Athabasca University’s (AU) learner, Todd Allison, celebrates Convocation 2021 as a graduate of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, General Studies program.
Like many, he chose AU for its flexibility—but, what’s unique about his journey is why he needed the flexibility.
Since January 2019, Allison has been the high-performance director for a national sport organization where he works to help athletes who have aspirations of winning medals at the Olympic Winter Games.
How it all began
As a teen, he competed as a freestyle skier representing Canada all over the world. When his competitive career ended, he was asked to join the national team coaching staff; having learned some very valuable skills that successful athletes need to know, he accepted.
As his career progressed, he moved from coaching to high-performance management, then to the Canadian Sport Institute network, and eventually landed on the Organizing Committee for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. When those Games ended, he spent time with the U.S. Olympic team for a period before returning to Canada to join Own the Podium, an organization that works with national sports associations to support performance.
Eye on the prize
With a successful competitive career, Allison’s plan to get a university degree was put on hold. Still, he eventually started to chip away at a degree while on the road when he was on the national ski team. Knowing he could never commit to a traditional university term because of his year-round travel requirements, he looked into online courses.
“When I met with (an) Athabasca University advisor, I let them know I had two “fall terms” studying commerce from an in-person university, so they saw what courses might transfer into the online program. I felt the General Studies program still allowed me a great deal of access to business–related courses and seemed to allow me to explore some other interests gained from sport, such as nutrition and languages,” said Allison.
Back when he started his degree, finding a reliable internet connection was not always easy, but over time, and with wifi becoming more and more popular, this became less of a problem—yet, there were still other challenges he faced.
“I found that my work schedule was especially intense leading up to a trip, and when I had time on a plane, there just wasn’t space to spread out books, a computer, and a notebook. I learned over time to forecast when I would be home and done a major deadline and (when to) register to start a course, so I could do a blitz and get a good start on the work. With my travel, I found that immersion worked better than chipping away at a regular schedule (i.e. one full day instead of one hour a day),” said Allison.
In addition to trying to find time and space to do his schoolwork every time he wrote an exam, he was in a new situation.
“Whether I was in Guadalajara for the PanAm Games, Whistler, or elsewhere in B.C. for training camps, Colorado for work, or rarely back at home in Calgary, I had to explore where and how I could write an exam. I found that my stress came from finding a suitable location and proctor more than the exams,” he said. “The website always had resources to find ways to write, but my constantly changing travel schedule made it difficult to commit to one location far enough down the road to request someone new instead of using established sites. What I learned as a competitor in skiing allowed me to show up in the new location and write; it was just a different style of performance.”
“Whether I was in Guadalajara for the PanAm Games, Whistler, or elsewhere in B.C. for training camps, Colorado for work, or rarely back at home in Calgary, I had to explore where and how I could write an exam.”– Todd Allison
A worthwhile endeavour
Allison is grateful to his supervisors, family, and colleagues who supported him throughout his time with AU. Upon reflecting on his degree, he noted that the Organizational Behaviour (ORGB) courses he took were beneficial to his position. With few sports being large enough for Human Resource departments, many managers and directors usually take on the role. The knowledge he gained in these courses taught him the theory required to navigate situations that “sport” didn’t teach him.