The Hub Video series showcases inspiring work of AU alumni locally and globally

Alumni Connections video series features graduates from across Alberta, Canada, and the world

As an open university, Athabasca University (AU) welcomes students from across Alberta, from coast to coast to coast in Canada, and from more than 100 countries around the world.

With more than 50,000 program alumni worldwide, the diversity of our community truly makes AU a university like no other. We’re grounded locally in Athabasca but our collective talent and work has international reach in communities near and far.

That’s why we’re so thrilled to introduce Local to Global: Alumni Connections!

This video series tells the stories of inspiring AU alumni and their highest contributions in health, education, the not-for-profit sector, volunteerism, business, construction, and cutting-edge research.

Their stories span Alberta, Canada, and the world. And they are uniquely AU.

Cracking down on cybercrime

Chris Kayser
Bachelor of General Studies ’14
Occupation: Cybercriminologist, small business owner, author
📍 Calgary, Alberta

Chris Kayser was eight credits short of a degree when, in 2012, he decided to return to university. AU was the only school that gave him full credit for the courses he’d completed previously, so he pursued a degree in General Studies. During his studies at AU, Kayser took seven courses in criminal justice—and he loved every minute of them.

Kayser credits his AU experience for being the catalyst to a second career as a cybercriminologist after completing a master’s at Boston University. Today he owns his own consulting company, Cybercrime Analytics Inc., which focuses on cybercrime prevention.

“I didn’t want to give up my life to go back to school, and I wanted to be able to do my degree at my pace.”

Learn more about Kayser’s journey with AU.

Nurse practitioner supports health in Far North

Trista Bennett
Master of Nursing – Nurse Practitioner ’22
Occupation: Nurse practitioner of primary care practice
📍Iqaluit, Nunavut

Trista Bennett moved to Canada’s North at the age of 18 and soon found her place and purpose connecting with people. Bennett has worked on the front lines of health care as a nurse in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and there’s nowhere she’d rather be.

When she decided to go back to school so she could take on a more enhanced clinical role as a nurse practitioner, AU was the obvious choice. As a mother of two living in a remote community, online learning provided the flexibility to continue working and study without disrupting her family life.

“I thought that going back to school after 17 years would be difficult and intimidating, but AU made that very easy for me.”

Second-career success in data analytics

Wes Sauder
Master of Science in Information Systems ’23, Master of Business Administration  ’07
Occupation: Data architect and researcher
📍Mulmer, Ontario

With a background in physics, Wes Sauder enjoyed a lengthy career in the automotive industry until the recession prompted a career pivot. With two AU degrees, Sauder has flourished in his second career in data analytics and research.

That kind of success wouldn’t have been possible without the flexibility of AU’s programs that allowed him to work and study without leaving his hometown in Ontario.

“Even though it’s distance education, you don’t really feel like you’re disconnected from the school.”

Transforming the construction industry through technology

Tannis Liviniuk
Master of Business Administration ’15
Occupation: President of industry consulting firm
📍Mill Bay, British Columbia

When Tannis Liviniuk started Trillium Advisory Group, she was a team of one. She saw an opportunity to help digitalize the construction industry and allow companies to use technology in new ways. As an executive and entrepreneur, she was working 11-hour shifts on site, on top of a two-hour commute.

When she decided to pursue an MBA, she chose AU after meeting someone in the program and realizing online learning was a solution to her busy schedule. It wasn’t long before she was able to apply the theory and concepts from her studies to the real world.

“The MBA program was incredibly challenging but the education I received was first-class.”

Learn more about Liviniuk’s journey with AU.

Unlocking hibernation to advance health care

Dr. Michael Country
Bachelor of Science ’14
Occupation: Postdoctoral fellow and researcher
📍 Shinjuku, Japan

At one point in his life, Dr. Michael Country couldn’t afford tuition for a traditional bricks-and-mortar university. Instead, he embraced AU’s flexible learning model and took one course at a time while working full time. Today, Country is a rising research scientist and postdoctoral fellow at RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution.

Country is taking cues from nature to explore potential advances in health care. He has studied how goldfish and other species can survive extended periods of low oxygen, which could help treat eye conditions in people. More recently, he has explored the potential of hibernation as a treatment for humans—giving doctors more time to treat serious conditions like a heart attack or stroke.

“I don’t think I could be where I am without Athabasca University.”

Learn more about Country’s journey with AU.

