Category Archives: Students

Student Reflects on Fieldwork at AOTA

Clarice Miller from the Class of 2017 has been completing her 3rd optional fieldwork this fall with the American Occupational Therapy Association.  She wrote a reflection on her time at AOTA and its impact on her future plans:

My experience at AOTA has been amazing. Everyone is welcoming and I am an active member of our team. I primarily work with our Federal Affairs Team and occasionally collaborate with our Regulatory and State Affairs Team. My typical week involves attending and reporting on Congressional Hearings on the Hill, attending meetings with Congressional Staff with AOTA lobbyists, and meeting Congressmen and women who are supportive of occupational therapy. Additionally, I participated in numerous other educational opportunities such as attending the Learning and Action Network (LAN) Summit on payment reform, meeting with AOTA employees and AOTA Board Members, attending coalition meetings, attending events about the Opioid Crisis and Center for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) payment reform, and various other projects. It has been a “choose your own adventure” type of fieldwork and I chose to focus on issues primarily affecting Medicaid and Medicare.

It has been wonderful to see all of the work that AOTA does to support occupational therapy practitioners and the care and research that goes into the materials AOTA produces. I have learned so much about how federal legislation is developed and how AOTA works with other organizations and Congressional Committees and staff to negotiate the content of a bill to best support occupational therapy practitioners and their clients. A majority of our meetings involved negotiating a solution to the therapy cap and advocating for our home health bill which will permit occupational therapists to open home health cases.

For my personal projects, I follow health news closely and look for anything that may impact our profession. One of my main projects has been to thoroughly research Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and assess the role of occupational therapy in those payment models. I will produce a report of my findings and identify how occupational therapy practitioners can meet the goals of an ACO and where there is potential for emerging areas of practice. Additionally, I researched and reported on the new HHS and CMS rule about the HCAHPS pain management survey questions and wrote a blog post on OT Connections about my personal journey to become more politically engaged.

Moving forward, I plan to enter the field as a practitioner while continuing to advocate for occupational therapy at both the state and federal level. I will pursue opportunities to work on my state senator’s campaign, work with my state association on legislative goals, and continue to seek opportunities to work with AOTA. After this fieldwork, I have a better appreciation of AOTA and have a better understanding of what it means to be an occupational therapy practitioner. I feel more confident in my ability to define occupational therapy and communicate why it is vital that our services continue to be valued and supported by payment reform and value-based care incentives. My exact path and what future degrees I will pursue is unclear, but I know that advocating for the inclusion and advancement of occupational therapy in the changing healthcare structure is my main goal, no matter the job title.

OT Students Organize Bus Demo

Photo courtesy of Barrier Free Living

Our students have been working hard all summer at their Level II fieldwork placements in Mental Health, Physical Disabilities, and Pediatrics and accomplishing wonderful things.  One group of students completing Level II Mental Health fieldwork at Barrier Free Living ( wanted to increase their client’s access to transportation.  They invited an MTA bus to come to the transitional housing site to educate the residents about the accessibility of the bus system.  OT student Amanda Rubin, who spearheaded the project, explained that a majority of the residents use motorized wheelchairs or scooters and were often dependent on Access-A-Ride, which sometimes came too late or too early.

More than 10 residents took part in the demonstration.  They all had the opportunity to enter, settle, and exit the bus with the assistance of the OT Department and an MTA bus driver.  Each person had different needs based on their specific disability and adaptive equipment.  They also learned how to communicate with the bus driver in order to get their needs met.

The entire day was dedicated to helping residents learn their rights, how to best advocate for themselves, and how to independently use public transportation.


MS2 Students Present Their Older Adult and Grantwriting Projects

Last week, the MS2 class presented posters about their projects for their Older Adult and Grantwriting classes, run by Professor Phyllis Simon and Dr. Lenin Grajo.  The students used the needs of their Level 1 Older Adult fieldwork sites to generate grant proposals and suggested funding agencies that might accept the proposals.  The students also ran programs at their older adult fieldwork sites, which included senior centers, day programs, NORCs, and home visits.   They met with their sites in the fall to do a needs analysis, and then returned once a week for ten weeks for their fieldwork this spring.

Students were divided into groups, and each group presented for an hour to their classmates, the MS1 class, OT and PT faculty, OT program staff, and staff and participants from their fieldwork sites.  One of the fieldwork site staff members who attended said that having the students, “was a wonderful learning experience for everyone.  The students, our staff, and the participants.”

Many of the students ran programs around falls risk and assessment, home safety, and activity participation.

Melissa Aponte and Ivy Vega ran a bilingual group about nutrition and healthy eating at a local senior center.  Several of their participants had low literacy, so they created a visual nutritional assessment appropriate for their population.

Margo Stoner and Michelle Hogan teamed up with the Center for Hearing and Communication to bring a hearing screening van to their fieldwork site, a local NORC.  Forty residents received hearing screenings, and Margo and Michelle followed up with those who had hearing loss.

Other groups focused on life reviews, stress, participating in meaningful activities in daily life, and technology.  One group helped facilitate a member run talent show, which helped increase participation in other groups, and showcased a wide variety of talents among the seniors at their site.  At least one group started by the students is being continued as a member run group.  Overall, the students did an outstanding job.

