Kelsey is in her first year of pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy. As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M, she served in Project Sunshine as a buddy to children with disabilities. While there, she also worked as research assistant in a spinal cord injury research laboratory and as a personal care assistant. These experiences inspired her to pursue studies in occupational therapy and created a lifelong goal of empowering people with illnesses or disabilities live their lives to their fullest potential. As an occupational therapy student, she is involved in WUSOTA, the student occupational therapy organization at Washington University School of Medicine and is active in her program's global assistance committee. She is also a student member of AOTA and WFOT. After graduation, Kelsey hopes to pursue work in the area of wheelchair fitting and training in a city and country where people with mobility impairments are not currently able to receive these services.
What was your overall feeling of being invited to participate in CGIU?
CGIU was an incredible experience! Starting a couple days before the conference, I had a wonderful opportunity to host a fellow participant from Nablus. Nablus, where she is from, is fairly close to Jericho, where my commitment takes place. Her commitment is to build children's gardens in Nablus and surrounding communities. Gardening has long been a passion of mine and I was able to show her community gardens here and the Missouri Botanical Garden and children's garden. This was just one of the awesome connections and friendships I made through CGIU. It was very interesting to hear about other participants' commitments, especially how they identified the needs in their respective communities.
How did you hear about CGI-U?
I heard about CGI-U through the community service office at Washington University.
What interested you about it?
I was interested in the opportunity to connect with other students who are passionate about the needs they see throughout the world. I am excited to hear about their commitments and talk about the different ways we hope to turn those commitments into reality.
Why did you choose to apply, and who helped you?
I chose to apply because of the knowledge and support I knew I would be able to receive from CGI-U mentors and staff. This will be my first time participating in the conference and I am looking forward to learning a lot from the people who have experiences and advice to share about turning ideas and goals into sustainable social change. At the time I applied for CGI-U, I was also applying for grant funding for my commitment. I met with two faculty members, Dr. Kathy Kniepmann and Dr. Jessica Dashner, who helped guide me in forming my proposal.
What parts of CGI-U inspired you to take your commitment to the next level?
Coming from an occupational therapy perspective, and especially working in a community and participation research lab, it was so exciting to hear how people from different backgrounds are also looking at ways to improve the well-being of all kinds of different communities with different needs. Listening to President Clinton and the countless other speakers was such an honor and they challenged me to think deeper about my commitment and the ways to encourage and ensure its sustainability.
What do you hope to gain from this experience?
I hope to learn about the process of carrying out social projects from obtaining funding, building a strong relationship with a community of people, ensuring that the change is beneficial and sustainable, and sharing my experiences with others.
What would you tell other students who are thinking about applying for similar opportunities?
Think and rethink your proposal over and over. Talk to lots of people, some who are familiar with your project and others who are not. It was make your proposal and eventual project much stronger and more thoughtful.
Favorite CGI-U Moment?
I was able to attend office hours with Sam Ancho, who is an NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals. I got to talk to him at a networking dinner and we gave each other a hard time - he played college football at the University of Texas and I am a Texas A&M grad. But more importantly we were so glad to share that we are brother and sister in Christ. He inspired me both by his discretion and boldness in sharing his faith at different points in the conference and by his desire to serve both domestically and internationally. In the U.S. he is using sports to encourage kids to be healthy, and internationally he is working with his family to help fundraise to build a hospital in Nigeria. It's a difficult thing to want to work in the U.S. when there are so many people around the world in some of the worst conditions, but equally difficult to want to work globally when there are so many people living in our country that have unmet needs. Sam is a great example to me of how to do both and keep faith first and at the center of my life.
Tell us a little about your proposal.
My proposal focuses on providing caregiver support and education to people who provide care for individuals with disabilities in Jericho, Israel. I recently traveled to Jericho on a wheelchair distribution trip. During the clinic, I met many caregivers who wanted to learn more about safe transfers, pressure sore prevention, and basic home modifications. I also think after talking with them that they could benefit from education about caregiver burden and ways to prevent burnout. My proposed project is to put together a training booklet using various resources and get it translated into Arabic. I would then like to take the booklet back to Jericho and provide it as part of a caregiver course/support group in conjunction with Seeds of Hope, a local humanitarian aid organization that we worked with to distribute the wheelchairs. I would get feedback on the training manual and then be able to provide it to organizations that sponsor wheelchair distribution trips to Arabic speaking countries.
Why did you choose Washington University School of Medicine for your education?
Washington University is a place where I knew I could receive a solid, well-rounded education. I wanted to study at a program that encouraged students to break out of the mold of what occupational therapy typically looks like and explore the passions and ideas that really drive them. The Program does this by offering so many opportunities to students to explore a research topic in-depth, get connected with services offered in their community, and think deeply about theories and evidence that should drive our future practice as occupational therapists. I was really interested in Washington University because there were great opportunities to learn both inside and outside the classroom.
What can you say about the quality of education you are receiving?
Top-notch – it’s not unusual for us to hear, “he or she is the expert in this area” when speaking of those who teach us.
What is the learning atmosphere like?
The people, classmates, faculty, and staff here are so supportive. They genuinely want to see you succeed in whatever it is that you want to do in the field of occupational therapy. Even if you want to go into nontraditional roles, they are highly encouraging and want to help you figure out how to get there. This has been very helpful as someone who is interested in the role of occupational therapists in countries where occupational therapy services are not available or even known about.
What do you like best about your classmates?
My classmates aren’t about competing for the best grades and never put one another down. They are so encouraging and always wiling to go out of their way to help.
What do you like best about the faculty?
The faculty truly enjoys their role of teaching students. This makes a huge difference in the amount of time and energy they invest in their students and in providing them with a good education.
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Current, future, and accepted applicants are encouraged to visit. We also welcome people who are exploring career options and considering occupational therapy. Dr. Kathy Kniepmann, one of our faculty members, opens our visit sessions with an informal presentation and discussion, followed by a tour that’s led by one of our current occupational therapy students.
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