A university education not only increases a person’s areas of knowledge, but also gives one the confidence to pursue desired goals.
Like many other Athabasca University grads, I worked diligently for a number of years to achieve my goal of graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1992. My husband, friends, and I were so excited to attend my convocation in Athabasca, where we were greeted warmly by the university’s President, instructors and staff members, and also met other equally proud grads who had likewise achieved their goals through long-distance education.
While taking my courses, I was employed full time, and also researching and writing an intensive book on hydro-electric dams on the Peace River. This Was Our Valley was first published in 1989 and won the Alberta Nonfiction Award and silver BC Book award for the BC Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. The book was updated in 2003, and a new edition was published this year, 2019, to include information on the third—and very controversial—Site C Dam on the Peace River.
Receiving Athabasca University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000-2001 added even greater vitality to my c.v. Instead of walking—or even running—toward my goal of becoming a well-published writer, this award truly allowed me to fly. Numerous nonfiction books on aviation followed, as well as young adult novels, both historical and contemporary.
To date, I’ve had 21 books published under my name—with new editions following numerous reprints by the original publisher and then being picked up by yet another publisher to achieve renewed life and updates. My website lists all these books, as well as my biographical history, and upcoming events that keep authors’ names and works currently in the public eye.
Athabasca University does not forget its alumna, and I continue to receive (and accept) invitations to local special events. At one event, held at Lougheed House in Calgary, I won the door prize: a three-credit course of my choice! I perused the catalogue (like we once did to choose a desired Christmas present!) and selected an excellent course titled “The History of Popular Music in America, 1900-1940”. Again, I enjoyed the support of a first-rate tutor, a superlative course complete with textbooks, free-loan tapes, and access to relevant musical radio programs, and I was able to successfully pass the exam to add another three credits to my records.
I definitely advise attendance at Athabasca University to friends and colleagues who wish to pursue further education, and continue to be an ambassador and thus fulfil the honour of being a Distinguished Alumni.
Shirlee Smith Matheson has been writing for over 30 years, with more than 20 books to her name. Her book This Was Our Valley was recently featured on CBC Daybreak Alberta. You can listen to her segment here.