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Columbia OT at AOTA 2017

Our students, faculty, and staff had a wonderful time at the 2017 American Occupational Therapy Association conference in Philadelphia last week.

For the first time ever, we had a booth in the expo hall to promote our OTD and EdD programs.  The booth was manned by faculty and staff and our programs got a lot of attention.

Our students, faculty, and alumni presented workshops and posters on a variety of topics.  Dr. Dawn Nilsen and Dr. Glen Gillen presented a pre-conference workshop.

Professor Phyllis Mirenberg Simon and her student research team presented a poster on their outstanding work creating LGBTQ competence for clinicians and promoting quality of life and positive health outcomes for this underserved population.

Dr. Sharon Gutman and Dr. Emily Raphael presented their recent work on homelessness and supportive housing with their talented research students. This area of research has been their passion for years.

Alumni of the MS and EdD programs also presented several posters.

Dr. Janet Falk-Kessler presented at the State of the Science Symposium on the science of resilience, with nods to Professor Pamela Miller.  The four presentations will be featured in an upcoming issue of OTJR. 

Columbia students won the St. Catherine Challenge, raising more than $8000 for occupational therapy research.   We were the only school to reach the Diamond Level.

We also had a wonderful time at our alumni and friends reception on Friday.  Many of our students were able to make the trip to Philly and got a chance to network with alumni.

Columbia was also featured a few times in the Centennial celebration video highlighting the history of OT.  Check it out here:

Humans of CUOT: Leah Potter, Class of 2018



Hometown: Sudbury, MA

Why OT?  I was a child development major in college, and a logical choice would have been for me to go to grad school to become a teacher, which is an excellent profession but never really appealed to me. However, I always enjoyed working with children with disabilities. The way they interact with the world is so interesting to me. One of my friends, who was also a child development major and I had a long discussion after sophomore year about what we could do with the degree after we graduated. Neither of us really knew our other options, but she mentioned Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. I’d never heard of occupational therapy, so I looked into it, specifically how occupational therapists worked with children with disabilities. I loved everything I found, how we look at the person as a whole rather than a cluster of symptoms, how we take into account the desired outcomes of the client rather than just checking healthcare boxes to get them “well.” I knew I had a lot of catching up to do regarding prerequisites, but I figured if this was something I really wanted I would actually end up liking all the extra classes I would have to take (and I did). So I finished those classes by the end of my first semester of senior year and I applied to a few schools. I really didn’t even expect to get into Columbia, that seemed like a reach to me. The first one I heard back from was a rejection, which shattered my confidence, and I thought I wouldn’t get in anywhere after that. So imagine my shock when I received the acceptance from Columbia, a school I didn’t expect to look at me twice. Sending in that application, even with all my self-doubt, was the best decision I ever made. I could not be happier to be here now.

Which OT area of practice are you interested in?  Definitely pediatrics. No question. Though I recently considered working with veterans with physical disabilities.

What are your favorite occupations to engage in? Running, snowboarding, hiking, reading, petting dogs

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?  Flying. I hate airplanes and heights, but I feel like flying would be fun.

Describe your perfect Saturday. Wake up around 9 or 9:30 and go for a run. Come back and grab a New York bagel and coffee. Get outside and do something fun with friends (walk around the park, throw a football, something relaxing but active). Plan a creative dinner (either make one or splurge and go out for Italian). Grab my pjs, a blanket and a movie and relax .

What is your favorite book? Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

CUOT Wins St. Catherine Challenge!

Columbia University Programs in Occupational Therapy has won the 2017 AOTF St. Catherine Challenge! The students raised a total of $8,012.62, far exceeding their goal of $7,000, and more than doubling their efforts in 2016.

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.

Congratulations to the students for all their hard work and to the other schools who competed.  No one loses when we all support research!

New OT Lab Opens

CUOT’s new OT laboratory space is now open on the lower level of the Hammer Health Sciences Building.  It is currently being used as a classroom space, but will soon also include lab modules, including a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a store.  The programs received a generous donation to cover the cost of the AV for the room.


The faculty and staff worked hard to set up the space, although there’s still a lot of work to be done.


We’ve come a long way from the basement of the Black Building!