Humans of CUOT: Derek Douglas, Class of 2018


Hometown: Maryland

What brought you to OT?

There was something about OT that naturally drew me to the field, but I wasn’t able to fully understand it until my shadowing experience. The therapists I shadowed addressed more than just the injury, disease, or illness. These clinicians examined the person’s physical and emotional well-being, the environment the client lived in, and many others factors in order reengage the patient in activities they yearned to do. If I had to put my shadowing experience into one word, it would be “AMAZING.” Witnessing OTs in action inspired me to become an occupational therapist. And I am incredible grateful to be now studying occupational therapy at Columbia University.

Which OT area of practice are you interested in? 

This is a tough one to answer. I know that I’m interested in physical disabilities, but I’m keeping an open-mind as I progress through the program.

What are your favorite occupations to engage in?

Weighting lifting, Tai Chi, and playing sports.

What do you think is mankind’s greatest invention? 


If you could have a superpower, what would it be? 

Super strength so that I can be like Thor

What is your favorite thing about New York City? 

Feeling like I am at the center of the world with access to virtually any occupation I could fathom from running along the Hudson to exploring historical sites.

Columbia OT Students Compete in St. Catherine’s Challenge

In December, MS2 students Kelsey Mezrahi, Amanda Rudnick, and Sabah Hashmi organized a silent auction benefiting the AOTF St. Catherine’s Challenge. All auction items were donated and they were even lucky enough to have the professors involved.  Several professors donated themselves to spend some quality one-on-one time getting to know the winning students better!

Auction organizers with faculty members Dr. Dawn Nilsen, SOTA advisor, and Program Director Dr. Janet Falk-Kessler Auction organizers with faculty members Dr. Dawn Nilsen and Dr. Janet Falk-Kessler.


The AOTF St. Catherine Challenge is a student-led initiative to support the profession of occupational therapy by raising funds for occupational therapy research grants provided by the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. Supporting occupational therapy research means helping expand support for effective treatment methods which can improve treatment outcomes for patients in the US and across the globe. The AOTF provides funding for research across multiple domains including mental health, pediatrics, geriatrics, and physical disabilities.

The auction drew students, faculty, and staff. The auction drew students, faculty, and staff.

Columbia University participated for the first time last year and the students rallied together to raise the second most funds of any other school participating. In their first year, the students raised $3441 on behalf of St. Catherine’s Challenge and reached the gold level, and this year they plan to double it.  Anyone interested in donating can find more information here.

Columbia OT Students Bring Crafts and Cheer to Children’s Hospital

The MS2 class, led by Mari Arnaud and Daniela Gordillo, was interested in expanding the reach of their volunteer efforts, so they reached out to the Children’s Hospital of New York (CHONY) to see if they could do something to do serve the children there.


Several members of the class took a study break to help assemble play dough snowman kits for the children, which were distributed to children who were unable to leave their floor.

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Twelve students, Sarah Bunevich, Danielle Alonzi, Anna Peery, Jeanette Duong, Melissa Aponte, Diana Le, Amanda Bezerra, Sara Berke, Amy Ransohoff, Elizabeth May, Ivy Vega, and Daniela Gordillo, went to CHONY to do arts and crafts with the children who were able to attend.  While most of the 200 children at CHONY are too immunosuppressed to interact with visitors, 50 children were able to participate in the project.


The students said their time at CHONY was very inspiring and a wonderful opportunity to take a break and do something hands-on with kids.  The children also benefited from being able to take a break from examinations and testing in the hospital.  The students are planning another visit for the spring and hope that this is the beginning of a relationship between CUOT and CHONY that will continue.

Humans of CUOT: Kathleen Chu


Kathleen Chu, Class of 2018

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Why occupational therapy?

When I first heard of occupational therapy, I fell in love with its purpose. Life is a gift and everyone deserves to be given the opportunity to live life to its fullest. Occupational therapists assist people, despite the limitations of their disability, environment, injury, or lifestyle, to perform their everyday life activities for a healthier, happier, and more meaningful life. I believe there is nothing more rewarding than to improve the quality of life for others.

What area of practice are you interested in?

Rehab! But I am also very excited to learn more about the mental health and cognitive aspects of this field.

What does your ideal Saturday look like?

Relaxing in the park or by the beach, listening to soothing music and journalling, and then meeting up with friends for dinner.

If we opened your fridge, what would we see?

Avocados!! And a lot of Trader Joe’s products (I love their hummus spreads and guacamole), kale, arugula, sprouted bread, rice, and lots of eggs!

What is the #1 most played song on your playlist?

Good Good Father by Housefires

Columbia OT Students Give Back to the Community

Columbia OT students spend a lot of time giving back to the community around them, both in class and in their free time.

Our program has a long standing partnership with the Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership (CHHMP), where students provide occupational therapy services under the direction of faculty and licensed occupational therapists.  The program also allows students to work interprofessionally with medical, dental, and psychiatry students.

Students also connect with the community through their classwork.  Recently in Introduction to Grant Writing, the second year students worked in groups to discuss evidence for the different roles of OT in community programming.



As part of their Geriatrics course, groups of students gave presentations about falls prevention at several local senior centers for Falls Prevention Month.   They shared resources about falls prevention and performed falls screenings.

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