Opening doors to education
Helping Students, Helping Society
Barry Walker, Chair of the Athabasca University Board of Governors (2009-present).
For the past eight years, Barry Walker has served Athabasca University first as a public member of the university’s Board of Governors and then as chair of the board since 2009. But Barry has watched AU grow from the very beginning, and he and his wife Valerie are leaving a legacy with the university that will allow it to continue to grow and contribute to the success of students and society.
A chartered accountant, Barry has worked with clients in the Athabasca area since the 1960s, and his firm established a permanent office in Athabasca in 1985, a year after AU outgrew its original facilities in Edmonton and opened up its own permanent offices in Athabasca.
He watched the Athabasca campus grow with interest, and he and Valerie took AU courses both for the sheer joy, of learning and for professional development in their respective fields: accounting and early childhood development. When he was invited to join AU’s board in 2004, he was happy to say yes. Within a year, he was chair of the board’s finance committee, and five years later, he was chair of the board itself.
In addition to serving on AU’s board, Barry has been an active volunteer for many other community organizations, and so has Valerie. In the last few years, they decided to take their community service in another direction by creating student award endowments for the two post-secondary institutions that have played a major role in their lives: Grant MacEwan University, where they’ve both worked as instructors, and AU.
At AU, there are two Walker family awards for students at the beginning of similar career paths as Barry and Valerie — one award is for accounting students, while the other is for counselling students who are focusing on services for children or youth in their practicum placement.
“We believe that in the long haul, the assistance you provide to students not only benefits the individual, but it benefits society as a whole,” says Barry. “Just as education helped Valerie and me become people who contribute to society, [assistance for students] sets them up to get their own education and become productive members of society who contribute in their own way. It might not be dollars and cents to educational institutions, but they will contribute to society. So we see our endowments as a way of giving back to society as a whole.”
The Walkers plan to continue adding funds to their endowments “as long as we’re around,” he says with a smile. They’ve also made a provision in their wills to top up the endowments with their estate.
“We want them to be a permanent legacy, not because we want any glory or any significant recognition. We’re not people who need the limelight,” he says. “What makes us feel good is just knowing this is happening.”