Collaborating Across Time

Modern scientific research has evolved into a complex, multi-faceted process in which collaboration is key. For Karl V. Schultz, PhD, that desire to find a research collaborator reached beyond his lifetime when he made his son, Gordon Burkhart-Schultz, the Successor Trustee Executor of his estate.

“Suddenly, I found myself tasked with finding a collaborator to understand and formalize my father’s life’s work – something he was not able to accomplish after trying for more than 30 years,” Burkhart-Schultz says. “A daunting task indeed, but one I was honored to take on.”

Decades of dedication and development

During the course of his career as a psychologist, Schultz documented the many issues people face as they live their daily lives. Using this information, he developed an instrument of 16 different scales which he would administer to the people he was counseling in private practice. The scales were designed to determine the personal values that guide a person’s life and how important each value is in their day-to-day existence.

Over time, Schultz enthusiastically utilized his instrument in every conceivable application. He used it in church support groups, community task forces, and as a consulting psychologist interviewing applicants for management positions at Simpson Strong-Tie, an international structural engineering product company. Barclay Simpson, who took over the business from his father in 1947, was a long-time colleague and friend of Schultz.

“Every management level employee hired or promoted at Simpson Strong-Tie during that time was evaluated by my father using his instrument,” Burkhart-Schultz recalls. “The Simpson Strong-Tie management team developed a comprehensive system of interviews, augmented by dad’s instrument, to gain insight into candidates. My father became a part of the Simpson Strong-Tie culture.”

Schultz also developed a close, intellectual relationship with his brother-in-law, Dr. Russell Oyer, a physician retired from a long career in family medicine. For decades, they would discuss the instrument in its various stages of development and use. Schultz had developed a manual for the instrument, which they both had a copy of. Burkhart-Schultz recalls his father sharing the various ups and downs of his work at family events and eventually saw a pattern emerging.

“It was important to him to tell, and for us to hear, his latest stories because of what the work meant to him. You could hear the excitement in his voice when he would talk about it virtually every week at our family Friday evening meals together,” Burkhart-Schultz says. “Over time, an underlying theme of these stories became the need to find a collaborator and formalize the work. My father had the unique insight needed to develop the instrument, but not the patience needed to painstakingly go through all the legal and scientific hoops required to formalize it.”

A father’s legacy; a son’s devotion

Schultz continued his search for a collaborator until his death at 86 years old.

“We figured my father was going to outlive us all,” Burkhart-Schultz remembers fondly. “Mentally, he was very sharp and he remained physically active. He was terrified of experiencing a declining mental or intellectual state, which fortunately never happened.”

For years, Schultz made regular trips to Argentina to visit his daughter Korine and his only grandson, Marcos. In 2006, Burkhart-Schultz’s wife Karolyn arranged for him to make his periodic trip to Argentina – but quite uncharacteristically Schultz told her to cancel his airline reservation.

“My father told her he had too much to do. This raised a red-flag as he always very much looked forward to such trips to see the family in Argentina. I remember he then suddenly plunged himself into a concentrated, almost obsessive effort to make revisions to the manual, consulting with Uncle Russ on these edits and changes,” Burkhart-Schultz says. “Knowing how much he loved spending time with his grandson, his daughter Korine commented, ‘something is not quite right with grandpa’ and so Korine and Marcos decided to come to the U. S. to visit our father instead.”

Two weeks after that visit, Schultz died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm.

“In spite of being in very good health, it was almost as if dad knew on some level that his time was limited. It was a very difficult time for my family and for me. I was grieving the loss of my father, and I had also been named Successor Trustee of his estate,” Burkhart-Schultz says.

Because such a large part of Schultz’s identity was tied to his Mennonite upbringing, his son decided to start with Bluffton University in Ohio, his father’s alma mater and where the Trust had already made a bequest. Burkhart-Schultz was surprised to learn that his father had visited the college the previous year trying, unsuccessfully, to find someone willing to collaborate with him.

“My father had a certain way of presenting his work, which is not how I typically would present it to a potential collaborator. He would present on what he found fascinating about it, not the other way around – first find out what interests the person you are talking to – in an effort to find out what would attract a potential collaborator,” Burkhart-Schultz says. “After I spoke with them using the latter approach, they felt they could find a fit. I flew to Bluffton University to meet with them in person to further explain my father’s intentions. They assigned the head of the psychology department to the project, received the funds and I left feeling my father’s work was finally in the right hands to be carried on and formalized.”

Two years later, the Burkhart-Schultz family traveled back to Bluffton University for a presentation on their use of the funds and update on their continuation of the research. Minutes into the presentation, it was clear to Burkhart-Schultz that they had emphasized a different direction from what his father had intended.

“If my father had unlimited resources, he would have been happy to fund the program they created. However, what they were doing was only tangentially related to his work,” Burkhart-Schultz explains. “I left feeling rather despondent because I had been entrusted with this responsibility and I wanted to honor his wishes as any son or daughter would. I loved my father, but for me this responsibility had an added dimension. My father and I certainly respected each other but we definitely looked at the world rather differently and we didn’t have a lot in common. After he passed, fulfilling this wish was something meaningful I could do for him that I couldn’t do when he was alive.”

