Union’s newest program will officially launch on Monday, January 13, as the first class of fifteen occupational therapy assistant students begins their studies at Union College.
Changes in program leadership caused a semester delay in launching the program—originally slated for August 2019. With new director Laurel Radley at the helm and thanks to the many months of work from the OTA faculty, the program is completing the accreditation process and will graduate the first class in May 2021.
Radley had retired from a career in occupational therapy—most recently directing fieldwork for occupational therapy assistant students and teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “I love being retired,” she said. “I’m just not very good at it.”
Her retirement had already been interrupted by trips around the country evaluating academic programs with the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. It was through ACOTE, the accrediting organization for Union’s OTA program, that she heard about Union College. Then department chair Rick Young called and described the college’s plan to create a quality two-year program and asked her to help them take the final steps to launch.
Radley was impressed. “I really appreciated how honest he was about everything—and committed to getting the program going.” she said. Radley decided to telecommute from her home in the balmy hills of Ashville, North Carolina, and come west for a week or so each month.
On the other side of the phone call, Young was also impressed. “Instantly, her quality and professionalism was so evident,” he said. Union’s OTA fieldwork coordinator Fara Adams believes “her values coincide with Union’s culture.”
“She brings so much that we can benefit from,” says Emily Rumery, OTA program assistant director. “We will benefit from her knowledge and experience all around.”
Occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists to help patients meet their goals and return to independence—usually lost due to physical injury, cognitive disability or illness. Union’s program prepares students not only to pass the OTA board exam but to understand the value of serving people—both individual clients and the larger community.
The two-year associate degree requires one semester of prerequisite science and general education courses, followed by 15 months in the core OTA program. The cohort of students who have completed the prerequisites will begin the OTA core classes on Monday and graduate in May 2021.
Union wanted to add the OTA degree to its health science portfolio because of strong demand for the occupation. “Since the day occupational therapy began over 100 years ago, we’ve never been able to meet the demand,” said Radley. Occupational therapy assistant ranks as one of
of the top health care support careers in the country, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will grow by nearly 30 percent over the next 10 years and boasts a median salary of nearly $60,000 per year.
The OTA program includes a newly renovated classroom and laboratory space in the south end of the Don Love building. Fara Adams reports that “there’s been a buzz of activity” as students come by to tour the shiny new facilities and pick up their red and black uniforms.
The faculty are energized by the long-awaited launch of the program. “We’re excited about working with students,” says OTA faculty Julie Capello. “We’re eager to share our experience, our knowledge, and our passion for this profession.
by Kim Peckham, director of communication strategy