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Advocate for Success

Alumnus Ethan Balkin reflects on life lessons from MU mentors

Story by Sarah Sabatke
Photos courtesy of Ethan Balkin

Published April 5, 2017
Updated April 10, 2017

Ethan Balkin

Students pose with the traditional Helmet Car during the 2003 MU Homecoming Parade. Balkin is in the center with hands on his knees.

Ethan Balkin vividly remembers driving the helmet car on football game days at MU as a part of the Mizzou Student Athletic Board. He always looked forward to taking the field with his fellow students.

“Being able to be part of spirit organizations on campus was a big deal to me,” he said.

Athletics is only one of the activities that Balkin was involved in on campus. He also participated in research with various faculty mentors throughout his four years as an undergraduate, mentors whom he says shaped his academic and professional career — both at MU and beyond. His mentors included J. David Robertson, who is currently the associate director of research and education at the University of Missouri Research Reactor.

Ethan Balkin

Balkin, left, huddles with friends during the blackout-themed MU football game in 2008. 

Balkin completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at MU in 2004, and continued on to obtain his Ph.D. in 2011 from MU through the Pathobiology Area Program. His dissertation research was in targeted radiopharmaceutical development and therapy.

But college life wasn’t always that simple for him. After a particularly difficult semester early in his academic career, Balkin realized that something wasn’t quite right.

He sought out the assistance of the Office of Disability Services, now referred to as the Disability Center.

“I managed to get through school, up through college, without any assistance,” said Balkin. “I was one of those … [who] can get through undiagnosed, unserviced. You develop a strategy to deal with things that cause you more difficulty than others. And that was all well and good until I decided to take three courses on top of one another, and it basically overwhelmed my own strategies.”

The Disability Center helped Balkin learn new strategies for success and provided him with various academic accommodations, including additional exam time and a quiet, separate environment in which to take exams.

“You have to take responsibility for your own education,” Balkin said. “That means number one: self identifying, and you go and work with your professors. But that also means that you’ve got to take the responsibility to approach [the Disability Center] and schedule your exams.”

Ethan Balkin

Balkin, left, has dinner with friends from the MU Student Athletic Board before one of MU's home football games in 2009.

During his time at Mizzou, Balkin helped found the MU chapter of Delta Alpha Pi, a national honor society that recognizes high-achieving college students with disabilities.

After earning his PhD, Balkin was selected as a post-doctoral trainee at the University of Washington, where he eventually became a professor for several years. He now works with the United States Department of Energy where he continues to use the tools he learned at MU to help him succeed in all areas of life.

“Those skills of self-identifying and advocating for myself, which included making sure that my employer knew about my own situation  those are all skills that were instilled in me and taught by the Office of Disability Services.”

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Last updated: Aug. 7, 2017