Following his visit to Bluffton University, Burkhart-Schultz had scheduled a visit with his Uncle Russ in Bloomington, Ill. He told his uncle what had happened and asked for his input. Oyer could not provide an answer, but did offer something to Burkhart-Schultz that would lead to it.

“Uncle Russ said he had an early copy of the manual. Since my father was no longer here to discuss it with him, he gave it to me,” Schultz says. “Our next travel stop was St. Louis to meet with Dr. Carolyn Baum at the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine. My mother, Pauline Cid Schultz, an alumna, had funded a scholarship, and the OT Program wanted to meet the family and thank us. So I put the manual in my suitcase … and off we went!”

The right moment at the right time

Baum planned an entire day of presentations and activities for the family. Nearly midway through the morning, she began to speak of the Program’s research orientation and initiatives, as well as its collaborative nature with multiple disciplines.That conversation marked a turning point for Burkhart-Schultz and his family.

“As Dr. Baum spoke, my wife, sister and I started looking at each other with wide eyes because we were thinking the same thing—‘dad’s work!’” Burkhart-Schultz recalls. “I was literally bouncing in my chair and asked Dr. Baum if I could speak with her privately for just ten minutes at the end of their presentations about my father’s work and the funding my father had left for continuing this work. Then, I raced out the door and back to the hotel to get the manual Uncle Russ had fortuitously given me the day before. I put it on her desk and she began looking through it. Just minutes later, Dr. Baum asked me if I knew what we had here. It was clear to me in that moment that she ‘got’ it. She understood my father’s work. Something nobody else had ever been able to do. Finally after nearly 30 years, the search for a collaborator was over.

“Looking at the convoluted path this took it is clear that I could not have possibly planned to make this happen. Having the fulfillment of my dad’s lifelong work converge with the love and passion of my mother’s life in the way that it did, is quite special. There is no doubt in my mind that it was meant to be,” he says.

After reviewing the manual in depth, Baum had a series of conversations with Lisa Tabor Connor, PhD, about how to proceed with the psychometric work and the possibly of using it with the Activity Card Sort (ACS), which measures an individual’s occupational performance. Connor and her lab began the data collection process needed to validate Schultz’s work.

“The 16 scales Schultz developed needed to be administered on a population of healthy individuals. We recruited this sample group from Volunteers for Health and administered the Schultz Lifestyle Profile Series (SLPS) and the ACS to 89 people,” Connor says. “Dr. Baum and I wanted to examine the relationship between what people value and what is meaningful to them and how that plays out in the activities they do. That is where the OT component comes in. The research was driven by two questions: Can we use an instrument like the SLPS to understand better why people choose to do the types of activities that they do? Is that reflected in the values they have?”

Connor and her students conducted three waves of data collection and analysis to bring them successively closer to what she thinks is the way OTs in particular could use the instrument to help understand what people value and the meaning they assign to the activities they do. “One of our OT tenets is that we want to enable people to participate in the things they need and want to do. But how do we know what is considered highly valuable to a person? We know what they do, but does it reflect their underlying values? This is the instrument that can help us evaluate what their values are and design better interventions based on the results,” Connor says.

Throughout the entire process, both Baum and Connor approached the research as a collaborative effort with Schultz. “We have added our own ideas and philosophies on occupation to further develop this instrument. However, we have kept in close communication with the Burkhart-Schultz family to make sure this is the direction their father would have wanted,” Baum says.

“The manual was really a guide to his thinking. He didn’t write it that way, but I have gone back to it many times during the validation process just to make sure I’m really understanding where Dr. Schultz was coming from and what was his intention,” Connor explains. “As we continue to develop this instrument, we will statistically reduce the items to those that hold the most variance. The final instrument may be somewhat different from what he left behind, but it will definitely be within the spirit and the context of his guiding principles during his development of it.”

A valuable resource for OTs

In June 2014, Baum and Connor presented their work, the Schultz Lifestyle Profile Series Instrument: Psychometric Properties and Relationship with Activity Participation, at the 16th International Congress of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) in Yokohama, Japan.

Both Baum and Connor share a common goal to continue to refine the instrument and collect data with the goal of publishing it by the end of the current year, as well as the vision for the SLPS to serve as a valuable resources for OTs to better understand their clients’ persepectives and values.

“The SLPS will help OTs be more client-centered. We tend to use interviews and occupational profiles to figure out the things people need and want to do, but we don’t often probe directly what their values are and the meaning that they attach to their various activities,” Connor says. “This will give OTs a more formalized way to assess that component.”

In addition, Baum sees wider applications for the instrument’s use.

“I think the tool gives clinicians real opportunities to have discussions with their clients and their clients’ families about things that, though intangible, become tangible when you measure them. This will be a wonderful tool and will extend beyond occupational therapists’ use.”

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