The Hub Never too late to earn a degree

Never too late to earn a degree

Age isn’t a barrier to pursuing education dreams, says grad

Laverne Wells (Bachelor of Management ’21) was in her 50s when she decided to get a bachelor’s degree from Athabasca University (AU). She had always wanted to go back to school, but life got in the way for the single mother from Blood Tribe First Nation in southern Alberta.

“I lost my husband back in 2003,” Wells explained, “so I struggled to raise my family, like single handedly. I’ve always wanted to go back to school, but I couldn’t because I was raising my kids.”

Wells had a diploma in business administration which she earned in the late 90s. She spent 12 years working for the Blood Tribe, first in their health department and later in housing, where she found her calling.

The work wasn’t easy. Wells’ responsibilities included conducting home visits, answering client inquiries, selecting for new housing, or for minor repairs.

And she was seeing firsthand symptoms of the housing crisis on reserve, like deteriorating homes and overcrowding.

“There’s a lot of factors. It’s not just one thing, why we have these crises,” she says.

But despite the difficulties, Wells says the job was satisfying. “You’re dealing with people’s lives on a daily basis. You know, this is their home, their sanctuary. We all want to come, live in a nice, comfortable, home. So I enjoyed it.

“I’ve always wanted to go back to school, but I couldn’t because I was raising my kids.”

– Laverne Wells (Bachelor of Management ’21)

AU made a bachelor’s degree possible

After working as a consultant at a neighbouring reserve setting up a rental system, Wells decided it was time to get her degree. It was something she’d always wanted to do, but was too busy supporting her family. When her kids graduated from high school, she knew the time was right.

“That’s when I decided now’s the opportunity for me to go back to school, because I always wanted to get my degree.”

Going back to school in her 50s

Wells knew she wanted to start a business, so she enrolled in a Bachelor of Management at AU to help develop this skill she needed. She was self conscious about going back to school at her age. Those feelings came out when she took a couple of electives in person.

“I don’t know, I just kind of felt out of place. I know it sounds stupid, but me being an older person and I thought, oh my god, you know, like, what are these people gonna think like, you should be done school.”

That wasn’t an issue with online learning. Wells could connect with her peers remotely. And it worked for her for other reasons. She was constantly helping with childcare for her grandkids.

“So there’s a lot of flexibility there. If I wanted to work, I could go back to work.”

University is always full of new experiences. But for Wells, something completely unexpected happened when she enrolled in a new business co-op, ADMN 405, run through artificial intelligence.

“First I thought, wow, you know, kind of felt intimidated. I even thought of withdrawing but I thought, ‘No, I’ll just stick it out and see what happens.’ And I’m glad I did. Because that course was different from all the other courses that I’ve ever taken during my post-secondary learning.”

“If you have it in you to go to school, by all means, go back. Because education is the key to success.”

– Laverne Wells

First of its kind virtual co-op

The class is the first of its kind. Students like Wells participated in a co-op experience like any other program, except it was created in a virtual reality world called the “money bank.”

Students gain work experience by interacting with co-workers—direct reports, bosses, and clients—all with their own personalities and challenges. The only difference is the characters are powered by AI.

“The advantage of this over regular bricks-and-mortar school is we can put in so many different kinds of experiences that you never get to work off,” explains academic coordinator Richard Dixon, who teaches the course. “Again, you got an employee that doesn’t want to do anything? Well, how do you motivate them? How do you talk to them? They have to do that.”

Applying real-life skills

Students taking the course learn people skills that you usually only get in the workplace. And Wells appreciated that.

“When you’re going to school, they only teach you the theory aspect of any profession,” she says. “They don’t teach you like the real hands on and what’s expected in real-life situations. That’s why I really enjoyed it because I learned a lot about myself.”

During her time at AU, Wells came up with a business plan that built on her past experience. She created a consulting business, LW Consulting, that would focus specifically on housing for First Nations.

Despite her apprehension about going back to school, Wells says AU was the right choice for her. It’s advice she willingly shares with others.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re never too young, you’re never too old,” Wells says. “If you have it in you to go to school, by all means, go back. Because education is the key to success. I’ve always believed that and that’s driven me.”

Open for Alberta

Read more profiles of AU learners and grads in our Open for Alberta series.

  • November 15, 2022