Distance ed assists busy performers

A harmonious arrangement

(September 23, 1999, Gazette)

By Mary Elizabeth Archer
Special to the Gazette

Distance education is music to the ears of two well-known performers who show us how to balance university education and career.

Think you have a busy schedule?

Try combining university studies with performing five nights a week until 4 a.m. like Scott Graham of Celtic Connection. Or keeping up with assignments while spending weekends traveling between gigs on top of rehearsals three nights a week like Karen Anne Ennis of the Ennis Sisters. You're talking two very motivated individuals.

Theirs is a world where night becomes day and day becomes night, where buses and hotels can become second homes. It's pretty hard to fit postsecondary education into that picture, but it's what Mr. Graham and Ms. Ennis have been doing successfully.

After both doing a turn as full-time Memorial University students, it quickly became clear to Mr. Graham and Ms. Ennis that two conflicting, but equally important, vocations weren't going to work. There had to be a better accommodation. The School of Continuing Education gave them the solution they were looking for.

"I place a high value on education because it's always there to fall back on if the music doesn't work out," explained Ms. Ennis. "With the distance education, it allows you to do your studies and your music at the same time."

Ms. Ennis discovered a love for linguistics in her first year and, although she notes there are as yet no linguistics courses offered through Continuing Education, she's been taking psychology and sociology by distance with an eye to specializing in speech pathology.

Despite Ms. Ennis's determination to pursue higher learning, she does admit feeling trepidation when she first decided to try a correspondence course.

"First of all I thought I'd feel very isolated. I'm here by myself doing this, and am I able to do it?"

Any fears she might have had were quickly allayed.

"With the way the courses are designed, it really helps," she said, noting, "it takes a lot of discipline, I found."

Mr. Graham relates a similar experience. He says he finds time management to be the most challenging aspect of distance education, but the effort is not without its rewards.

"I don't really enjoy it when you have to do a lot of work in one night; but when you sit back after you get a mark you're happy with and you realize you've learned something, I find that really enjoyable."

As a stalwart entrepreneur from the age of 14 when he ran a snack shop outside his father's fish plant, Mr. Graham had no doubt about the direction his university education would take.

"I want a business degree," he said. "I want to be in business for myself, like I am now (with Celtic Connection), for the rest of my life. I don't want to accept a cheque from anybody else."

In the five years Mr. Graham has given himself to complete his degree, he should be able to complete all the credits he needs by distance; business courses are by far the majority among the school's distance offerings.

Mr. Graham and Ms. Ennis agree that budgeting one's time is the primary consideration.

Ms. Ennis likes to capitalize on down times between gigs such as during air travel.

"My sisters are there snoozing 'er up and I'm there with my books," she chuckled.

Mr. Graham recommends taking a half-an-hour to an hour each day to work on each course, though he notes wryly, "I should probably start by taking my own advice!"