The Hub 13 of our favourite stories from 2021

A look back at some of our favourite, most popular, and uplifting stories from the Athabasca University community

Year-end retrospectives can be a funny thing, especially during a pandemic. It’s easy to dwell on the negative and non-stop headlines about rising COVID-19 numbers, combative politics, climate disasters, and social injustices.

There is, of course, more to 2021 than gloom. We’re sharing 13 of our favourite stories from 2021 featuring Athabasca University (AU) community members whose work and efforts have helped tackle important problems, provided important context about complex issues, demonstrated leadership in the community, or called out hate and intolerance.

Working as a nurse practitioner in assisted-living facilities during COVID-19

In December 2020, there was an urgent need in Alberta for nurse practitioners to support continuing-care and assisted-living facilities dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. Dr. Jennifer Knopp-Sihota, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Disciplines, answered the call and spent several weeks working in an assisted-living facility in Edmonton. She offers this window into working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Métis Elder and advocate Terry Lusty on the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The pandemic wasn’t the only news from 2021. It also marked the first year that Canada marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Terry Lusty, a Métis Elder, activist, author, and survivor of Canada’s residential school system, talks about the significance and impact of this historic moment. Lusty received an honorary doctorate from AU in spring 2021.

AU Rising Star sets sights on not-for-profit leadership

Be the person you needed when you were growing up. It’s simple, straightforward advice—and has helped Odion Welch (Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations ’17) become the person she is today. The AU 2021 Rising Star alumni award winner didn’t have it easy as a kid, struggling with education and even being kicked out of high school. She now focuses her efforts on making a difference for Black youth through her work at the Africa Centre.

Read about other inspiring AU alumni

Peter Scott, international expert in digital-first learning, named AU’s next president

One of our most popular stories of the year introduces AU’s 10th president, Prof. Peter Scott, who starts his role in the new year. The respected academic, researcher, and senior executive has spent close to 30 years working in open and online learning.

“As the first person in my family to pursue higher education, I’m personally passionate about the transformative power of access to university,” Scott said. “I have spent my career focused on opening access to all through online learning and research.”

AU researcher studies pandemic’s effects on mental health in trans community

Marginalized communities such as transgender and gender non-conforming people have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its isolating effects. To better understand the scope of the problem, Dr. Tobias Wiggins, a researcher in AU’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, and his colleagues are conducting in-depth interviews with trans people from across Alberta in both urban and rural locations.

How to earn a degree in 15 months

How quickly can you finish a degree at AU? If you have enough passion and drive, like Tyler Harbaruk (Bachelor of Commerce in Finance ’21), as little as 15 months. Harbaruk completed three years’ worth of university courses in just 15 months. He shares words of advice for others thinking of trying the same thing: take it one step at a time.

Study will bridge Traditional Indigenous Knowledge, Western science

A new partnership between Bigstone Cree Nation and AU will help bridge the gap between Indigenous Knowledge and Western science. Dr. Shauna Zenteno, a microbiologist and dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, and Dr. Janelle Baker, an assistant professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, are exploring the impact of human activity and development on aquatic health in northern Alberta at a microbial level.

The art of the pivot: How one business owner navigated change during the pandemic

The pandemic disrupted lives and shifted routines in ways that took everyone by surprise—and remains a shock to life as we know it. AU helped the community cope with this change through PowerED™ by Athabasca University’s Navigating Extraordinary Times micro-course. As part of that conversation, we got to know the story of Edmonton restauranteur Mike Angus, co-owner of Pip. Angus shares how the pandemic through countless challenges at his business and how he and his partners coped with change.

The tragic rise of anti-Asian hate crimes

Since the start of the pandemic, xenophobia and anti-Asian hate and violence have increased at alarming rates. In response, Dr. Gina Wong, a professor and psychologist in AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines, launched the Asian Gold Ribbon Campaign to demonstrate solidarity against anti-Asian racism and support individuals and organizations.

Susanne Grainger reflects on Olympic gold, learning, and next steps

No one can accuse Susanne Grainger of poor time management. When the Canadian rower wasn’t putting her body through the paces training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games, she was working out her mind studying human resources at AU.

“I literally wrote my final exam three days before I got on the plane to go to Tokyo,” she said. “It was pretty wild.”

An academic approach to running a brewery

While Kirk Zembal (Bachelor of Professional Arts in Communications Studies ’16) was sitting in an oilfield rig shack plugging away on an AU degree, the craft beer business might not have been top of mind—but some of the seeds that led to co-founding Blindman Brewing were germinating. The AU alum shares how online learning gave him the flexibility to expand his knowledge and help build one of Alberta’s most respected craft breweries.

Mothers who don’t get enough sleep age more rapidly, study finds

Most of us know that getting a good night’s rest is one of the most important things you can do for your health. But for mothers who recently gave birth, lack of sleep could actually accelerate aging, according to a study co-written by Dr. Kharah Ross, an assistant professor of health psychology in theFaculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Ross explains why mothers and parents should take note. 

Introducing a new AU podcast, Go the Distance

Learners come to AU because they want a university experience that gives them the flexibility to achieve their educational goals and balance life’s other demands. In our podcast series, Go the Distance, we feature the stories of learners and alumni who discovered the transformative effect of online learning for their lives and communities.