start doodling in your book or not paying attention, or I’ll record this and do it later. But AU you’re self-reliant, you have to be disciplined, I like to contribute some of that discipline I carried from going to AU. I needed that in my life where I was at work because the dynamics of my career can be very stressful and spontaneous and unpredictable, where at AU, that institutional framework that kept me grounded,” noted Bleich.
A bumpy road
To say 2014 was a difficult year for Bleich is an understatement. She was undergoing a separation from her husband when she found out her sister had died by suicide. That same day, Bleich’s father had a heart attack after hearing about his daughter. In between grief, caring for her father, Bleich was also moving into a new house that was in disrepair.
Through these times, there was always one constant—her studies with AU. She remembers sitting with her then three-year-old daughter and having conversations about what she was reading and learning at the time. She credits much of her success to having her daughter there to read her papers aloud and proofread them at the same time. Bleich wanted to make her daughter proud and show her that school isn’t just about learning or academics, but about connections, striving, and learning to get through challenges while finding healthy coping mechanisms.
Though AU was helpful at grounding Bleich during her time, it was also helpful in her professional development. After managing the SPEAR (School Police Emergency Action Response) Program for 219 schools across her region, she used the courses she was in to help propel the program off the ground. Her business writing course taught her to negotiate, articulate yourself, and be persuasive. This helped Bleich make the case to not only send her but her staff sergeant as well, to present her SPEAR work at a police chiefs’ conference in San Diego, California.
“That course couldn’t have come at a better time, I was in the textbook just trying to figure out a way to word this,” said Bleich remembering the process to get the approval. “Everything I seemed to be doing in those 8 years that I was designing those emergency plans, the program I was taking always complimented the work and the deliverables that I was achieving at work.”
Moving forward to life-long learning
Bleich’s story has been such an inspiration that she was awarded Athabasca University’s 2017 Future Alumni Award, Athabasca Institutional Leadership Award, and the Community Leadership Award for her dedication to her community, her commitment to keeping its members safe, maintaining academic excellence while contributing to her university’s wellbeing. Instead of focusing the Future Alumni award on herself, she came up with an idea of how to help other AU learners and ended up creating the Sunny Bleich Completion Bursary for Undergraduate Students, in honour of her late sister, naming it after her son, Sunny, and awarding the recipient the date of her birthday, annually. The bursary aims to help learners at the end of their degree who are struggling financially and need a bit of help.
“I’ve sponsored it for three years, and will continue to sponsor it for years to come. I was funding other learners as I was funding myself going through the school. The bursary recipients were learners like me.”
As Bleich finishes her chapter with AU, she has already embarked on a new one at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University where she is working on her Masters in Public Safety.
“I’m going to be an academic forever, I’m considering that after my masters, I want to come back to AU and get a minor in psychology. I want to take what I can and bring it back to my service. To get the minor in psychology would open up the doors to get a Master in Counselling with AU.”