The occupational therapy programs on Gannon University’s campuses in Erie and Ruskin, Florida are collectively among the University’s largest in terms of enrollment. So, it’s no surprise that the observance of National Occupational Therapy month throughout April has been a flurry of events, celebrations and service.

Ruskin OT students volunteering at Inspired Living on St. Patrick’s Day

The third-year students in Gannon’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program at its Ruskin campus celebrated OT Month in the most appropriate way—through service to their community. Students and faculty developed a series of three, one-day events to promote the field of occupational therapy through advocacy and public education of federal and state legislative issues that affect the field, its practitioners and clients.

The students and faculty developed the events as part of the Professional Issues Seminar course, which focuses on healthcare delivery systems; analysis of current social, political, cultural and economic change; continuing professional development; and contributions to the profession and society.

The one-day events were hosted at Hand Works Therapy, The Hand Rehabilitation Center of Florida and on campus as well. At each event, students spent the day educating clients on the role and purpose of occupational therapy. They shared information about different bills and laws that may be impacting the field in various ways and walked clients and students through how to contact members of Congress in relation to these issues.

“Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession with the goal of helping people across their lifespan to participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities,” said OTD student Selena Hengy.

“Like many other healthcare professions, occupational therapy continues to be impacted by many federal and state legislative issues,” she said. “As a part of OT Month, Ruskin, Florida OTD students gave back to the profession by advocating for these issues and making the public aware that they too can support and help make a difference to the field of occupational therapy.”

First-year students in the OTD program also gave back to the community and spent valued time with residents of a local, memory care facility, Inspired Living, where they socialized with residents to encourage memory stimulation and develop communication skills.

Additionally, Assistant Professor of the OTD program, Stephanie Adams, DHSc, OTR/L, worked with the third-year OTD students in her Advanced Interventions course and Fran Carlin-Rogers, a National CarFit Instructor, to team up with the CarFit program to help drivers at the Gulfport Senior Center.

The students assessed various drivers on how their car fits them and provided recommendations as needed for a driver to feel more confident during community mobility access, and for a safer and more comfortable drive.

CarFit is an organization sponsored by the Department of Transportation, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), that is entirely run by volunteers and holds multiple events in Florida and across the United States.

“The CarFit program is a wonderful benefit to help aging drivers and can provide simple solutions during a brief checklist to be sure that the driver is comfortable with their vehicle,” said Adams.

Near the Erie campus, students, faculty and alumni held several events in honor of OT Month. Student and faculty members of the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association (POTA) held a purse bingo event to raise funds for POTA’s Political Action Committee (PAC). While, student members of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) held a splint art making contest to bring awareness to the creativity element of the OT profession.

The Gannon University chapter of Pi Theta Epsilon Honor Society for Occupational Therapy (OT) students and alumni also hosted Dining in the Dark, an event to increase awareness and promote advocacy for individuals who experience low vision or no vision. Through this event, a donation of over $400 was provided to The Sight Center of Northwest PA.

“Occupational therapists advocate for disability awareness and support this mission throughout our Erie community, as exemplified by this event,” said Bernadette Hattjar, Dr.OT, associate professor of occupational therapy.

Students and faculty from both campuses came together at the end of April to participate in the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) 2018 Annual Conference & Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is the largest gathering of occupational therapy practitioners and students in the world.

In support of the students, several members of both campuses were in attendance, including Lindsay Church an instructor of the Master’s program in Erie.

“I am thankful that I had the opportunity to attend the AOTA conference in Salt Lake City. I was able to not only enjoy watching our MS OT students revel in the excitement of their first conference, but I was also able to meet our Ruskin OTD family,” said Church.

“In accordance with Amy Lamb’s presidential address and Vision 2025, I feel that our Gannon students are well supported to embrace a growth mindset to prepare them to become quality OT practitioners that foster innovation to drive change within the profession,” she said.

Students also gained valuable professional development, networking and real-world experience while attending the conference.

Ruskin OTD student Sue Ram with AOTA speaker Nyle DiMarco.

Ruskin campus OTD student Alexis Woodhouse presented her adaptive equipment she designed to a panel of judges and showcased the invention to the 10,000 occupational therapy practitioners and students at the conference in Salt Lakes. Her design, which was originally created as a class assignment, is an adaptive tool to assist with cutting food easily and safely.

“My time at Gannon prepared me more than I can ever put into words for this experience. I was not only prepared, but I had so much support from my family, friends and my entire campus,” said Woodhouse.

“This opportunity taught me more about my creativity and potential avenues for my career than any other experience thus far,” she said. “I had the opportunity to meet wonderful, innovative minds and professionals that are paving the way for occupational therapists everywhere.”

To learn more about Gannon University’s occupational therapy programs, visit