“I’m a career changer,” says Renée Petrina. Her path from journalist to manager in Indiana University’s IT organization is a story of evolving interests and the way online learning can transform interests into opportunities.
Petrina had fully expected to make journalism her lifelong career. She’d been working for three years as a nightside copy editor at the Indianapolis Star when she was affected by a round of layoffs. She was able to parlay her experience as a journalist into a position as full-time lecturer in news curricula at Ball State. While there, she became interested in course design and training faculty to teach online—just as online pedagogy was gaining traction among more professors.
That interest led to a job at IU Southeast in the Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE). ILTE trains faculty to leverage pedagogical technologies that improve student learning. Here Petrina conducted faculty training programs and workshops, supported teaching pedagogy, and helped faculty transition to the Canvas learning management system. As Petrina worked with faculty, her interests continued to evolve, this time toward research: Why do faculty choose some tools and not others? What’s the most effective way to provide students with feedback that improves their comprehension and performance?
A practical choice
Graduate school seemed the logical next step, and online learning offered a clear path forward given Petrina’s full-time position and her desire to start a family. “I decided to use my IU tuition benefits and start with a certificate course. I was glad to find you didn’t need to be a degree-seeking student to take a certificate course,” says Petrina, who hadn’t been in college for a decade and wanted to ease back into the workload.
Many of her fellow online students were working adults looking for career advancement. They included K–12 teachers and members of the corporate world. Some were IU staff who, like her, used their tuition benefit to study online. “Online learning appeals to IU employees looking for the best way to balance learning, work, and family life. There’s so much opportunity for professional development or exploring personal interests.”
Petrina’s online program blended the academic and the practical. Discussions of assigned readings were enriched by the diverse perspectives of working students and the variety of backgrounds they brought to the table. Team assignments focused on creating projects for authentic clients. One client used the results of a group analysis to secure funding for a new initiative. Another used Petrina’s human-resource development project to plan a team retreat.
A path to transition
One online course at a time, Petrina earned an MSEd in Instructional Systems Technology (IST) through the IU Bloomington School of Education. The IU diploma was especially meaningful to her. “IU’s program in IST is highly regarded. Some of the founding scholars in the field were at IU.” Petrina credits her time as an online student with making her more effective in supporting faculty who teach online. For the past four years, she’s been an online instructional designer with eLearning Design & Services (eDS), an IU team that supports online faculty across the state. “Given my experience as an online student, I had an in-depth understanding of how online instructors can find the best fit to help their students succeed.” Petrina’s career continues to evolve. In March she was promoted to manager of online learning scaled partnerships, where she oversees support for IU’s partnership with edX.org.
Are you considering it?
To those considering online learning, Petrina says, “There’s so much out there you can learn. Faculty understand that people choose online programs for a reason—the constraints of a full-time job, inability to relocate, family obligations. I work with faculty in all programs, across all campuses, and know they get it.” To illustrate the point, Petrina notes how a former instructor, upon seeing Petrina for the first time in a while, asked Petrina how her child was doing—Petrina had given birth while a student in the instructor’s course.
“People who work for IU have a great tuition benefit,” she says. “There are many like me who’ve completed degrees online and advanced in their careers. Are you interested in something? I know professors who take online classes outside their professional discipline, just for fun. With seven campuses, there are so many offerings. Online is a great way to be a learner. Do it!”