ETRA Graduate Student Association sees benefits of community, communication

Olha Ketsman
Olha Ketsman

Student-Centered. Experiential. Research-Informed. Inclusive. Collaborative. Innovative.

The Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment’s Graduate Student Association (ETRA GSA) meets all of these values of the college’s Strategic Action Planning Framework – and more, including informative.

Made for and led by students, all ETRA graduate students and even alumni are encouraged to take part in the organization and in the many benefits that come with it.

“ETRA GSA provides a lot of excellent opportunities for students such as professional development, Coffee Hour events, listening to the speakers at the colloquiums,” says Olha Ketsman, clinical assistant professor and the group’s adviser.

“We have been consistently applying for a budget for the ETRA GSA, and we have been successful in securing that budget, so this year we actually included in the budget some expenses for student conference participation,” she adds.

“In November, we have a big conference in our field – the Association for Educational Communications and Technology – and members of ETRA GSA were able to apply for funding through the ETRA GSA to attend AECT either virtually or in person. Conference registration sometimes can be quite costly, so offering this benefit and allowing students to enhance their professional skills and participate in these opportunities is great.”

Dollars from the NIU Student Association also have permitted the group to secure nationally known presenters for their annual colloquia and to buy technology such as portable hard drives, headsets or even branded coffee mugs to offer as membership incentives.

Monthly meetings, meanwhile, provide time for brainstorming about ideas for future activities or what the group could do to best meet the needs of fellow students.

Sena Bulak
Sena Bulak

Recent Coffee Hour events have included panel discussions with alumni on how to transition from graduate school to the workplace, and talks from faculty members, including Todd Reeves, who discussed publishing in peer-reviewed scholarly journals; Fatih Demir, who spoke about jobs in the User Experience field; Elizabeth Wilkins, who discussed how to optimize available graduate career and professional development resources; and Kristin Brynteson, who spoke about STEAM Learning.

ETRA GSA PRESIDENT SENA BULAK, a Ph.D. student in Instructional Technology and graduate assistant, joined the organization “because it serves as a mouthpiece for ETRA’s diverse student body” and sponsors programming that engages members with beneficial resources.

Bulak also strives to raise the bar: “I value my leadership position because I can help strengthen the bridge between students and the department,” she says.

“Personally, I am firmly dedicated toward helping others and can do so as ETRA GSA president by organizing programs and events that can aid students and accelerate their learning” she adds. “My experience here at NIU is enriched because I am able to connect with other students and faculty more easily, and I would encourage all ETRA students to join. ETRA GSA is like a family to me, and my experience at NIU would not be the same without it.”

For Cindy Koh, the ETRA GSA offers a chance to return to her roots.

Koh, who also is a Ph.D. student in Instructional Technology and a graduate assistant, serves as the Outreach and Communications chair and is the editor of the group’s monthly newsletter.

Cindy Koh
Cindy Koh

“A former committee member wanted some form of communication platform for the students, and because I have a background in journalism as well as communications, I thought I could help out in designing the newsletter,” Koh says.

“We want it to be a platform where everybody knows what’s happening with ETRA itself, among the students and with information that can benefit the students,” she adds. “It’s electronic, but you can print it because it’s in a PDF format. I think it’s been an effective way to show and communicate with others that it is a good organization to be in.”

Regular sections include a greeting from Ketsman or Bulak, reports on trends in the industry, a calendar of upcoming events and salutes to students for their achievements, including research work.

LAUNCHED IN 2014 by Ketsman, who had been a member of a similar group during her Ph.D. days at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the ETRA GSA serves another less-obvious purpose.

Koh, who worked in journalism for 15 years before “hitting the glass ceiling” and transitioning to corporate communications, enrolled in a master’s program on media strategy and leadership at Northwestern University. She then became involved in an engineering research project that needed someone to create and develop the training content, which eventually led her to NIU.

As a longtime professional based in Malaysia, Koh had truly entered a different world.

“When you reach the graduate level, usually you’re a little bit more independent in terms of how you want to learn,” Koh says.

“And when it comes to something like community support, I think some graduate students just don’t want to be a part of it. Maybe they think they’re independent,” she adds. “But actually, we need each other more than we think we know, and I think ETRA GSA is there to provide that support – and really to bridge the academic to corporate.”

Joining ETRA GSA has given her just that, she says.

“Because I’m new to the instructional technology field, this is a pivot for me,” Koh says. “I find I’ve benefited from the activities since joining the association last year. Although this past year has been pretty much working in isolation, I’ve gained a lot of insights by attending the virtual programs and they’ve been helping me in my academic and professional development.”

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