Aside from time studying in the virtual world, a number of AU students spend their time exploring the real world. Whether it’s travelling for work, as a treat between course loads, or to reward themselves for graduating, AU students are racking up the hours — and frequent flyer points — jet-setting the country and the world over.
Oh the places they’ve gone
We asked some of our recent graduates to name a few of the oddest or most unique study spots they found themselves in during their time at AU. They also provided some savvy study advice while on the road. Their responses might intrigue you – they certainly got our attention!
Dawn Wambold, Cochrane, AB, Bachelor of Arts, 2017
Dawn is team lead for supplier audits with TransCanada — an oil-and-gas gig. During her AU studies she worked in two jobs that required a lot of travel. She’s frequented Houston, Boston, Edmonton, to name a few places. At one point, she was traveling a couple times a month, but she says she used her time wisely, and when she found herself alone in a hotel room with nothing else to do, she’d hit the books. Another regular study spot was up in the air.
“With anthropology there’s a lot of reading – which is really conducive to travel because I can easily take journal articles or textbooks on the plane with me – and that’s exactly what I would do,” she said.
“I would see what I had [on the plate] for this week, print off my readings, and just stick them in my carry-on and bring them with me,” she says, noting that the weirdest place she found herself tied to her AU program was at the airport in Houston, pre-boarding her trip home to Canada.
“There were a lot of oral telephone quizzes — I actually did a telephone quiz sitting at my gate waiting for my airplane.”
She also recalls the time she made her AU experience ‘one with nature.’ “I’ve studied around the campfire with my family, It was at Burnstick Lake, 150 km northwest of Calgary, near Sundre. I was just sitting around by the fire with my family — we were all reading books — mine just happened to be a textbook!
Well played, Dawn!
Sudhir Sandhu, 51, Winnipeg, MBA, 2017
This CEO of Manitoba Building Trades remembers his two-year time at AU with more ups than downs. Literally. He was in the air four times a week, more than 200 flights a year. During that time, he was commuting regularly from his home and family life in Winnipeg, to his job as executive director of corporate and community services for the northern Alberta-based Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Sudhir says the flights got him to graduate.
“They were actually a lifesaver. On a commuting day, I connected through Calgary, typically, and on to Winnipeg. So that gave me about two hours clear to work on course loads,” he said.
“…[Plus] the connecting time in Calgary – so a couple hours there to study, too. By the time I landed in Winnipeg, I really had gotten a good head start into getting my work done for the week.”
Sudhir says those four or five hours spent commuting were “really instrumental.”
“Just sitting on the plane, firing up the laptop and working. And the technology worked really well. I’d download everything and just spend some very concentrated time focusing on doing my postings.”
His advice to AU students on juggling school with work travel was blunt: “Don’t watch movies on the plane. Use the travel time to do your work.”
“It really helps you stay ahead of the curve. And if you save it up for when you do have free time, chances are, if you’re a working person, which most of the students in the program are, you’re always going to struggle with [having] enough time — so leverage the time,” said Sudhir.
Since becoming a CEO, he still travels a fair amount for work, but now it’s only about four flights a month as opposed to four flights a week!
Kristine Self, 47, Ottawa, Master of Health Studies, 2017
As a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Kristine found herself hitting a lot of books in the barracks – and all over North America.
In February, 2014, she was deployed on a big (but very short-notice) four-week mission to an air force base in New Jersey. She was one of 13 Canadian invited.
But there was a study hitch.
“There was no internet connection on that trip because we were in the field,” said Kristine.
“I had no connection for doing [my school work] — just a connection for the military things that I needed to do.”
But AU’s little ‘flexibility’ claim-to-fame came in handy here:
She immediately contacted her professor who, in turn, rearranged Kristine’s course schedule.
“She made a new timetable for me for when to submit things. We split the times up where I would send a bunch of things early on, and a bunch of things after the mission,” Kristine explained, noting her relief, as she’d figured she might have had to withdraw from the course — which she already well into, and which she had paid for out of pocket.
“I was very grateful for being able to do that.”
Another time, she recalls an intensive two-week military course she took in Gagetown, New Brunswick. She was juggling that with her master’s degree. She found herself routinely studying outside on the army barrack grass.
“The thing with the online program at Athabasca University is that you can do it whenever [and wherever] — so it’s fantastic!” she says.
“And there are no set times for classes — which just means if, at three in the morning you need to do something, because that’s when you’re awake — then you can.”
Mark Scholz, 47, Toronto, MBA, 2017
When Mark was finishing up his MBA at AU last year, he could practically taste the degree he would be getting in no time. So he decided to get an early start and book a celebratory graduation trip — a four-day Vegas bonanza with his wife Cathy. There would be champagne and zip lining — from the top of the Rio Hotel, tower-to-tower.
After he shelled out for the trip, he had an afterthought: did he calculate his course credits correctly? He called the university to get the all-clear and had his first panic attack.
He still needed six more course units to graduate.
“I thought, ‘gee, I’ve got to cancel my vacation.’”
Then he thought, no, just take the hit, and he justified sticking to the Vegas trip. It just wouldn’t be the blowout he had intended.
“I still had to maintain composure,” said Mark.
“Once I calmed down I started looking at different alternatives. I stepped back and looked at what my options were and what I could do to still finish the courses by December — and that’s the good thing about Athabasca! There are a lot of alternatives to looking at ways of getting it done. And I was able to figure out a way to do that.”
In order to meet his original goal of completing his MBA by the end of 2016, Mark had to hustle. He basically doubled up to get ‘er done.
“After he shelled out for the trip, he had an afterthought: did he calculate his course credits correctly? He called the university to get the all-clear and had his first panic attack.”
“I had to work ahead and be very organized so that I could still go on vacation (that was non-refundable) and not fall behind in my studies.”
After Vegas, Mark’s wife headed back to Toronto while he went straight to Vancouver to do the in-class, negotiation course portion of his MBA.
Mark was at convocation two weeks ago in Athabasca where he explained how he and Cathy had just returned from their actual celebratory week-long trip to Naples, Florida.
But no zip lining this time.
“The Vegas trip – doing that while I was still technically in school — your mind can’t let go of what you have to do still! So this trip to Florida was the official celebration,” said Mark.
“It was just the two of us. Mostly at the beach and pool, relaxing. So that was kind of nice.
Best Most Oddest Study Spot!
Shawn Horton, 49, Woodstock, Ontario, MBA, 2017
As director, product development, North America, for Norican Group, Shawn found himself studying many days for his section exams in a hockey rink.
“As I prepped for those exams, my son was in his playoffs so I had my laptop at the rink, watching games, reading away. It was interesting,” he recalled.
But this next anecdote takes the cake.
“I was studying, on the way to the airport in Mexico, when we went under gunfire. That was fun,” said Shawn.
“The manufacturing facility I was setting up down there was in Monterey. The Los Zetas, which are the main drug gang in the region, ended up deciding that they wanted to get their prisoner back — that the police had in their jail – which was about 4 km from our facility. So they decided to break him out.
“I just happened to be passing by when they decided to do that. My second-in-command was driving the truck while I was reading on my laptop for the AU course. I was doing finance at the time. All of a sudden, there was gunfire all around me. I was on my way out of the country so I didn’t really care [to know the backstory]…I didn’t want to be there. So yeah, that was kind of interesting.”
You win, Shawn, Hands Up!