The Hub Nicole Harrison: My life story

AU has transformed my life.

I was working as a cashier after I graduated from high school, then two life-changing events occurred. I gave birth to my first child and my husband passed away. As I struggled with working three jobs to support my son, my mom saw an advertisement for a bricklayer youth trades program that would allow successful graduates to have a scholarship to pursue their post-secondary education.

I successfully graduated from the bricklaying program and was awarded a scholarship.

Coming home

At first, I attempted to complete my course work at a public institution; however, one of the required courses for graduation was offered at a time I was unable to secure child care, despite my best efforts. In addition, I tried to get work in the city where I had moved to attend university, but was unsuccessful. My student funding ran out because of the high cost of living and child care for a single parent, in what was a foreign community to me and one of the poorest neighbourhoods to live in citywide.

Around this time, I was also raped by a stranger, then I was in a car accident—a roll over—and had mobility issues. All of these circumstances prevented me from being capable of attending face-to-face university classes at a time when I needed it most.

Transfer to Athabasca University

I transferred my credits to Athabasca University’s Bachelor of Professional Arts in Communications program, returned home to live with my parents, found a temporary part-time position in my home town, and completed my studies online. Thanks to the flexibility of AU’s programs, I was able to work and study at the same time. It took me some time, but I graduated in 2008. I never would have had the opportunity to complete a university degree if not for AU.

“ I never would have had the opportunity to complete a university degree if not for AU.”

Grad studies

In 2016, I was accepted into the master of education program at AU. I took a year off work and was approved to take three courses per semester, so I was able to complete the bulk of my degree in one year. As I near the finish line, I have experienced a number of life setbacks including the recent loss of my 19-year-old son—the reason I started this education journey at the beginning of this account—quickly followed by an emergency relocation at the end of the last semester.

If not for the flexibility in time and place and the understanding staff and academics at AU, these losses would have caused me to miss out on completing my graduate studies. I am so grateful that AU provides an alternative method of completing one’s education for people who have circumstances that prevent them from completing their dreams and their studies in any other way—as I did.

Nicole grew up on a farm halfway between Boyle and Athabasca, Alta., and has four brothers and two sisters. Her career began with administrative work, journalism, and photography; she is now an instructional designer. Nicole is taking master of education degree at Athabasca University with a focus on instructional design in distance education; she chose this route because she was working for a university who hired her on a contract basis to create online versions of courses from three programs. She is most interested in developing online learning strategies for Plains Cree teaching and learning so that people who are not able to attend classes can use the online versions to teach others or gain fluency. Nicole has four children.

  • March 18, 2019
Tagged In:
Transforming Lives,
Guest Blog from:
Nicole Harrison