What can’t you accomplish while completing your degree?
A 2022 AU grad found the flexibility to work, learn, teach, and run for municipal council
It’s not easy to balance being a full-time student with life’s other demands, but one Athabasca University (AU) graduate takes it to the next level.
While completing his degree, Dakota Soares (Bachelor of Science in Computing and Information Systems ’22) ran for public office, volunteered in his community, worked several jobs including running two different businesses, and taught a computer science course to local students.
“The beauty of Athabasca University is I was not constrained,” he said. “I had the flexibility to pick my own schedule.”
He said he has always had the opportunity to balance his studies with other passions. He was home schooled, and his parents encouraged him to not only get a traditional education, but also to develop non-academic skills and serve their southwestern Ontario community through volunteering and other community activities.
Flexibility to work, learn, campaign, and teach
Having volunteered for political campaigns and with a local constituency association, Soares was no stranger to politics when he chose to run for municipal council in Middlesex Centre, Ont., in 2018.
AU’s flexibility in how he structured his degree meant he could take several political science courses as electives, and he had already put his knowledge to work on some previous election campaigns.
“If I have some time because I can make my own schedule why not jump in and try to run for public office?” he said. “I didn’t get in, but the flexibility is what allowed me to run.”
Soares has also done a wide variety of work, both for others and as an entrepreneur, since he started his degree in 2017. This includes running a computer-repair business, raising and selling non-certified organic chicken products, and working part-time as a lab technician testing laundry products. He also developed and taught a computer science course to home-schooled high-school students in London, Ont.
He has continued in a role as an educator, supplementing his full-time work as a back-end developer with part-time work teaching computer science courses at Fanshawe College—including making updates to the existing course material based on his own education and industry experience.
“I just didn’t like it. I thought it was a little too abstract for the industry,” he said. “I rewrote it a little bit to get my students a little more of a practical, hands-on approach.”
“I love the approach where you can take as many courses as you want in a modular manner, and that flexibility as well where they say, ‘Here’s all your course work. You have 6 months.’”
Family commitment to education
Soares said he was home schooled for his whole life.
He emphasized that while homeschooling can sometimes get a bad reputation, his parents were quite rigorous in their approach. They coupled a focus on the education fundamentals like reading, writing, math, and science with a focus on community service and other types of learning like music and 4-H—and he was always able to find time for it all.
“It gave me a lot of that kind of flexibility, where I could be done school by 2 o’clock then we’d go volunteering at a nursing home,” he said. “Or I played guitar, and my family all played instruments, so we’d practice a couple hours a day together.”
The ability to work his school schedule around the other things happening in his life was something that set Soares up for success with AU, and something he has continued to pursue through his AU experience and beyond.
Athabasca University a natural fit
The transition into post-secondary education was an easy one for Soares, who specifically chose AU because of the self-directed approach.
“The transition was extremely smooth for me,” he said. “I love the approach where you can take as many courses as you want in a modular manner, and that flexibility as well where they say, ‘Here’s all your course work. You have 6 months.’”
In the same way that flexibility allowed him to pursue a wide variety of interests while completing his home schooling, the flexibility AU provides has allowed him to pursue a variety of other interests while completing his degree—including looking deeper into what he was learning in his courses.
“I can pick out something from a course, mull it over a bit better, and develop those critical thinking skills,” he said. “It gave me a head start, I think, when it came to work interviews.”
Accessibility support from AU
Soares chose AU because of the learning flexibility, but also found a supportive team at Accessibility Services. He is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other, which makes transportation a big challenge.
“I can drive, but I try to avoid driving at night. So a 7-10 p.m. lecture or exam at a regular college, there’s no way I could have transported myself to and from that.” he said.
He said for other learners with disabilities wondering about the accessibility services team at AU, the team was very helpful with his accommodations.
“If you plan it out right and give the office lots of time, there were no problems whatsoever,” he said. “This is one of the most accommodating post-secondary institutions I’m aware of. Extremely good in that respect.”
AU degree a stepping stone to much more
Soares has been accepted into a part-time master of engineering in software engineering program at the University of Western Ontario, and plans to continue working as a software developer while he pursues his studies.
Although he has considered the possibility of following that up with a doctoral degree, he said he’s much more interested in the practical hands-on industry side of the field than he is in doing research.
That said, he’s still open to the idea of working as an educator.
“At some point I wouldn’t mind teaching, whether that’s full-circle at Athabasca University again if there are opportunities there, or elsewhere.”