Currently featured on the cover of our alumni newsletter and in the center of our Centennial logo, the familiar door graphic has been used frequently over the past 25 years on various Program in Occupational Therapy materials. The origin of the graphic, along with the name of its designer, seemed lost to time until the artist, an alumna, attended the Program’s annual alumni reception at the 95th American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Conference & Expo in Nashville, Tennessee, in April 2015.
Christine Eppert, BSOT ’90, has always had a love for the visual arts. “Growing up, I had some artistic influences; my mother had a great eye for design, and my great grandmother created beautiful handiwork even after several strokes limited her physical abilities. As a child, I spent much of my free time doing arts and crafts, and for years I created handmade gifts for my friends and family. So I guess you can say that my early history definitely had some occupational therapy (OT) roots,” Eppert fondly recalls.
Encouraged by her high school art teachers, Eppert’s love of art grew, as did her interest in helping others. During the summers, she volunteered at an Easter Seals Day Camp, where she not only enjoyed interacting with the children, but was inspired by the work of the counselors and therapists. Following high school, Eppert studied fine art at the Philadelphia College of Art in Pennsylvania before moving back to St. Louis, her hometown, to continue her education.
“After art school, I started looking for a ‘helping’ profession that would allow me to use my creative skills. ‘Therapist’ continued to pop up as my ideal career on all my vocational tests, so I moved in that direction. During my search, I came across a Washington University Occupational Therapy (WUOT) brochure with a very professional-looking student on the cover. I remember reading about OT and thinking, ‘This sounds really cool, I want to do this,’” Eppert says. “I still have that lucky brochure.”
The late 1980s marked a turning point for the Program with the appointment of Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, as Elias Michael Director in 1988. “As a student, I could sense that changes were happening in a very positive direction. The Program had new leadership and perspective and there was a stronger focus than ever on research in the profession. Personally, I felt like I had just discovered this little secret called occupational therapy and I wanted to tell the world all about it,” Eppert remembers.
“Reflecting back now, the student opportunities at WUOT seem endless. From the strong coursework to the variety of fieldwork possibilities to the close relationships with classmates and professors, all of these pieces were essential in actualizing from student to clinician. For me, that collective experience was invaluable,” she says.
As Eppert’s class prepared for graduation, her fine arts background led classmates to nominate her to help design the graduation program. “We had access to the standard university logos, but I wanted to create something more meaningful to the Program. As I thought about the tangible aspects of the program, the front entrance of the old building at 4567 Scott Avenue became my inspiration. The door was the most interesting architectural feature of the old building and it seemed symbolic on many levels.”
“As a new student in the program, the door represented a new opportunity in pursuing education. As a graduating student, the door represented the transition from student to clinician, and a door to the future. For our many clients, OT was the door to independence. So many OTs had crossed that threshold over the years that the door also connected us to our shared occupational therapy history,” Eppert shares.
Eppert’s original pen and ink line drawing of the door was included in the graduation program, and later became a newsletter logo. Today it continues to appear as a symbol of the Program’s rich history in various materials.
Following graduation, Eppert moved to Nashville and worked with pediatric clients at a mental health facility. Her role allowed her to develop programming that incorporated art and music for sensory-motor groups and to add contemporary life skills groups for teens. She also worked with a team to start a pediatric therapy program through Easter Seals, where she had volunteered as a teenager.
Eppert is a wife and mother of three. “My family has been an integral part of my OT journey and the creative process. When my children were younger, they were frequently peer models and helped me develop OT activities. They would come to work with me and interact with my pediatric clients. Through these experiences, my children gained awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities and learning differences. My family understood how much being an OT was a part of who I am.”
Currently, Eppert owns a private practice with four OTs on staff that partners with a speech-language therapy group to provide diagnostics, direct therapy and consultative services to private schools and preschools in the Middle Tennessee area. “Community education is a big part of our mission, so I frequently present to parents and teachers. I still enjoy creating OT materials and am currently working on a children’s OT book which I plan to self-publish later this year,” says Eppert.
Interacting with children continues to inspire and energize Eppert as much as ever. “It is never a boring day at work; children keep you on your toes and always smiling! Connecting with families and helping to make their family life a little brighter is another huge blessing as a therapist. Consulting with schools at the curriculum level is not only rewarding, but essential to making an impact on the lives of many children at once,” she says. “I am grateful every day to be a graduate of WUOT and part of this amazing profession.”
The Program is grateful to Eppert for creating her door design and sharing its story during our Centennial celebration.
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