Clarkson University
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A collaborative, career-readying education in Occupational Therapy

Interdisciplinary collaboration can be incredibly powerful. While there may be initial issues in getting people together, two heads are ultimately better than one — especially if they have varied approaches to problem-solving, critical thinking and analyzing data. Research shows that working with individuals from different fields of study often helps with tackling an issue in a more comprehensive, all-rounded manner.

Take the research and development happening at Clarkson University. Here, professors in Occupational Therapy support their students who are working with engineers, using the advances of modern technology to help individuals live safely, independently, and comfortably. Occupational Therapy students combine their clinical approaches with the engineers’ expertise in assistive robotics and intelligent control systems with smart materials and advanced manufacturing — and create more effective, novel devices to support people facing mobility and other issues, from children to those adapting to issues of aging.

“One of the largest benefits to OT and engineering collaboration is the chance for both sets of students to view a problem from a different perspective and learn to speak each other’s languages to some extent,” notes Clinical Assistant Professor Beth Randall, who is currently overseeing the work of two OT students partnering with engineering colleagues. “These collaborations help both sides appreciate the skill sets of the others and, we hope, end in a practical solution for individuals facing real-time challenges that aren’t met by existing commercial solutions.”

The engineering faculty see the benefits as well. “While Clarkson University’s occupational therapists can assist patients with simple adaptations and accessing established assistive technologies, often there are challenges faced by individuals that cannot be solved through the use of existing technology,” explains Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Michael Bazzocchi. The aim, he continues, is to work together in finding solutions to these challenges — and bettering the lives of everyday people along the way.

Such initiatives are common among students in the Occupational Therapy program at Clarkson. The program provides students with the academic abilities, skills, personal development, and insight needed to succeed as occupational therapists. Upon completing the program, they’ll be able to use their knowledge to help patients improve their own psychological, physical, emotional, and social participation in their daily lives.

Clarkson University

Source: Clarkson University

At its core, Clarkson’s Occupational Therapy program teaches students how science and technology are used to serve humanity. A prime way of doing so is through its focus on assistive technology. The curriculum offers a class dedicated to exploring assistive technology across a variety of occupations. Another is by providing opportunities to get practical, hands-on experiences in handling, using, and understanding assistive technology.

Clarkson OT students have access to a range of assistive technology resources to aid in their learning. This includes the Assistive Technology Resource and Education Center, which acts as an offshoot of the New York State’s TRAID Program, providing assistive technology information, demonstrations and loans to the community. As a part of this New York program, Clarkson can expose students to the needs of disabled individuals, and explore how professionals can work to improve conditions for them.

The center is often used by Clarkson students for their capstone projects. From a multi-year project on adaptive video gameplay to adding durable medical equipment to loan resources, they’re working on finding new ways to address the problems faced by everyday individuals.

On a daily basis, Clarkson students have access to a wide range of assistive technology for their own personal learning. Two 3D printers are available to create custom adaptive equipment for assignments or to support community members and projects. State-of-the-art laboratory environments are put in place to simulate learning environments to help them do so. These include the Smart Simulation Lab and Assistive Technology Lab.

With these, students can use simulated living experiences and cutting-edge technology to help inform their own educational journeys. They can reproduce an actual living space and apply innovative solutions to everyday challenges. Students at Clarkson have navigated obstacles and come up with low vision supports, adaptive driving, assistive technology and environmental controls to address them.

Clarkson University

Clarkson fosters a supportive network of students who work together to achieve their goals. Source: Clarkson University

A great example is by considering how Smart Home devices, while helpful for most, may not work in the context of those with disabilities, the aging population, and others. To consider this, the Simulation Lab has a Smart Home demonstration center — established as a student capstone project — where Clarkson learners and community members can learn more. They can test out Smart Home solutions including lighting, security, accessibility and safety technology and apply them to different contexts.

Of course, occupational therapists are not always able to come up with all the solutions — which is why they regularly collaborate and gain insights from other disciplines in the university. Working with the mechanical engineering department, who are familiar with the design and manufacturing of new technology and devices, can be a great help in this regard.

Clarkson’s approach of blending classroom learning with research and applied experiences works. 2020 saw a 97% university placement rate among students; 2021 saw a 100% NBCOT exam pass rate. Clearly, Clarkson students are graduating with the skills, knowledge and ambition to help others better their lives. Most importantly, however, they are learning the value of working with others to do so — and how interdisciplinary collaboration can create more effective, more purposeful solutions for everyone.

To request more information about occupational therapy at Clarkson, click here.

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