Humans of CUOT: Ivy Vega, Class of 2017

ivy-vegaI decided to be an OT when I discovered how versatile and all-encompassing the profession is. I come from a dance background, so I wanted to incorporate my love for the human body into my future profession in some way. I didn’t necessarily want to pursue dance professionally, but I also didn’t want to push my passion for the art aside. I’m also very passionate about healthcare and wanted to form a career around working with people in need. OT, of course, ended up being perfect merger between my two passions and the rest is history. My fieldwork experiences have been very different from one another, but they have one thing in common. During both of my experiences, I realized just how valuable and important the little things are. Something as simple as saying good morning or playing a card game can have more of an impact on a patient or client than is immediately evident. Being an OT is as much about implementing interventions and treatment plans as it is about advocating for normalcy and equal treatment.

Columbia OT Honored by Riverdale Senior Services


The Columbia University Programs in Occupational Therapy were honored with the Riverdale Senior Services Community Partnership Award this week. They said that our “commitment and creativity has enhanced our services in many ways over the years.”

Students participate in Level 1 fieldwork at both the Senior Center and Adult Day Programs. Our relationship with Riverdale Senior Services is a long one – Professor Simon did her Level 1 fieldwork there about thirty years ago! We look forward to continuing the partnership for many years to come.

October Faculty Updates

Dr. Lenin Grajo has been invited by the American Occupational Therapy Association to co-facilitate a national Community of Practice to define, articulate and expand the role of OT in literacy development. He will be working with a core group of experts, scholars and practitioners in the field to develop new knowledge and resources about literacy. Watch out for more details very soon on how to get involved.

Dr. Lenin Grajo’s work on communities of practice to improve children’s reading difficulties was featured on the front page of OT Practice in the article “Well Read: Community of Practice Helps Therapists Support Children with Reading Difficulties”.

Dr. Janet Falk-Kessler and Dr. Sharon Gutman published “Development and Psychometric Properties of the Emotional Intelligence Admission Essay Scale” in The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy.  It is available here.

Dr. Emily Raphael-Greenfield published a chapter on “Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders” in Atchison and Dirette’s Conditions in occupational therapy: Effect on occupational performance, 5th ed.

Professor Daniel Geller and coauthors published an article, “Music upper limb therapy-integrated: an enriched collaboration approach for stroke rehabilitation” in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. It is available here.

Dr. Sharon Gutman is publishing Journal writing and publication: Your guide to mastering clinical health care reporting standards in 2017.

OT Students Build Bridges

Last week, Dr. Emily Raphael invited Professor Etta Graham, Director of Fort Washington Men’s Shelter, to speak to her Group Dynamics class about leadership. Leadership skills are critical for becoming an effective occupational therapist since OTs often hold a leadership position when working in teams and lead therapeutic groups with clients.

For a leadership lab exercise, the class was divided into groups of 11 people and each group was given the task of building a bridge that was 6 feet long and could hold two water bottles. Each group was then given a supply bag containing varying amounts of aluminum foil, paper clips, popsicle sticks, plastic knives, string, and two chairs. Our instructions were to brainstorm a plan for 10 minutes and then, without any verbal communication, build the bridge for 20 minutes. Group 3 quickly came up with the plan of using rope to form a tight base across the two chairs and then to weave the popsicle sticks and plastic knives into the rope for more support. The group designated different people to different jobs (ex. two people held the chair stable while another two focused on building the base with the rope). During the actual bridge-building part of the activity, the group ran into some unexpected problems, such as the rope getting tangled and not being taut enough to function as a good base. However, the group used a lot of hand signals for communication and all the team members stepped up to help whenever they saw that there was a need. In the end, the group was able to successfully build a bridge that could hold up two water bottles.

Group 3 with their successful bridge. Group 3 with their successful bridge. Group 1 had the fewest bridge building supplies. Group 1 had the fewest bridge building supplies. But still built a bridge that held two water bottles.

This group activity helped the class understand how to be aware of their surroundings, to think about the environment and backgrounds of their clients (some from affluent backgrounds, while others from lower socioeconomic status), and how to effectively use their resources. This activity also assisted in refining communication and teamwork strategies as they heavily relied on these skills to achieve our task goal.

To conclude the leadership lesson, Professor Graham shared some of her tips that have assisted her in her leadership role. Some that stood out to the students were:

  • Be authentic
  • Be intentional about your learning
  • Communication is key
  • Be open and approachable
  • Own your responsibilities
  • Delegate, but do not forget to check in with staff
  • Reputation: say what you mean and mean what you say
  • It is okay to say I do not know
  • Listen, listen, listen!

Lastly, Professor Graham shared one exceptional quote – “Occupational therapy looks at what you can do, not what you cannot do.”


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