Eastern Grads Accepted into Doctor of Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

Kelsey Sullivan ’18 and Kaley Kennedy ‘18

 By Anne Pappalardo

Two recent Eastern Connecticut State University graduates, Kaley Kennedy ’18 of Enfield and Kelsey Sullivan ’18 of Wethersfield, were recently accepted into occupational therapy doctoral programs. Both Kennedy and Sullivan were Health Sciences majors.

The Health Sciences major prepares students to become health specialists through coursework and experiential learning such as internships, independent study and faculty-directed research.

To my knowledge, these are the first Eastern students to be accepted into a doctor of occupational therapy degree program,” said Health Sciences Professor Amy Bataille. The Health Sciences major includes three concentrations – public health, pre-nursing and pre-physical therapy. Kennedy and Sullivan are members of the first Health Sciences graduating class since the program was created in 2014. Kennedy’s concentration was pre-nursing, while Sullivan’s was public health.

Kennedy and Sullivan are also friends, having met early in their college experience through mutual acquaintances. Both were members of Phi Theta Delta, Eastern’s Health Sciences honor society. Sullivan was also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national honor society for leadership. Sullivan started at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston in June, while Kennedy will be initiating her studies this fall at Western New England University in Springfield, MA. 

When it came to Eastern as an undergraduate option, the choice was clear for both. “Eastern stood out for me and made the decision easy,” said Kennedy. “It offered much smaller class sizes compared to other schools, so I knew that would ensure a more direct learning style and increased student participation.” She was also attracted by the opportunity to play on the women’s soccer team and played on the team until her junior year.

Sullivan chose Eastern for a similar reason. “I wanted to go to Eastern because it offered small class sizes and good professor-to-student ratios. Because of this, I knew Eastern would give me the opportunity to build relationships with my professors. I also wanted to come to Eastern because of their well-known and exceptional education program.”

Sullivan originally started her academic career as a double major in Math and Secondary Education as she comes from a family of teachers. “However, after some soul-searching, I decided that I really had a passion for the medical field and helping people,” said Sullivan. ‘Through my research, occupational therapy popped up as a career option. I decided to pursue a Health Sciences degree and become an occupational therapist.” Sullivan also worked in Eastern’s Office of AccessAbility as well as a chiropractic office in her hometown. Both helped her gain insight into health-related fields.

As part of her Public Health concentration, Sullivan was required to complete an internship. She chose to complete the requirement by participating in a Global Field Course to Ghana led by Health Sciences Professors Yaw Nsiah and Rochelle Gimenez. Sullivan was moved and deeply impacted by her work in Ghana. “The trip has become a part of me,” said Sullivan. “It molded me, shaped me and inspired me to be the best version of myself, as well as inspire others to do the same.” 

Kennedy works in the special education department in the East Windsor public school system, where she observed an occupational therapist in both in- and out-patient settings, helping familiarize her with the field. She also works at Strong Foundations in Vernon to assist children diagnosed with autism, Asperger Syndrome, social communication disorder and other related disabilities, as well as language and cognitive delays. She attributes her experiences at both places as a major influence in her interest in occupational therapy.

Both students credit their parents as being major influences in their success. “My parents have always told me to reach for the stars and strive to do my best, but to also have fun while doing it,” Kennedy said. “They never stood in the way of my dreams, but rather pushed me even closer to fulfilling my goal.”

“My mom and dad have been a continual pillar of support since I was born a premature baby,” said Sullivan. “Without their dedication to support me in any way needed I would not be the woman I am today.”

“My favorite thing about occupational therapy is the fact that I get to provide help to people,” said Kennedy. “As an occupational therapist, I can help patients with rehabilitation or everyday life skills. My favorite thing about the Health Sciences major at Eastern is how it prepares students to further their education.”

“My favorite thing about occupational therapy is not only the opportunity to help change someone’s life by helping them adapt to the world around them, but the opportunity for them to change my life as well,” said Sullivan. “This career, like the major at Eastern, is constantly adapting to best serve its clients, professionals, staff and students.”  

After receiving her doctorate, Kennedy plans on gaining experience in the field and working in a public school system. Sullivan is interested in either inpatient or outpatient hospital-based pediatric occupational therapy, eventually becoming a certified neonatal therapist.

“We are very proud of our students and the fact that they are admitted into these strong, reputable programs,” said Bataille. “It is especially gratifying to see that our Health Sciences program is succeeding in giving students these opportunities and contributing to their tremendous success.  We look forward to hearing more about their exciting careers in the future.”