Advancing health care in Alberta

Julia Cornester
Master of Nursing ’22
Occupation: Nurse
📍Calgary, Alberta

Julia Cornester has worked in a variety of nursing roles since she started practising in 2008. Even though she was helping patients on the front lines of health care, she didn’t feel like she was having the kind of impact she wanted.

Cornester chose AU’s Master of Nursing program with a leadership focus so she could effect change in health-care policy. As a busy mom, she wrote her exams in the early morning, before her young children woke. Now, she’s focused on helping ensure all Canadians have access to quality care.

“Athabasca University is an exceptional place. The people in it are driven to have students succeed.”

Learn more about Cornester’s journey with AU.

Bringing online learning to Japan

Dr. Hiroshi Miyashita
Doctor of Education in Distance Education ’22
High school teacher, researcher
📍 Tokyo, Japan

Dr. Hiroshi Miyashita had more than two decades of experience teaching English as a foreign language to students in his hometown of Tokyo when he decided to go back to school himself. Miyashita was interested in the potential of online and blended learning in Japan, where such learning was uncommon.

He turned to AU due to its strong reputation as an international leader in online distance education, and so he could continue to work and raise a family. Now, as an educator and researcher, he’s using what he’s learned to help the next generation achieve its education goals.

“Without AU, I would not have had the opportunity to engage in my studies and to experience quality online learning.”

Learn more about Miyashita’s journey with AU.

Advocating for people with hearing loss

Marilyn Kingdon
Bachelor of Professional Arts ’17
Occupation: Advocate for people with hearing loss
📍Sherwood Park, Alberta

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Marilyn Kingdon was raised to believe that humanitarianism and community service were core values. She also saw the impact of hearing loss, as her mother and sister were born without hearing. Kingdon herself started to experience hearing loss in her late teens.

Kingdon has volunteered with numerous organizations, including the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. When she decided to go back to school, she chose AU and worked with the university’s Accessibility Services team to help ensure all her course materials had closed captioning.

She also worked with the convocation team to ensure closed captioning was available for the ceremony, and it’s been a fixture at the celebrations ever since.

“Taking classes with Athabasca University made it very, very easy to fit learning into my life.”

Learn more about Kingdon’s journey with AU.

Creating community through volunteerism

Narine Dat Sookram
Bachelor of Professional Arts, Human Services Major ’18
Occupation: Social worker, volunteer radio host, community advocate
📍Kitchener, Ontario

Born and raised in Berbice, Guyana, Narine Dat Sookram struggled to adjust to life in Canada as a new immigrant. But he credits those same struggles with influencing his decision to help others through counselling and community volunteerism.

Like many AU alumni, Sookram was the first in his family to earn a university degree, and he continues to pursue lifelong learning while helping others.

“Learning is an ongoing thing. You cannot grow if you don’t develop yourself professionally and personally.”

Learn more about Sookram’s journey with AU.

Teacher champions media literacy

Chryssa Lazou
Master of Education in Open, Digital, and Distance Education ’19
Occupation: English teacher
📍Kavala, Greece

Chryssa Lazou understands what it’s like to grow up in a new country with a different education system and language. Lazou’s early experiences as a Greek immigrant living in Germany helped inspire her career in education and her passion for volunteerism. The English teacher has held many leadership roles as an educator and in working on projects that promote literacy.

Lazou returned to school in her forties with two young twins at home. She chose AU because it allowed her to remain active in her professional pursuits and enhance her knowledge as an educator.

One of the projects she’s most proud of is promoting media literacy and critical thinking among learners in Greece, southeastern Europe, and beyond.

“Athabasca University provided me with the skills and competencies for me to go further with my studies. It laid the foundation for me to see what I can do as a lifelong learner.”

Learn more about Lazou’s journey with AU.

Greening Canada’s military facilities

Dr. Maria Skordaki
Doctor of Education in Distance Education ’17
Occupation: Director, Royal Military College Green Team
📍Kingston, Ontario

Maria Skordaki has devoted two decades of her career to reducing the environmental impact of Canada’s military facilities. As director of the Royal Military College’s Green Team, she has improved drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities at Canadian Armed Forces bases while helping cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

When Skordaki decided to pursue a doctorate in distance education, she chose AU after hearing good things from colleagues serving in the military. The flexibility of online learning allowed her to work full-time, where she could also put theory into practice.

“Athabasca University was one of the most extraordinary experiences in my life so far.”

Learn more about Skordaki’s journey with AU.