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Former AU professor to be recognized alongside grads at convocation

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AU graduates will be celebrating their accomplishments in the university's home community June 19 and 20. Here's what some students had to say about their experiences.

ATHABASCA – Convocations are a chance for universities to celebrate students, staff, and the communities they can build, and it’s no different in Athabasca. With the return of Athabasca University’s (AU) convocation ceremony, which will be held June 19 and 20, students from all over Canada will be coming into town to be recognized for their accomplishments.

Kimberley Melbourne of Ontario is one of the many online graduates who will be seeing Athabasca for the first time, and for Melbourne, it has been a long time coming.

The Human Services graduate started her university experience in 2013 in the field of Psychology. By taking two courses a year and taking advantage of the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) program, Melbourne was able to balance her schooling with the day-to-day realities of being a mom to two kids on the autism spectrum and managing her own health issues.

“I’ve been a human services practitioner for almost 30 years not knowing that there was a title,” said Melbourne, who spent her career working in adult education and change management. “I’ve been entrenched in autism support and services, and I’ve been literally making up the services that I needed myself because there weren’t any available.”

Melbourne turned to AU after a snowmobile accident left her with a brain injury in 2009. While recovering from the event, which Melbourne said turned everyday events like reading a novel into a struggle, she realized she wasn’t struggling with academic content in the same way.

“I decided instead of reading fiction, I’m going to read university textbooks because one of my personal goals was always to have a university degree,” said Melbourne. “If my brain is telling me I need academia and my soul needs to be a university graduate, let’s just do that.”

Success in business and in education

The 2024 convocation features seven local graduates — six from Athabasca and one from Boyle, according to a university spokesperson — and one of them has wasted little time in putting his graduate education to good use.

John Semashkewich acquired his masters in business administration from AU, and he said the flexible online scheduling was a big help in recognizing his goal.

“Throughout my master's, I was able to juggle both my schooling and personal life while simultaneously advancing my career. Not many universities accommodate students who work full time,” said Semashkewich. “AU is recognized globally and is one of the world’s best business schools. I’m quite proud to be an AU graduate.”

Semashkewich’s parents are both well-known figures in the Athabasca business community — his mother Penny runs Penny’s Headquarters, and his father Lewis runs Melewka Structures and Design where John works as the chief operations officer — and he said he was looking forward to passing those lessons along to his own children.

“I want to set an example for my kids and show them just how important education is,” said Semashkewich. “You don’t have to settle for mediocracy.”

Semashkewich said he one day hopes to pursue a doctorate in business, but first comes celebrating his MBA here at home.

“It’s been a full circle moment for me. Not only was I raised here, but I graduated from high school and now my masters here,” said Semashkewich. “It’s incredible what this small town has to offer and the success stories that have come from here.”

Giving back to the community

AU will also be recognizing a former professor who’s spent his career in the area. Dr. Mike Gismondi helped pioneer the schools Master of Arts in Integrated Studies (MAIS) program, and cofounded the Synergia Cooperative Institute, an international network committed to sustainability through progressive system changes. During convocation, he’ll be appointed to the Order of AU, which recognizes university representative’s contributions to the school, community, and society.

Gismondi has accomplished many things since moving to Athabasca in the 1980s, but he summed up his highlights, which included fighting to make sure Al-Pac had proper pollution and quality controls in place and a near decade-long stint on Athabasca’s town council.

"Who you meet will bring you as far as the degrees you earn. I came to AU on a friend’s call, then I fought a pulp mill, taught green practices in Asia and Latin America, started a global educational co-op and the MAIS program, interpreted Athabasca heritage, sat on town council, and on,” he said. “May public engagement and social responsibility guide you.”

Gismondi said while it was nice to be recognized, he was but one staff member among many who would qualify for the honour.

“It’s nice to be recognized but it’s not just me. There are so many staff who are volunteering their time as coaches, or as mentors,” said Gismondi. “AU benefits from that alongside the town.”

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