Lauren Gardner: Learner survives bullying and homelessness to succeed in Silicon Valley
Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by Athabasca University (AU) students and alumni who want to share how AU has helped shape their lives.
It’s a space to thank the people who provided help and support along the journey, and to share insight on how learning at AU has transformed their lives, careers, families, and communities.
These stories are worth shouting from the rooftops! Do you have an inspiring story to share? Email us! We’d love to hear it.
When I first started my journey in higher education, I was a teenager—just 18 and preparing to leave high school. High school had been tumultuous. I went to school before the internet had truly taken hold and we were in an isolated rural community. My peers were not exactly familiar with people who didn’t look or act like them.
As someone with cerebral palsy and a genetic disorder, I certainly did not. Many of my classmates went to great lengths to ensure I knew that I was not welcome, and I experienced years of physical and mental abuse. All of this left me with a pressing question at age 18. I wanted to go to university, but did I want to immerse myself in another environment with people my own age? Not really.
Fortunately, by this time I had also found Athabasca University (AU).
Even before I finished high school, I enrolled in a computing science course and hoped to chip away at a degree in the field. Not long after, however, the situation with my high school peers got worse and the threat to my physical safety became very real. I started saving, and after high school graduation, I packed two bags and flew across the country to start a new life.
Relocating to a big city with little money, no employment, and no real plan is not something I would recommend, in retrospect.
I got a job quickly enough, but it had an extensive—and unpaid—training period; my bank account was sucked dry. As a result, for six months I was homeless while I tried to save for first and last month’s rent for a new apartment. The idea of starting a university degree was a distant memory. I was just trying to survive.
“The idea of starting a university degree was a distant memory. I was just trying to survive.”– Lauren Gardner
Years later, I am in an entirely different position. I have a senior position at a Silicon Valley tech company, a house, a car, a cottage—literally worlds away from where I started.
Recently, I accomplished my original dream of getting my bachelor’s degree, fully online! I needed a few courses that were not offered at my school during the semesters I desired to graduate on time. But then I noticed the school had a course-sharing agreement with AU. It had been so long, would the university remember me? Would they allow me to come back?
As it turned out, they did, and my heart sank when I saw my transcript. I failed due to lack of participation.
I steeled myself and pressed on, determined to right past wrongs. I completed two very challenging courses with AU, which allowed me to complete my bachelor’s degree on time. I found the courses engaging and support from the university was truly exceptional.
I have recommended AU to many friends—one of whom is now completing a degree with Athabasca! I am so grateful to AU for welcoming me back—and having my back—despite earlier challenges. Their flexibility and willingness to help me succeed allowed me to accomplish my dreams. I will be back!
To anyone reading who might be considering online learning: you can do this, especially with learner Support Services like those offered by AU. Your journey may be long and challenging, but you can do this if you persevere. Never give up!