When paths converge

Three CPHHS alumnae now in occupational therapy program at Colorado State University

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L to R: Caitlin Sweeney, Elise Bowlby and Erika Cooley are all in the Master of Occupational Therapy program at Colorado State University

Erika Cooley, Caitlin Sweeney and Elise Bowlby find comfort in the fact that they can shout “Go Beavs!” to each other from time to time and all three women get it.

The nostalgia comes from the fact that they all graduated from the Exercise and Sports Science Program (now Kinesiology) at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences – Erika and Caitlin in 2015 and Elise in 2016.

The program equipped them with a strong background in anatomy and physiology, human movement and effective exercise interventions. The three women are using that foundation to study occupational therapy as they purse master’s degrees in the same cohort at Colorado State University (CSU).

“Majoring in kinesiology allows me to look at everything through a lens of knowing how important physical activity is to mental, physical and emotional health for myself and the people I work with,” Elise says.

A sisterhood begins

The trio experienced a bit of serendipity when they crossed paths while interviewing for Eastern Washington’s occupational therapy program. When they started talking, they discovered they had a lot in common.

Erika and Caitlin were pleasantly surprised to see each other; they knew each other from volunteering with Go Baby Go in the CPHHS. Caitlin didn’t know Elise well, but the two had volunteered together in the college’s IMPACT program. Erika and Elise discovered they had a lot of mutual friends, and the two are now roommates at CSU.

“One of my favorite things from Oregon State was my volunteer experiences,” Erika says. “I was involved with the multiple sclerosis exercise program, IMPACT for Life and Go Baby Go and was also a research assistant. These experiences fueled my passion for working in health care, specifically occupational therapy, and got me excited about continuing my education in order to pursue this career.”

“One of my best memories of being at Oregon State was meeting so many wonderful kids at IMPACT,” Elise adds.

Coincidentally, all three learned that CSU topped their list of occupational therapy schools. The stars aligned and they all landed in Fort Collins, Colo., with a support network before starting classes.

The journey continues

The women are busy with their studies at CSU. The program is writing intensive, and expectations are high. Their professors are top-notch, Erika says, and they share their expertise with the students while encouraging a team mentality. Erika says they remind them that they are not competing against each other, rather they are working together.

“Everyone in the program is supportive of each other, and I think we’ve become really close as a cohort,” Caitlin says. “It’s definitely busy – there’s always an assignment to finish or an exam to study for. We’ve just finished our first level of fieldwork, and it was really great to get practical experience so early in the program.”

Erika’s interest in the field of occupational therapy dates back to witnessing her sister receive services when the two girls were young. She says she was intrigued about how the services influenced her sister’s daily life patterns.

“After exploring other related careers, I ultimately decided on occupational therapy because of the holistic view of the person that occupational therapists use and the impact they can have on their clients,” Erika says. “I believe focusing on everyday occupations and activities is where we can see the most change for individuals with disabilities and impairments.”

Caitlin was drawn to the field because of the opportunity to impact lives. She also appreciates the diversity of the profession. With an array of settings, populations and diagnoses in the field, she’s excited to see where she’ll land.

“On a small scale, occupational therapists can help people with everyday tasks such as cooking a meal or getting dressed,” Caitlin says. “It may not seem like much, but it really does have a large impact on the independence and quality of life for people who are unable, or no longer able, to do these tasks.”

Like Erika, Elise’s decision to pursue occupational therapy was influenced by her upbringing. Both of her parents are speech pathologists, and her time at OSU nudged her toward the field.

“During my sophomore year at OSU, I was unsure what career path to pursue so I took an online career exploration class,” Elise says. “The class required an informational interview with someone working in a field you are interested in. I interviewed one of my mom’s co-workers, who is an occupational therapist, and instantly fell in love with it.”

Looking ahead

Erika plans to study for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam following her graduation from the program and purse jobs in the field. She’s currently interested in pediatrics or inpatient rehabilitation with individuals who’ve had spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and strokes.

Though the three miss Corvallis in many ways – its small town charm, proximity to the coast, game day energy and for Elise, even the rain – they’ve found a common bound that makes the transition to Fort Collins easier.