News & Announcements
May 8, 2023
When Madison Ebeling began working with 3- to 5-year-old refugees, she said many of them lacked the skills they needed to be successful in a classroom setting.
“They showed little interest in wanting to interact with peers other than their siblings,” Ebeling said. “As you can imagine, [they] become very close with their family. And it’s just a very unfamiliar environment when you’re over in the United States.”
She presented her work as part of the Department of Occupational Therapy’s inaugural occupational therapy assistant (OTA) baccalaureate project presentations on Wednesday, May 3. Members of the department’s new degree program — the first cohort will graduate in the fall — showcased projects they completed over the past three semesters.
Tracking the impact of OT
Ebeling worked with City of Refuge, a Columbia-based nonprofit that helps refugees and immigrants adapt to life in the United States. The organization offers basic need programs, counseling services and professional development opportunities.
After numerous discussions with City of Refuge leadership, she chose to highlight the ways occupational therapy can be beneficial for the children of refugees and immigrants. Some of these children struggle with limited English proficiency, difficulty with acceptance in preschool classrooms, and issues with appropriate behaviors in a classroom setting.
“There’s a lot of research out there about the occupational therapy need within the population, but there’s not much of what happened after it was implemented,” she said.
Stephanie Allen, an assistant teaching professor and director of the baccalaureate OTA program, said the projects are designed to provide in-depth experience in clinical practice skills, administration, leadership, advocacy, and/or education.
Students are able to complete the projects individually or as a group, but they must demonstrate the application of knowledge gained through the OTA program.
“It’s all at their creativity and liberty to do whatever interests them,” Allen said. “I tell them they really need to be in love with their topic and identify something they’re not going to grow tired of.”
Setting the standard
OTA student projects ran the gamut in terms of interests. Some students worked with Boone County Family Resources to test the impact of community wellness programs on the mental health and physical participation of people with intellectual disabilities. Another OTA student collaborated with doctoral OT students and the MU Health Care Children’s Therapy Center to examine effective OT intervention for caregiver self-efficacy.
Mizzou is the first public institution in Missouri to offer a bachelor’s degree in OTA. Allen said the program further differentiates itself by requiring students to complete these baccalaureate projects as the culmination of the didactic portion of their education.
“It really sets us apart,” Allen said. “Our students put extensive scholarly work into practice and then disseminate their findings through the completion of these project presentations.”
As for Ebeling’s project, she ended up hosting weekly sessions with the young children that included everything from playing with blocks and running around on playground equipment to visiting a petting zoo. Over the course of their time together, she observed kids showing more interest in participating and playing with others, being more willing to ask for help and learning to wait for their turn on activities.
Ebeling said the program will be continued by two OTA students starting next fall. Additionally, she said City of Refuge plans to create a program for this age group of students.
“The kids have shown ample progress,” she said. “It really shines a light on why OT is so needed in programs like this.”